November 3, 2020
Building organizational resilience through purpose, potential, and play
By Laura Butler, SVP of People and Culture
This article originally appeared on HR.com.
The predictable result of facing so many unprecedented challenges in such short succession—both nationally and globally—is default to short-term thinking. When office buildings first cleared out in March, many thought we’d be working from home for a few weeks at most, just long enough to “flatten the curve” of Covid-19 transmission. Here we are, almost seven months later, with no end to remote working insight.
Writing in Harvard Business Review, Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi stated, “During crises such as Covid-19, people often tend to focus more on tactical work—answering the right number of tickets, or following the approved project plan—rather than adapting to solve the bigger, newer problems the business may be facing.”
But when a crisis drags on for months, a focus on tactical work will only keep us treading water. The question before us now is how to shift to long-term thinking and keep our newly remote workforces engaged and aligned around the work that matters most to our organizations. Here are four ways for HR leaders to move beyond that initial crisis response, establish resilience, and build and maintain greater organizational agility to help us weather whatever’s coming next.
1. Harness intrinsic motivation.
Now more than ever, we need to find ways to make sure the people we hire are in love with our business problem, not with our cutting-edge facilities and perks. How do our people have fun not just at work, but in doing the work? Are our people finding meaning and purpose in the work they do each day? These are the questions we need to be asking if we want to motivate our top people to stay.
2. Practice goal-setting.
Achieving goals is fundamental to improving business health organization-wide. But the people the business expects to execute on the overall vision rarely have insight into the guidance and trajectory that they should put themselves on. So you end up with amazing people doing amazing work that may or may not help you attain what you want to do as a business. There are many possible reasons for this:
- The goals may be unclear, which makes it impossible for team members to map their work to them.
- Perhaps no one has made a deliberate connection between the organization’s stated purpose and the individual’s contribution.
- There may be a chasm between what the organization says it needs to do to be successful and the work team members are doing every day.
- Leaders might lack visibility into whether day-to-day work is actually supporting the organization’s priorities.
3. Leverage a sense of play.
In a high-performance culture, play and purpose go hand in hand. People love the work they do, and they believe it matters. That’s the secret. Think of it like playing tennis. If you love the game, you don’t care that it’s hard, or that it’s hot outside, or that you don’t always win. You’re just happy to be swinging that racket and hitting that sweet spot again and again. But if you don’t like tennis, you’ll never lose yourself in it. You’ll be annoyed by all the running, the heat, and the off-putting scoring system.
The same holds true in the business world. If there’s a match between the job you’re asking your team members to do and their natural interests, fulfillment and engagement will follow. So, what are you doing as a leader to not only ensure this kind of alignment but also communicate that it’s a company value?
4. Encourage freedom within the framework.
Instead, set up a clear framework of mission, vision, and goals, with plenty of room for team members to iterate and innovate, via rapid feedback loops. But for it to work, you have to make sure your rapid feedback loops aren’t about micromanaging or auditing. They should be about co-creating and enabling greater autonomy.
Adaptive performance is agile and fluid, but it’s not boundaryless. When you have a transparent, autonomous culture, the boss can monitor parameters and keep an eye on what’s going on. And team members feel empowered to adjust the plan, proactively attach the tasks to particular goals (because they know what the goals are!), iterate and innovate, and ultimately take the project in exciting new directions.
But wait, there’s more!
Whatever tools you rely on to increase intrinsic motivation and adapt to the challenges at hand, make sure you don’t approach it from a compliance or micromanagement mindset, or it will feel like just another top-down initiative cascading from leadership to the masses. This is not about taking command of the ship and charting the course yourself; it’s about getting everyone voluntarily rowing in the same direction, with each rower clearly understanding their purpose, connecting to their true potential, and even discovering a sense of play along the way.