Supporting and equipping our people to be resilient


by Jane Sparrow

It may only be the 22nd January but we’ve already run enough sessions with groups of leaders to know that the word on everyone’s lips is resilience. 

When we reflect on the pattern of the last 11 months, encompassing each lockdown we’ve entered in various parts of the world, we begin to see a definite trend in the shape of our collective energy curve – only the starting point has been lower every time. The clear message we are hearing from leaders across the world right now is one of concern about how to equip their people to withstand the coming weeks and months, when there’s so little left in the tank. 

In all of our workshops with leadership teams and people managers this month, we’ve been bringing people back to the basics of resilience – in essence, what makes us human – because it’s what makes us human and our most fundamental primal needs that ultimately determine our survival right now. 

The hierarchy of human needs 

A powerful way to think about this is to take Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs that’s been in general use since 1943. As you can see, from the lowest levels of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are: physiological (food, water and clothing), safety (job security and more recently, aspects like psychological safety too), love and belonging needs (human connection and friendship) and at the top, esteem, and self-actualization (achieving our potential). Of course, Maslow never planned for Wifi – which many of us put as the most fundamental needs in our lives!

The needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before anyone can attend to needs higher up. So what does this tell us? Totally – got it in one – if your people are not resting, if they don’t feel safe and they’re not connected to each other, they’re not going to hit the top of the pyramid and ‘perform’. This thinking is critical for work around resilience and performance. 

Our call to arms on team resilience (supporting the pyramid’s foundations) 

Times are tough, probably tougher than ever. Despite a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel (that’s perhaps longer than any expected or hoped), energy is at an all time low, cases at an all time high. 

We’re not starting from scratch on this resilience stuff – there’s been many successful individual, team and organisational strategies over the past 11 months to build upon. However, we have just entered a new phase (again) and the challenges around how our teams and ourselves are coping are possibly greater than they’ve ever been.

Here’s five key things we believe are paramount to focus on to equip your teams for the weeks ahead.

1. Team connection 

Humans are social, group animals. Interaction with others is essential, hence its place in Maslow’s hierarchy. Therefore, as part of your approach going forwards, taking the time to create interactions that are meaningful will be key. This is more than a scheduled call or a ‘how are you’, it’s a sustained commitment to connecting whenever possible, for reasons that are not just to move work forwards. It’s one to one conversations that are ad-hoc and two way. It’s shared reasons to be cheerful like something arriving on everyone’s doorstep that unites them in some way or enjoy a remote meal together, something we were recently interviewed by the BBC about. Tapping into the safety element of the pyramid, It’s being honest about how you are feeling, to encourage others to do the same.

2. True appreciation 

One step up from belonging in the hierarchy and we’ve got esteem – that ‘pumped up chest’ because we feel we’ve done something good and we are, therefore, worthy. Another basic but fundamental human need that the best leaders out there are putting a lot of energy into right now.  Think in your mind for a moment now about the positive emotional impact it had on you the last time someone said thank you, and I mean really said thank you. Check out our top tips for breaking the mould on appreciation here

3. Three dimensional resilience 

Resilience doesn’t happen in isolation and is more of a shared responsibility – as I’ve mentioned, we’re social creatures that like to feel connected to others and to something bigger than ourselves, and as such, we can derive a lot of our resilience from those around us. It’s therefore essential that we come at resilience through three lenses.  Individual resilience is all about you, how you manage yourself and your needs. Team resilience takes our focus wide and looks at how we support each other. Organisational resilience is where we need to be lifting our heads above the parapet and thinking about the big picture and the experience of those we see less regularly. We wrote a full white paper on that last year full of great ideas across all three levels. 

4. Role modelling rest 

I’m aware I’m coming back down to the bottom of the pyramid – so perhaps we should have started here but the reality is that rest isn’t really something many of us prioritise – and this has been exacerbated throughout the pandemic. Leaders are burnt out, teams exhausted – yet untaken holiday was at its highest level across organisations at the end of last year. Do we not need a rest more than ever? The reality is that many leaders and people managers are feeding the next pandemic – a mental and physiological health crisis as a result of the working practises of many during COVID-19. Ask yourself what you might be role modelling to help or  harm your people’s attitudes towards the importance of rest and unplugging. Grab a look at our remote working day graphic, explore it with the team as a great way to discuss habits (good and bad) and people’s attitudes towards rest (an essential ingredient of resilience).

5. Resilience for performance 

It’s only when all of the basic and fundamental layers of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are in place that we are gifted with an opportunity to talk about performance. Without true resilience, which comes from our basic human needs being met, consistently, performance (or ‘actualisation of potential’ as Maslow calls it) is a mere farce, met with lip service.  Of course, when our human needs are met, which we have seen become a reality for the teams of many leaders we have worked with over the past year, fulfilling (and even smashing) potential comes back onto the table, a huge part of which is personal growth. We wrote a white paper on this whole area last year which may be of interest (if the rest of your people’s needs are being met!). 

If you’re a leader or people manager thinking deeply about ‘what next’ to bring people back from the brink – my advice is to not overthink it, use Maslow as your guide and go right back to basics. It’s what we all need right now. Rest, safety, connection and self worth – the rest, takes care of itself.