3 steps to building a resilient, high performance organisation

Building a sustainable high performance organisation requires a systemic and integrated approach which will deliver higher productivity, increased sales, customer satisfaction, and employee retention, writes Stuart Taylor

The backbone of a high performance business is a resilient workforce. Like a good farmer knows not to exhaust their soil for crops, great corporate leaders create a sustainable work culture that makes the organisation more likely to succeed in the long-run.

In a climate of uncertainty, fear-based work cultures ­– where staff are reluctant to voice their concerns for fear of punishment – are common and ultimately costly for businesses. In these fragile environments, failure is viewed as unacceptable and individuals must ‘sprint a marathon’ in the pursuit of innovation, competitiveness and bottom-line performance.

How widespread is stress and fear in the workplace?
In association with our global arm The Resilience Institute, we studied 26,099 professionals over a six-year period (2010–2016) resulting in the Global Resilience Diagnostic Report. The report found that more than half of the workforce experience chronic stress symptoms and excessive worry. The report also reveals that over the six-year period, individuals’ health awareness increased, yet levels of fitness, relaxation and impulse control still declined.

These high-intensity working environments are leading to lost productivity, high staff turnover, absenteeism, distress, and an increased rate of burn-out in professionals. This effect often starts at leadership level and permeates through the organisation.

So how can organisations foster a culture of sustainable high performance, where employees are resilient and can strive for optimum results while feeling safe to make mistakes?

The architecture of a sustainable high performance organisation
Research of teams at Google found that the most successful teams were those with a high level of psychological safety. When employees felt safe enough to take risks, they did better work.

Essentially, a sustainable high performance organisation will:

  1. Excel, innovate and lead in their chosen field.
  2. Clearly articulate strategy and respond with agility to turbulent external conditions.
  3. Bounce back from major organisational setbacks.
  4. Attract and retain the best people in the market.
  5. Develop a values-based culture that is aligned with a higher purpose.
  6. Maintain a calm, deliberate focus on strategy execution.
  7. Nurture strong, mutually rewarding relationships with all stakeholders.
  8. Develop leaders who lead for a higher purpose with compassion, values congruence, humility, realistic optimism, consciousness and courage.
  9. Reward people based on results and values-consistent behaviours.
  10. Embed sustainability into organisational practices.

 Building a sustainable high performance organisation requires a systemic and integrated approach which can be outlined in three stages:

  1. Primary: Redefine the organisational purpose (why), organisational values and behaviours (what), and leadership styles and management processes (how) to align to the changing environment.
  2. Secondary: Help leaders, teams and individuals to master the behaviours which nurture healthy workplaces.
  3. Tertiary: Support staff who are struggling with mental and physical health and help them to recover from periods of high intensity.

Building a sustainable high performance organisation requires a systemic and integrated approach

1. Redefine the organisation
If organisational focus and systems need improvement, it is critical that the environment itself be re-designed first so that leaders and staff can thrive.

By revisiting the organisation’s purpose, values and behaviours, and management processes, leaders are able to identify the roadblocks that may be causing inefficiencies and excessive stress. A shift in business attitude goes far beyond surface-level initiatives such as yoga in the boardroom, or free fruit in the lunch room. While these wellness steps can certainly add positivity into the work environment, staff will benefit more from fundamental changes that address potential negative issues.

2. Nurture a healthy workplace
Organisations that achieve sustainable high performance have teams of resilient people who drive organisational purpose and individual wellbeing.

Development of this culture starts at the top. It is critical for organisations to foster compassionate leadership. The compassionate leader appreciates the talents of their team members, and seeks to help the individual achieve a realistic, more optimistic future. Strong trust and respect is the ultimate result.

Resilient organisations invest in their people to build these abilities:

  • Bounce – Toughness and recovery skills in adversity and change
  • Courage – Enthused by change and challenge
  • Creativity – Develop talent and opportunity
  • Connection – Humility, respect and care for others and nature

Providing practical resilience education to leaders and staff is essential to maintain a positive work culture. The five assets of resilience and associated disciplines shown below can be taught.

Five assets of resilience and associated disciplines

Get to know your staff’s varying levels of resilience and recognise where the organisation can add value with initiatives that enable team members to build on existing strengths. By communicating your team’s strengths and challenges openly, your staff will improve their self-awareness.

3. Support staff
Statistically, all organisations will have people with mental and physical health challenges that require professional help to recover. Most organisations have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in place where staff are able to access free psychological counselling. The biggest challenge with EAP is reducing the stigma associated with staff accessing the service. Organisations also need to improve leaders’ competence to recognise mental ill-health in their staff and have strong trust in place to compassionately discuss it.

Benefits of building a resilience workforce
Resilience programs in general have been shown to have a return of investment of $2.30 for every dollar invested (ref. The Mentally Workplace Alliance, PwC Australia 2014) which is evident in a reduction in absenteeism, presenteeism, and improvements in engagement and productivity.

Research specifically into the impact of Springfox programs, which are underpinned by our unique, evidence-based, integral and practical Resilience Model, has shown significant improvements as measured by our Resilience Diagnostic instrument. Research findings from our Global Diagnostic Resilience Report show that our programs have had significant impact including:

  • 25 per cent increase in resilience (as measured by our Resilience Ratio)
  • 86 per cent increase in sleep quality
  • 30 per cent increase in bounce
  • 43 per cent increase in focus
  • 22 per cent increase in emotional insight

Impact of establishing a sustainable high performance organisation
On an individual level, achieving the pinnacle of sustainable high performance in business results in staff spending more time in a state of ‘flow’. This ‘flow’ is defined by psychologists as the state where we are fully engaged and can comfortably achieve optimal performance, enjoy good health and feel increasingly positive.

By embracing organisational practices that encourage high productivity in the long-term, businesses can create a valuable culture of trust. This culture paves the way to real business outcomes: higher productivity, increased sales, customer satisfaction, and employee retention.

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