Revisiting Resilience - A Free Offer!
Back in the mists of time (2008, actually) when most believed that a banking crisis was the worst thing that could happen, we became aware that the prospect of personal catastrophe affects people in very different ways. Some of the leaders of the financial institutions we worked with were galvanised, others pole-axed. The characteristic that determined what category they would fall into was a (then) little-studied aspect of personality: personal resilience - or the ability to bounce back from adversity. We created a psychometric tool to measure it - the Nicholson McBride Resilience Quotient (RQ), which many of our clients used, along with a range of techniques designed to boost their ability to respond to serious challenge. By 2011, it had become clear that the coalition government's austerity programme was going to hit local government particularly hard. With the support of the Local Government Association and the London Councils' organisation, we conducted a sector-specific National Resilience Survey, when we made the RQ available to all local government officers, as a way to help sustain their resilience and that of the teams they managed during a period of steadily diminishing resources. When the Covid pandemic struck in 2020, we made the same offer of free resilience support to all the organisations we were then supporting.
As a result of all this activity we now have a large RQ database, which we would like to expand further, as a way of preparing a new edition of our book Resilience: bounce back from what life throws at you. To help with the research, we are offering you the opportunity to assess - or reassess - your personal resilience quotient, by completing the RQ. You will then receive your personal resilience profile, plus suggestions for boosting your ability to cope with the political and economic turmoil we continue to experience. You will not be charged for the exercise, though the RQ normally costs £30. This offer ends on 30th June. Thank you for your help.
To take the questionnaire:
Go to https://testyourrq.nicholsonmcbride.com/ and click "Start now" to create an account
Once you are logged in, click "Take questionnaire" and enter this access code when prompted: 5611193926
The questionnaire takes around 5-10 minutes to complete and is followed by a short demographic survey, which is entirely optional. Once you’ve submitted your questionnaire, you will receive your personalised report automatically by email.
If you have any questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jane Clarke & Dr John Nicholson
Sashaying on the ice floe
We are all aware of the huge personal, professional and psychological cost of the pandemic. The damage to individuals, now and in the longer-term, cannot be underestimated. But in our work as business psychologists, we have also observed significant issues for organisations. One particularly problematic by-product of Covid has been its impact on collaborative working, team effectiveness and the quality of decision-making – not least at the top-level.
In the early months of the emergency, many leaders were pleasantly surprised by how smoothly their people adjusted to virtual working. Benefits flowed from wholeheartedly embracing digitalisation and challenging old ways of working. Fundamental changes were introduced at stunning speed. And as the first year of lockdown progressed, it became clear that homeworking was not causing the decline in productivity which traditionalists had predicted. So thoughtful companies began to revisit some assumptions and consider how best to reinvent themselves.
The mood music at the beginning of Covid Year 2 – spring to early summer 2021 – was mixed. There were two huge positives. The development and delivery of effective vaccines, much earlier than anticipated, had transformed the zeitgeist; the NHS too had confounded pessimistic predictions that it would buckle under the dreadful tsunami of serious cases in the early months of the pandemic. Cases and constraints were declining, and leadership teams were eagerly looking forward not just to getting back to work, but to experimenting with new ways of working and applying procedures developed under extreme pressure to a new normality.
Then the virus fought back, its mutations making a nonsense of a universal longing to call an end to the pandemic and its impact on every aspect of our lives. Homeworking still had compensations, especially for introverts and for those whose circumstances allowed them to create a comfortable and productive workspace. But the cracks were showing. The novelty of the situation had worn off, as had the belief that we were ‘all in this together’. Political leaders, who had enjoyed a rare surge of popular support and protection as a result of “simply following the science” were now meeting push-back.
In corporate life, too, forbearance was giving way to frustration. Complaints of Zoom/Teams fatigue became commonplace. The pandemic may have made people more cautious about changing jobs, but it hadn’t altogether stopped the flow of talent between organisations. What was different was that almost all recruitment was now being conducted virtually, at every level. New CEOs, appointed on the basis of their performance on-screen, were seeking to establish their credibility with senior colleagues they had never met in person. Informal exposure was severely reduced, but there was no let-up in the need to make decisions, many of which reflected changes in Government policy affecting working conditions and social practices. They were tough decisions, even for experienced senior teams of individuals who knew each other well, led by someone they respected and following an agreed modus operandi.
By late 2021, at least some of the organisations we were supporting were suffering from the absence of clear, confident direction. Their leaders were struggling to unite people around a common goal. As a result, we observed a tendency for those reporting to them to narrow their focus and revert to what felt like a safer approach to their job: just get on with the business of the business, get your head down and plough through the workload, without worrying too much about what other people are up to. It may not have been a conscious decision, just something that evolved, but it was detrimental to effective teamworking at a time when organisations had never been more in need of collective and inclusive leadership.
Its absence continues to cause problems at all levels as we approach the second anniversary of ‘Covid working’. But given the disproportionate impact of leadership teams – positive and negative – issues at the top are what cause the most damage to performance and morale. Planning and decision-making have taken a hit. Siloed working, despite best efforts, has started to creep back in. Some leadership teams have stopped communicating to wider audiences altogether. Why? Because they are exhausted by having to deal with U-turns in rules and requirements, trying to keep their companies afloat without breaking the law, and exhorting their people to display a level of optimism they themselves find it increasingly difficult to muster.
So here are a few words of advice to all those leadership teams aspiring to ‘sashay on the ice floe’…
Get together in person – for work and play – get to know each other (again).
Re-contract – the rules of engagement for teams need to be revamped, or at least refreshed – and everyone needs to know what they are and how they can act in line with them in this new context.
Agree the process for decision-making – as a collective, not as heads of individual siloes.
Acknowledge and discuss the context – it’s been difficult. Don’t use it as an excuse, but definitely an explanation – and, without being complacent, allow yourselves a little forgiveness.
Re-engage with the people who work for you – many leaders realise that they have become more insular and have stopped interacting with their people, let alone empowering them. It’s time to recognise this valuable resource and re-connect with them.
2023: can we please have our mojo back?
The history of the last 15 years reads like a script for the ultimate disaster movie. The near collapse of the international banking system led many governments to introduce austerity measures which undermined the state’s capacity to protect vulnerable citizens even in good times, let alone when forced to contend with a deadly pandemic. In this country, matters have not been improved by a quixotic decision to self-sabotage our most significant trading relationship, nor by the demise of a monarch who had served as a life-long comfort blanket for many of her subjects. More devastatingly, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and its impact on European living standards, coupled with the reintroduction of fears of nuclear war, have reinforced the impression that all four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – War, Famine, Pestilence and Death – have been released from their stables simultaneously, to destroy any possibility of us enjoying a healthy, peaceful and prosperous existence.
Working with organisational leaders throughout this tempestuous period, we have seen them facing adversity in many forms: during the financial crisis, it might have been having to abandon cherished plans, seeing your reputation shredded or even your career ending prematurely. Responding to Covid presented leaders with a different set of challenges: having to make unfamiliar decisions, sometimes with (literally) life or death consequences, adapting to new ways of working and living, and offering effective support to others at a time when their own self-confidence was in short supply.
The response of different leaders to these trials and tribulations was equally varied: some were floored, others galvanised. Personal resilience, an aspect of personality largely ignored by psychologists until recently, became a hot research area. With the support of the Local Government Association, we were able to study the determinants of resilience, as well as ways of measuring, and boosting it. More than 50,000 people assessed their own levels of resilience at various points during the early years of the government’s austerity program. We also interviewed a selected group of highly resilient individuals to find out what underpinned their ability to bounce back from adversity, and what techniques they used to sustain and boost their powers of recovery when the pressure was on.
Statistical analysis revealed that personal resilience is made up of five separate though interrelated elements: optimism; individual accountability; solution orientation; management of stress and anxiety; and openness and flexibility. Generally speaking, experiencing adversity seems to strengthen rather than weaken an individual’s ability to cope with it – but only up to a certain point. The same applies to teams and whole organisations, which gives rise to the suggestion that whole populations – including our own – may currently be suffering from ‘adversity fatigue’, a condition which might link a number of widely reported phenomena. These include: a reluctance to return to work or at least to the office; unwillingness to make long term commitments, whether financial or emotional; and a tendency to shrug off appeals to increase productivity, to embrace new ways of doing things, or just generally to pull ourselves together!
But have we really given up? To do so would involve abandoning some attributes and skills regarded as most characteristic of homo sapiens. First and foremost, we are learning beings. We have a phenomenal capacity for diagnosis – for understanding what went wrong, analysing cause-and-effect and making improvements. We are also the most highly evolved species on the planet. Our flexibility and intellect give us the capacity to generate solutions to even the thorniest problems. And whilst we don’t have a monopoly on communication, the gift of language enables us to share our ideas with people across the globe. So the evidence suggests that we are uniquely equipped to undo some of the damage we have inflicted and solve the problems we have created. However, historical, political and psychological forces conspire to create disagreements about cause-and-effect, and about what should be done to deal with problems. Whilst we have the necessary tools at our disposal, we simply cannot agree on the strategy. Why? Because of the extreme difficulty we experience in trying to resolve the perpetual conflict between two of the most powerful, and contradictory, drivers of behaviour – competition and collaboration. The conflict in Ukraine is increasingly being cast as a struggle between autocracy and democracy. These political concepts may not be interchangeable with competition and collaboration, but the need to reconcile them has moved from being a psychological conundrum to representing an existential political imperative. Now, more than ever before, it’s time to collaborate.
2022: Reset, reboot, revive!
Time to recover our mental health
Figures released on 19 January 2022 reveal that the number of people being treated for anxiety and depression in the UK is now as high as it was twelve months ago. No Christmas lockdown to blame this time, but, despite lots of fighting talk about learning to live with the virus, analysis of individual cases points overwhelmingly towards fear of Covid-19 as the cause of the continuing surge in mental disorders. For all the scientific advances, and the fact that the current strain is clearly less virulent than its predecessors, fear of contracting Covid and concerns about the social and economic consequences of a prolonged state of emergency continue to disturb many people’s thinking.
Rewind 12 months, and we thought we could see light at the end of the tunnel. Feelings of terror and helplessness were being replaced by vaccine fuelled optimism and a growing expectation of a return to a new, improved normality, with lessons learned during 2020 being turned massively to advantage. Sadly, the 2021 ‘Brave New World’ turned out to be a mirage. Advances on the medical front coincided with the emergence of fresh strains of the virus, and optimism gave way to resigned repetition of the mantra that the only certainty appears to be uncertainty. A year later we are counting the costs, with some UK health authorities reporting a doubling in mental health referrals in adults.
At a national level, the UK government is ‘strapped for cash’, having spent billions on systems that don’t work, faulty equipment from cowboy suppliers and a succession of initiatives apparently driven by political expediency rather than scientific evidence. That said, in recognition of the mental health crisis, the government did announce in March 2021 that it would invest £500 million in a mental health recovery plan. They stated where the money would be spent, but gave no detail on objectives or measures of success. The statistics released on 19 January 2022 suggest that the results are not encouraging – and mental health professionals remain sceptical of the government’s commitment to elevate the status of mental health and social care issues within the NHS.
In the corporate world, our clients are telling us – almost without exception – that their people are experiencing feelings of isolation, anxiety, depression – and fear. This inevitably affects individual motivation and morale. And leaders worry about what the ongoing crisis is doing to people – now and in the longer term.
So there is an urgent need for us – as organisations, families and individuals – to take matters into our own hands. It may seem trite to say that we must help each other. And it may not be sensible to expect an untrained person to have the impact of a mental health professional. But an obvious and immediately available way of helping to mitigate the huge psychological crisis is to get individuals talking. People need to use their friendships and develop informal support networks, so they can: share experiences; admit to how they are feeling; compare the effectiveness of different coping mechanisms; rebut the damaging belief that they are uniquely anxious or stressed; and come to realise that the causes of their unhappiness can be identified and confronted.
We need to be mindful of colleagues and look out for them. This has, of course, been all the more difficult in the virtual world, but as restrictions start to lift, we must redouble our efforts, check in on people and take the bold move of actually asking the questions and offering the support when things seem not quite right.
And we also need to cut ourselves more slack. As researchers and writers on the subject of resilience for almost 15 years, we have some simple tips:
Reframe your thinking: if you are perpetually dogged by negative thoughts, try to be disciplined and turn them around into something positive. If you want to become more optimistic, check out the work of Martin Seligman.
Visualise positive outcomes: allied to this, when faced with problems, you are more likely to be able to find a way forward if you can imagine what a positive outcome might be. And if you can’t see it, ask someone you think might be able to.
Take control where you can: a feeling of helplessness will only add to your troubles. And whilst we can’t control everything, we can often influence. So try to focus on small things that you can do.
Breathe deeply: there is no doubt that deep breathing enhances state of mind and wellbeing. There are countless videos on YouTube which show you how to do just that. So why not give one of them a try?
Be active: get up, get out, move around! Physical activity promotes wellbeing.
Take action: over and above this, though, you will help your state of mind immensely if you do something, no matter how small to start addressing the problems you feel you are facing.
Talk to others: at your lowest ebb, it can be really hard to think about sharing your feelings. But truly resilient people don’t go it alone. So find someone to talk to – a friend, a family member, a colleague, a helpline – whoever it is, they can help.
Written by Jane Clarke & Dr John Nicholson
For more information, contact us at email@example.com
Culture in crisis: BLM: transforming inclusion and diversity
As a society and in business we have taken steps towards an intent of equal opportunity. But the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement that exploded after George Floyd’s killing in the US has penetrated our consciousness in unexpected ways, leading many to question themselves quite deeply. Organisations and individuals are confronting difficult truths.