New Data Shows How To Help Employees Be More Resilient

This article originally appeared on Forbes by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ

Has your company ever gone through a change effort where some employees got anxious while others stayed calm? Have you ever seen some employees freak out over a mistake they made, while others got right back on the horse?

The psychological skill that allows people to effectively handle stress and anxiety is called resilience. If you can manage change without freaking out, or immediately try again after a big mistake, you’ve got resilience.

Resilience is, obviously, one of the most important psychological skills a person can have. Unfortunately, recent data we have at Leadership IQ tells us that 76% of employees don’t have enough resilience. And a third of those people have almost no resilience.

One simple way to measure resilience is to ask employees “When you really make a mistake, do you immediately start looking for another chance to try again?” Of course, there are many facets of resilience, but the ability to get back on the horse after you’ve fallen off is one of the most important.

Apropos surviving mistakes is one of Mark Zuckerberg’s more famous quotes:

“Moving fast enables us to build more things and learn faster. However, as most companies grow, they slow down too much because they’re more afraid of making mistakes than they are of losing opportunities by moving too slowly. We have a saying: “Move fast and break things.” The idea is that if you never break anything, you’re probably not moving fast enough.”

So, how do you help employees develop more resilience and learn to bounce back after making mistakes? There are lots of ways, but in this article I want to highlight one particular technique: Leaders should encourage and recognize suggestions for improvement from their employees.

My firm Leadership IQ recently conducted a study involving over 30,000 employees. And among the many questions we asked were these two, rated on a 7-point scale ranging from Never to Always:

  • When I really make a mistake, I immediately start looking for another chance to try again.
  • My leader encourages and recognizes suggestions for improvement

I’m highlighting these two questions because we found an interesting statistical link between them. Look at the scatterplot of these questions below:

You can see the fairly strong linear relationship between these two questions. Essentially, the higher employees rated their leader for encouraging suggestions for improvement, the more likely employees were to bounce back after making a mistake. (For the statistically-minded, encouraging suggestions significantly predicted resilience, b=.2, p<.0001).

I know that some will think it’s odd that those two variables are related. After all, one variable is about open-minded leaders and the other is about resilient employees.

Well, think about what it means to have a leader who encourages and recognizes suggestions for improvement. First, this has to be a leader that employees can talk with openly. Open door, open conversations, open arms, etc. If that openness spills over to employees, which it will, they’ll feel more comfortable admitting mistakes. And if employees can admit mistakes without fear of reprisal, they’re probably much more willing to try again.

Second, if a leader is open to suggestions for improvement, it means they’re open to changing things. When things are changed, there’s a tacit admission that there’s a better way (or that the old way was somehow broken). Since the word ‘broken’ is close to ‘mistake, this is similar to saying ‘I don’t totally freak out when mistakes are made.’ And if the leader doesn’t freak out, then employees probably won’t either.

I could keep dissecting this, but you get the point. Leaders who encourage and recognize suggestions for improvement are displaying their own kind of resilience. After all, bouncing back after a mistake requires openly admitting the mistake, changing behavior and then trying again. And when a leader models resilience, employees are more likely to reflect that same behavior.

Resilience seems like a trait that should be innate or immutable. But the research is pretty clear that resilience can be learned.

Now, you can’t really teach employees resilience by yelling at them to ‘suck it up’ and ‘get over it.’ But by modeling openness and change-readiness (which they do by encouraging suggestions for improvement), leaders can show employees how to admit mistakes, make a change, and then try again.


Posted by Mark Murphy on 27 September, 2016 Change Management, Forbes, Research | 0 comments
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