How to Be a Role Model of Resilience


By Camille Nicita, President & CEO, Gongos, Inc.

When reflecting on the past year, the notion that change is the only constant takes on new meaning. Organizations across sectors were navigating important changes prior to 2020—from heightened customer expectations to digital transformation—but COVID-19 exponentially accelerated those forces while introducing new ones of significance. And let’s not forget how abruptly.

In reinforcing the ever-present potential of change to powerfully and pervasively disrupt the status quo, the pandemic has made much of what guided brands toward success up until the recent past null and void. For business leaders, this makes honing organizational agility more of an imperative than ever.

As we continue to navigate an environment typified by VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), some say the pandemic is just a dress rehearsal for what is to come. If that prediction is true, and this is just the beginning of extraordinary workplace disruption, leaders must give resilience the prominence it deserves by embedding it across the organization. But how?

A Two-Pronged Approach

In practice, driving workforce resilience is two-pronged. Start with a purposeful and disciplined approach to developing your corporate culture. This will ensure a strong foundation. Then enlist stakeholders in bringing these enduring aspects to life in ways that flex to meet constantly changing marketplace dynamics. This will ensure your organization can withstand adversity. A useful analogy to latch onto is a tree that boasts a deep and strong root system, as well as a trunk and branches that not only grow and change over time, but bend without breaking when inclement weather hits.

Establish Strong Roots

A firm foundation begins with defining your company’s culture. And while shared goals, principles, and practices are important elements, the steadfast pillars of culture, as described by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book Built to Last, are a central purpose and an underlying set of core values.

Your company’s purpose should serve as the starting point, compass, and rallying call. Most organizations with a strong culture have a purpose that is customer-committed, deeply embedded, and comes to life because leadership helps employees understand the important role they play in it. A core purpose describes your “why,” not your “what,” and provides deeper reason for an organization’s existence beyond profit.

Shared values can be defined as the behavioral expectations that knit your organization together—they describe, at a high level, how you achieve your “why.” They play a key role in how you interact with the market, and in guiding important coaching and hiring decisions, so they should be more palpable than aspirational.

It is essential for employees to have a clear picture of the practices leaders will engage in to create an environment where the organization’s purpose and values ring true. Your company’s foundation should blend why your people come to work every day with expectations for how they achieve that central objective, along with meaningful appreciation for their successful execution.

Throughout my entrepreneurial journey, my company’s purpose and values have manifested in several go-to leadership principles that have proven themselves remarkably effective in building and sustaining a strong organizational foundation:

Identifying natural, go-to principles can help leaders steer their organizations from a place of confidence rather than fear in uncertain, and normal, times. They provide all employees with a solid footing to rely on as change takes place around them.

Flex the Foundation

Even strong foundations can be prone to crack if flexibility isn’t purposefully architected in. And, since people are generally the most valuable and prevalent asset of an organization, leaning on the people dimension to facilitate flexibility is key. Several years ago, Harvard Business Review published an article by Claudio Fernández-Aráoz centered around talent spotting in the 21st century. The premise of the piece is that, given change is inevitable, it is important to focus talent efforts on hiring and developing individuals who can adapt and grow in increasingly complex environments.

In an especially VUCA world, it’s less about hiring for “what got you here” and more about building a team that “will get you there.”

Here are a few ways in which this can manifest:

Start with Self

This article began with change and, while it’s fairly easy to assess what those around us can do, a true leader follows the principle of being the change they wish to see. Embedding resilience in employees’ everyday actions may start with reinventing yourself and requires an ongoing commitment to self-evolution. After all, change often calls for sacrifice and you can’t expect your people to adapt to change if you aren’t willing to.

I’ll leave you with this: Years ago, I heard the quote, “If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance a whole lot less.” Those words truly exemplify the mindset we must have about workforce resilience, not just in the face of this pandemic, but in the face of the countless changes sure to come our way.

As published in Entrepreneur.