Archive for individual resilience

What Brexit Can Teach COVID

Remember Brexit?  A year ago I wrote a blog linking the uncertainty of Brexit with the need to be resilient.  Where once Brexit dominated our media, now it does not merit a newspaper column inch.  Its’ place has been taken by a word unknown to us all until 2020 – COVID 19.  In 2019 I wrote about  VUCA: a term then increasingly familiar in business contexts, because it captured the sense of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity that many people felt in their workplace as Brexit loomed.  Little did we know that a year on, we would be living with VUCA on steroids.

Rereading that piece I realised that many of the remarks I made are equally relevant to now but repositioned. Where once I wrote of challenges to our markets now it is a challenge to our health and financial security. Where once I wrote of new entrants disrupting the market now it is a virus disrupting our ability to do business. Where once technology was changing how customers wanted to do business, now it is technology that is enabling us to still be in business and in connection.

What these disruptions mean at an individual level is remarkably similar to what we then feared from Brexit

  • Not knowing if your organisation will exist in a few months’ time
    • The fear of job loss
    • Promotion opportunities disappearing
    • Career promises being undeliverable
    • Fighting for your existing job as a result of restructuring
    • The scope of your role being dramatically extended as the price of retaining it


While lockdown may protect you from COVID, it cannot protect you from what may happen as a result of COVID, and so the need for resilience will be as critical as we move out of lockdown, as it is as with live through lockdown.

I was reminded of this in rereading Kathryn Jackson’s book ‘Resilience at Work’. The book is based on the learning she gained by living through the major earthquake that destroyed much of Christchurch NZ in 2011. Kathryn was both a victim, in that her home and workplace were destroyed, but also a player in the city’s recovery: through her role in working with those who were recruited to rebuild the city’s infrastructure in record time.

Central to the book is the model which was developed by a team of academic researchers and professionals brought together to support those doing the work of rebuilding Christchurch.

They recognised that turbulence at work, things happening with no obvious cause, an overwhelm of information, lack of precedent and complicated circumstances could fuel strong emotional responses, doubt and hesitation, frustration, unpredictable behaviour and resistance to taking risks, and of course endless speculation. All of these could be markers of our return to work, just as they have been in the shutdown of work.

The model they developed to support individuals through disruption has 4 key elements:

Emotional Honesty
Noticing and acknowledging the negative emotional impact of events on you, so that there is a possibility of managing them vs denying the impact of what is happening, or accepting it as inevitable.

Seeing looking after yourself as a valuable resource as critical to dealing with difficulty vs seeing it as a ‘nice to have’ when there is time.

Building strong connections with people who you want to help and who will help you vs seeing yourself as isolated in dealing with the challenges of your work.

Looking at what you can learn both formally and informally that will be helpful to dealing with the current situation vs rather than denying the need to adapt.

How COVID 19 is impacting on your work right now:
• At the macro-level (external pressures that are impacting on how the organisation is operating)
• At the micro-level, what that is meaning for you?

In responding to COVID ask yourself:

Do I:

1.Notice  when I am getting negative and dispirited in my work and see it as a signal  to do something to change my emotional response. (Emotional Honesty)                                                                                                                        Yes/No.
2. Recognise  when the pressures at work are changing how I am with myself and with others. (Self-Care)       Yes/No
3. Actively seek out people to talk with when things at work are challenging, because I know it helps me handle pressures more easily. (Connection)                                                                                                                                                        Yes/No
4. Review  my approach when circumstances change at work to identify how I need to develop in order to remain of value. (Learning)                                                                                                                                                                                    Yes/No

If you have answered No to any of those prompts then it is a signal that you need to consider how you can address your need to increase that pillar of resilience in order to stay resourced in a COVID world that will continue to be with us long time after lockdown ends.


Reference: Kathryn Jackson, Resilience at Work (Routledge).

Living the Bell Curve: The Importance of Not Being Attached to Success or Failure

eat pray love

Recently I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert on TED talks.  Gilbert is the author of Eat, Pray, Love a book which gave her phenomenal success and which spawned a film of the same name. In the talk she spoke about the impact of the book on her life.  She had known she had wanted to write from childhood and had lived the life of a writer for many years i.e. little income and many rejections.  With each rejection she recovered by in her words ‘going home’.  Going home meant getting back to her desk and starting to write all over again.  In order to recover from rejection she went back to the thing which she loved best, and where she could be freed from her ego.  Once writing the rejection and the hurt that came with it disappeared because she was absorbed in her life’s passion.


Conversely, when she experienced success she saw the need for the same process.  Where rejection had pushed her to one end of the bell curve, success pushed her to the other.  Each were equally disabling.  As she saw herself being feted for one book which had caught the popular imagination, she felt as disoriented as when she only received brickbats. She needed to find herself back in the average zonal range of the bell curve, and in order to do that she needed to  “go home” ie to get back to writing and away from things which fed her ego.  By doing that she was freed up to deal with failure again.  When her next book ‘bombed’ in her words, she was able to deal with it, because her ego was not invested in being at the high end of the curve.  Her message to her audience is that regardless of success or failure, we need to know what ‘going home’ means to us, so that we ensure we can find our way there, whether things are going well or badly.  Going home may mean your family, your work, your beliefs, your partner, but whatever it is, it is important to recognise that living at the extremes is so much easier if you know where you need to head back to.

How Resilient is Your Organisation?

It is easy to get so focused on your own area of interest that you forget to look up and around you to see how you connect with other perspectives.  That is what happened to me last week when I spoke at an event on individual resilience with colleagues from Achill Management.  Achill are experts in organisational resilience who are helping organisations working in the voluntary and social enterprise sectors to  future proof themselves.

It is comforting to see organisational resilience as a concern of large operations e.g. how would a hospital keep performing if a hurricane knocked out its electricity systems; how quickly can an organisation recover from fire or flood, how long before   a bank recovers from the failure of its IT systems, but resilience is perhaps even more relevant when your organisation is small.

What would happen if a key member of staff left?


How reliant are you on one or two clients?

How long could you keep going if you lost a key client?

What would happen if you were ill for an extended period?

What would happen if a break in took away key technology?

These are the sort of questions which small organisations often avoid asking themselves,but which risk the loss of their business if one or more disruptions hits them. According to the US Federal Emergency Management Agency 90% of businesses fail within two years after a major disaster.

 Jim Haywood, Director at Achill Management offered some key questions to help businesses (large and small) consider how they can resilience proof themselves.

  1. What are the 3 critical activities that you need to keep doing to ensure your success e.g. producing new products and services, marketing, thinking smarter than competitors (and which of those activities is most critical).
  2. What are the disruptions that could prevent you giving attention to those critical activities e.g. only focussing in the here and now, continuing doing things which keep you  busy but which are not business critical.
  3. How long could you keep going if you failed to focus on those critical activities?
  4. Which is most urgent for you to attend to right now, and what action can you take to prevent or mitigate your resilience being impacted

 Simple questions but ones which pull us up short on how willing we are to engage in considering what could derail our organisation.

For any organisation wanting to consider their own business’s resilience Achill Management have developed a nifty questionnaire, which takes only a few minutes and which gives you an immediate reading on the resilience of your organisation , and what you can do to increase it.

To complete the questionnaire follow the link: