Earlier today, my colleague Nick wrote a blog post on the importance of resilience in the long-term success of decentralized systems. As he puts it, if technical systems and protocols fail to adapt and change over time, it’s unlikely that they will stay relevant in the long term.
Of course, resilience isn’t a term reserved uniquely for technical systems and protocols we might use like GPS or HTTP/DNS.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how resiliency plays into the effectiveness of people, teams, and organizations. After all, if you can’t adapt and evolve your business when the world changes around you, you’ll fall risk to external factors like market conditions and new competitors.
This week at USV, we hosted a half-day workshop for our founders and CEOs around the idea of building resiliency in yourself as a leader. What actions can you take to prepare yourself mentally for the challenges that lie ahead? How you reduce your risk of “getting stuck” in the trenches when things get tough and increase the likelihood that you can rebound back from low points?
There are no easy answers.
If willpower is a muscle, then resiliency sure is, too. And when it comes to organizational development, it stems from the top.
A few years ago, at an HR Summit we hosted at USV, we brought in the VP of HR from a fast-growing company that had scaled to 1,000+ employees. While the room ate up all sorts of advice and tips about how to “scale culture,” there was one element of his presentation that really stood out to me.
The biggest lesson their company learned the hard way, as he explained, was that they lacked “organizational resiliency.” While certain senior executives had experiences ebbs and flows of businesses from previous jobs, most of the organization was comprised of younger, newer entrants to the workforce.
As he put it, “If everyone gets used to things going up and to the right month after month, what happens when something breaks apart? Turns out, we couldn’t handle it.”
Together with the CEO, they actively worked to prepare the rest of the company for the idea that things might not always be so rosy. They told stories about the dot-com boom and bust. They reminded employees that businesses go through downsizing events just as often as they experience high-growth spurts. They contextualized their position in the market in as realistic a way as possible.
But no matter how many stories you tell, can you really ever prepare employees for the possibility that there might be a failed product launch one day? An executive leadership change? A significant downsizing event?
It’s easy to hear stories; it’s much harder to see your closest colleague walk out the door with less than a day’s notice.
I’ve heard examples about how companies encourage employees to push through tough spots with organized “fail debriefs” — meetings when employees get up and talk about why things went horribly wrong in a project rollout. I’ve also seen company leaders who openly discuss the biggest problems that an organization is facing transparently with the entire company. But does any of this come close to simply having “been there, done that” once before?
If you’ve observed great examples of how this “resiliency muscle” can be flexed in the workplace to build a stronger organization or team, I’d love to hear about it.
Also published on Medium.