Principle 4: Resilience and relationships


WD-40 – what a great product! I use it to keep my hedge-cutter blades clean, loosen nuts and lubricate hinges. This is just a few of its many uses.

The website of the San Diego based company features over 2000 uses. These have been suggested by customers who have clearly been so enamoured with the product that they have tried to do the most amazing things with it, including cleaning guitar strings, getting tomato stains off clothes (as a pre-treatment) and even making the game ‘Twister’ more difficult by spraying the mat before you start.

WD-40 is a water-displacing (the clue is in the ‘WD’), penetrating and soil removing lubricant spray with myriad uses, all of which focus on helping move things that should be able to move (including stains). This product, in its way, illustrates the value of the fourth principle in generating committed change – and something which I have rarely seen used when major change is envisaged: invest to enable people to be capable to change by building relationships and resilience.

Capability to thrive in change

At a personal level, we often resist a change because of a lack of resilience and trust or confidence in others.

Fear of the consequences of change, of as yet unknown outcomes, of losing our role, position or valued experiences, of broken friendships or failure. All restrict our confidence and desire for change. They crowd in to build resistance, especially as we get older or more established (and have more to lose) or feel more vulnerable.

New technology often puts people off because they do not feel confident of using it and so do not try … in case they look daft or it causes problems. The much publicised problems in our energy market similarly demonstrate the issue well (see energy to change post).

This natural tendency needs to be countered by leaders. People will not commit wholeheartedly unless they feel capable of doing so successfully. They resist the risk and evident personal losses that it will mean. They get rooted in often less important things. They fail to contribute to shaping a change and they will be unable to commit to change early or even at all!

It is therefore vital that leaders build up the flexibility and health of the whole organisation. This requires work on two interlinked elements: the overall quality of relationships across the community and the personal resilience of individuals within it.

Enhancing resilience is about building someone’s ability (and confidence) to get through tough events well emotionally.

Enhancing relationships is about building the social support that prevents isolation and creates a sense of team.

Together they enable people to look forward with greater openness. They provide a better perspective on what’s really important and what less important. They help maintain the health of the organisation.They are fuel for wholehearted change.

Building these is just like treating the organisation with WD-40!


What priorities does this raise?

1 Building a balanced sense of self-responsibility

It would mean equipping people with the understanding, skills and relationships that enable them to take more responsibility for both themselves and their co-workers: understanding and helping people to recognise and manage stress effectively, openly challenging unhelpful attitudes (both in themselves and others), and doing this is in a way that builds teaming and fosters interdependent behaviours.

Stating it like this expresses the challenge. It also highlights how rarely leaders make this investment for change. Successful wholehearted change builds on strong teams and self-responsible individuals. These qualities need enough investment in the run-up to strategic change.

2 Encouraging open and reasoned dialogue and behaviours

Reason and openness often take a hit with change. People react rather than respond. Yet they are vital to maintain the strength of the organisation and to achieve the best outcomes. A reasoned response is always better than an emotional reaction.

Open and reasoned dialogue needs encouragement and example. Leaders need to model it in their approach to problems, facts and possible solutions. We need to expose the reasonable base for decisions under our responsibility and demand this of others.

We should also foster an awareness of the importance of behaviours (e.g. acceptable disagreement, openness and listening), with a focus on encouraging people to play to their strengths and remaining flexible on the specific form of any change as oppose to the vital importance of underlying reasons for changes.

3 Building effective teaming

Radical and strategic changes undermine teaming and relationships. They often break up established teams and provoke an insularity and defensiveness that can poison trust within the organisation for many years to come. This is especially true if current relationships or past history are poor.

Leaders often adopt a ‘divide and conquer’ approach, playing winners and losers off against each other. This all too readily feeds personally defensive strategies. Rather we need to be seen to continue to value people and recognise the losses and emotional hurt that is inevitable in change – even without compromising the move forward. This means teamwork is modelled in the leadership team and cascaded through the organisation. It means continued investment in team activities, social interactions, empathetic dialogue and the ‘tough love’ of good teams.

Wholehearted change flows from a strong meaning (the why) and through questions that help to highlight the gaps and challenges to be addressed. Leaders support these with community strength.

What might this look like in practice?

A specific programme of activities can easily be designed by the organisation itself – bringing an intimate understanding of where it is strong and weak and monitoring the action being taken. The ownership of the programme can itself be a powerful reinforcement of this fourth principle. However, the sorts of things that are likely to be effective are a mix of:

  • Work team development, starting with the leadership team. Identifying and working on problem relationships and behaviours in the team, building an understanding of personal styles, strengths and weaknesses
  • Resilience tools and training (including things like mindfulness training, breathing and relaxation, self-observation and acceptance) with ample opportunity not just to learn the techniques but also to regularly practice them. A programme like that developed by Linda Lantieri in NY schools is a good example of the basket of tools that an organisation might use
  • In a team, individually answer the 12 question checklist from the book “First Break all the Rules” (Buckingham/Coffman, 1999) and identify where issues need addressing on a one-by-one basis
  • Ensure in briefings and meetings that the meaning and reasoning behind the change is discussed with human and business issues addressed
  • Use exercises to promote greater understanding and empathy between staff (e.g. MBTF, style questionnaires, personal history, Strengths/Weaknesses/ Likes/Hates etc)
  • Pull people together to talk about what they find meaningful in their own work, separate out the important from the less important, and identify what they find difficult in the change – with a view to building support networks to discuss and work these through
  • Training on stress management, conflict resolution, assertiveness, negotiation and problem solving  – tools which people can use to avoid feeling helpless in the face of change
  • Build on work team events to strengthen interpersonal relationships and trust (things which, if pressured, task focused corporates and individuals  often cut back on).
  • Set the tone of meetings into and through the change process very carefully – with the aim of allowing ‘processing time’ for people to reflect on what is happening and build a clear story in their heads

It is important that emotions are discussed and given legitimacy in discussions  (something that is not often encouraged!) and that people are encouraged to reflect on challenges and changes and their significance (or not!). In some schools in the NY resilience programme they start faculty meetings with a chime and brief meditation. This helps to set the tone for discussions. Useful because it promotes reflection and thought – seats of reason and empathy.

The aim throughout is to provide a set of processes that enable people to be more assured of good outcomes in spite of any threats that the change might present to them. This helps people to participate more readily and interactively in the change and boosts commitment. People can start to concentrate on the content and handle the stress of change.

Ironically the overall health of the organisation ahead of major change is a key factor in helping people feel able to commit to change wholeheartedly. The most important factors in realising this are the strength of relationships and trust between people and the resilience of the individuals involved.

This enables those things that should move to move more easily. We can all find areas of our organisational commitment that need a good squirt of WD-40. Principle 4 is about this.