When an employer wants you to ‘build resilience’

Having been reworking my own material on resilience recently, I was intrigued when I saw a job post for a senior manager that highlighted a key requirement as the ‘ability to build resilience in your team’.

This wasn’t a footnote, but a top line, must-have, key requirement. Without this you wouldn’t be progressing further in the recruitment process.

The organisation deals with clients who could sometimes be challenging. I assumed that was the origin of their expectation, rather than the team or division being so dysfunctional that people need resilience just to work for them. Given the work, resilience seemed an absolutely useful skill for staff to have.

We really need it right now

Their clientele aside, I know many organisations are finding things tough just now. People are tired of the ‘new new new normal’ or wherever we’re up to. Work from home isn’t always perfect; it has some costs too. Offices are different. Industries are different. So too are transport, shopping, dining, gyms and a score of other things. Many people simply aren’t themselves.

Masks. Sanitiser. Distancing. Testing. Tracing. Repeat. Or so it appears.

As we talked about in an earlier post, short term stress generates adrenaline. Long term stress, as we have now, generates cortisol with a list of attendant consequences that affect us. We’re fairly swimming in it. In under 12 months the whole world has changed drastically. Covid seems here to stay in one way or another and we’re sort of learning to live with it.

Building resilience would therefore seem to be a smart move, and it’s something I’m hearing much more than ever before. So when I saw this ad, I started hunting a bit further and found it from Government to the private sector to not for profits, and in both small and large organisations. This would suggest there is tacit acceptance that in the current milieu, resilience is necessary.

I also found the requirement in numerous position descriptions: sales manager, marketing manager, team leader, project manager, general manager, people and culture manager, finance manager, executive management generally, and even in descriptions for consultants.

I thought I’d find out a little more

And then it got complicated.

Being able to build resilience with others is a powerful skill, and it’s commendable they wanted it. It’s also far more difficult than it sounds. For this organisation, and the others I found who saw it as a required skill in their leadership, it made me wonder:

  • Given that it was a skill they were specifically targeting, an essential requirement no less, how would they assess whether a candidate had that skill? What particular set of behaviours and expertise did they think candidates would have? For example, coaching really helps resilience, but was nowhere in the position description.
  • How would they assess whether one candidate was more skilled than another? Was this subjective? Could they rate examples somehow?
  • How skilled are the interviewers at assessing resilience building? What examples are they looking for? What behavioural questioning would they propose? This presupposes some expertise on the interview panel. Is this accurate?
  • How would they assess whether the candidate’s view of resilience was the same as theirs and the organisation’s? Does the organisation have a view, or a hope, or a wish? It can be such a common word we all assume we know what it might look like.
  • In situ, how would the employment environment impact the manager’s effect on the team’s resilience? Would the organisational noise drown out the manager’s efforts, and impact the staff more than they could?
  • What organisational structures and systems would support the manager’s resilience building? Which would undermine it? Did they know? How could they tell the difference? Have they tried to figure it out before?
  • In any event, how would the manager’s impact on resilience be assessed? What scale are they using? What testing? Is it only this manager’s team, or are they measured relative to all other teams?
  • Would they have internal resource people/resources to go to for assistance? Who are the internal champions, subject matter experts, or navigators? What channels are in place?
  • How skilled is the manager’s manager at building resilience? Can they help? What’s their expertise? Might the new hire’s work be evaluated by someone with no experience?
  • Is resilience building a standard expectation of all managers? Does it extend right through to the CE? If not, why not?
  • How will performance on resilience building be assessed at appraisal time? Are there metrics in play here? KPIs?
  • How would they assess resilience in the manager’s team and thus whether it had improved over time? Feedback from direct reports? Something completely subjective?
  • Was there a way of teasing out why it had or hadn’t improved? How would they know?
  • Were they really sure they were getting what they wanted, given how highly they rated the skill?
  • Would this be something they would ask when reference checking a candidate? What exactly would they ask? How well prepared would your own referees be to answer this question about you?
  • If there are only weak answers to these questions, is it reasonable to expect it of the manager?
  • Do they believe in magic?

There was still work to do

In short, they hadn’t really thought through their approach. What had been a necessary skill was really a ‘nice to have’ because they recognised how important it was. I have absolutely no criticism of their intent.

If an organisation wants the skill in their people, I wonder if they ought to wrap some deeper thinking and structure around the expectation.

Find out what’s required. Understand what you’re asking for. Get some help if you need to. Include broad views from the organisation. Ask lots of questions. Find internal enthusiasm. Align it with existing behaviours. Perhaps think about this from an organisational perspective and look to provide some training, change some policies, build or adapt some systems and processes, and ensure the culture supports it before expecting it of new hires.

And above all, build it in, then promote it and reinforce it from the top.

Interested in your thoughts.

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