Updated: Mar 15
“The only constant in life is change”, said Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher. Change can be unpleasant and unexpected such as job loss and death. In business, reorganization and disruption to operations can cause chaos and turmoil in the workplace. The ongoing Ukraine crisis affects not only the country under attack but many countries globally.
We are Connected
Our economic and financial markets are intertwined, and supply chains weave across borders. The crisis has worsened inflationary pressures that existed even before. The supply chain disruption will negatively impact lower-income households whose food and fuel are a higher proportion of their expenses.
Ukraine and Russia supply 30 percent of wheat and 30 percent of corn and barley globally. Russia exports more than seven million barrels of oil globally; 40 percent of Europe’s energy is sourced from Russia. Companies are scrambling to adapt their supply chain and operations to manage the risk and economic impact on the business.
We may not be able to control geopolitical risk, entry of new technology, serious illness, or even the way a coworker behaves towards us. Each difficult situation brings its set of thoughts, emotions, and uncertainty. We can only control our response, rather than reaction, to the events around us and our resilience.
Resilience is the ability to adapt in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, and stress. This muscle is essential to learn and develop in individuals and organizations. Like all muscles, resilience needs time to strengthen and a clear intention to build its capability.
We shouldn’t wait until we are unwell to exercise and eat well. We shouldn’t wait until we need a new job to build our professional networks. We shouldn’t wait until we feel overwhelmed to meditate or seek spiritual guidance.
We can proactively build resilience before trauma hits us by prioritizing relationships. Connect deeply and authentically with others or find a group to engage with, whether CrossFit groups or faith-based communities. Surrounding ourselves with others reminds us that we are not alone, particularly in times of uncertainty. In a crisis, the sense of solidarity from these relationships can deliver hope and courage to go through the current situation.
Take Care of the “House” First
We can’t get anything done if we don’t have a “clean house”. By “house”, I mean our physical body and mental state. Proper nutrition, movement, and sleep are needed for our physical condition to function effectively throughout the day. Mental wellbeing is equally critical to our ability to manage our responses to events around us. When we are tired or feel overwhelmed, we are more easily triggered by our emotions and may react differently from how we would if we were in a better mental state.
The Dalai Lama once told a reporter that he meditates for an hour every morning. Amazed, the reporter asked, “How are you able to fit in daily meditation with such a busy schedule?”.
The Dalai Lama responded that on very busy days, he meditates for two hours.
If you don’t meditate (yet!), try putting away devices for fifteen minutes a day and journal. Practice a gratitude exercise and focus on being present in this time. On days when the to-do list seems to grow rather than shrink, I find long walks helpful to clarify things that I should prioritize. Not everything that is urgent is important.
When the “house” is in order, it is easier to get things done.
Communicate Regularly and Transparently
Resilience in the workplace is equally important to weave into the fabric of the culture. At times of rapid change and uncertainty, leaders can’t communicate enough. Design ways where information can be shared seamlessly and in real-time. Transparency should be prioritized where the organization must mobilize teams quickly to respond to market changes. Consider upgrading information flows (including digitalization) to build a more responsive organization.
Communication is not limited to the employees. Leaders should stay in regular contact with their other stakeholders. If trade sanctions affect the sourcing of materials, bring suppliers and partners together to find what changes need to be made to the existing supply chain and share the costs and risks. If operations are suspended in a particular market, inform customers about what to expect and possible alternative solutions for them. If there is a divestiture, disclose potential financial impacts to investors, such as write-offs and risks.
When things are uncertain, regular communication creates a level of certainty and stability. It enables others to plan for the worst-case scenario and when things need to shift quickly.
Leaders and managers should communicate consciously and authentically to all stakeholders—employees, customers, suppliers, investors, and communities, whether in times of uncertainty or otherwise. Regular interaction with the different interest groups will empower businesses to build trust and positively impact all stakeholders.
Inspire through Shared Purpose
Particularly in a crisis, leaders need to focus stakeholders on the shared purpose of the business. The shared purpose can rally groups together, bring hope and motivate the workforce.
Many decisions will have to be made during rapid change, and managers are better off delegating to their teams to respond to the situation based on the shared purpose, values, and goals. Once the direction has been determined by senior management, leaders should empower teams to make the right decisions. Empowering the team to take action as they see fit shows employees that they are valued and trusted and builds confidence and agility in the organization.
Leaders can use a crisis to build better collaboration and team culture. But leaders should consciously build organizational resilience in both the best and worst of times.