A culture of adaptability: Leading through turbulence with nimble adaptability

Just 30% of employees believe their organization to be nimbly resilient

A culture of adaptability: Leading through turbulence with nimble adaptability

If the turbulent past few years have taught leaders anything, it’s that adaptability and inner strength are key.

And that sense of nimble resilience that will separate a good workplace from a great one in the year to come, according to O.C. Tanner’s 2024 Global Culture Report.

Speaking to HRD, Meghan Stettler, director at the O.C. Tanner Institute, says that weathering change requires more than simply asking your people to ‘pull through’ – it’s about managing any and all disruption by being much less reactionary.

Adaptability, proactivity, and perseverance

“It’s about being reliable,” says Stettler. “By establishing a nimbly resilient culture that embraces change, collaboration, and cross-disciplinary thinking.”

Despite this, according to O.C. Tanner’s data, just 30% of employees believe their organization to be nimbly resilient – a worrying statistic in today’s already disconnected workplace. In order to amend that, Stettler tells HRD that there are three powerful principles, that when practiced by organizations, leaders, and employees, create nimbly resilient cultures: adaptability, proactivity, and perseverance.

“We went a layer deeper to identify distinct behaviours that promote these principles at every level of the organization,” she explains.

For instance, a nimbly resilient organization

  • adapts quickly by implementing new innovations when needed
  • proactively evolves job roles to meet the changing demands of the marketplace
  • and perseveres by treating setbacks as learning opportunities.

“When employees perceive their organization as nimbly resilient, the odds of above-average engagement increases by 699% and revenue by 158%,” adds Stettler. “It’s important for organizations to set the tone and send a clear message that resilience is more than just an endurance sport — it’s a cultural shift that requires the organization, leaders, and employees to each adopt nimbly resilient principles and practice behaviors that will allow them to build relationships, identify new solutions, and advance a forward-thinking perspective to change.”

Leadership’s role in nimble resilience

But it’s not a case of ‘keep calm and carry on’ in times of employee burnout – and regurgitating empty mantras won’t help employees cope in the long-term. Instead, leaders must take a proactive approach – they have to be the champions of resilience – setting an example for their people.

After all, if you see your manager working into the night – unable to switch off – that’s exactly what you think they’ll expect from you.

“Leaders play a crucial role in shaping the employee experience and perception of overall culture by the way they model and promote the behaviours of nimble resilience,” says Stettler. “We discovered that nimbly resilient leaders proactively work across disciplines to plan and pivot when challenges come their way, and then give their teams the flexibility, voice and support they need to innovate and overcome setbacks. 

“It’s really about a leader’s ability to communicate transparently, build relationships and foster an environment of psychological safety that will prioritize employee wellbeing even under the most pressing situations.”

To go deeper, O.C. Tanner’s research uncovered specific behaviors that align with the three principles identified above:

  • First, leaders set the tone of adaptability by not being intimated by challenges and helping their teams quickly adjust when project requirements change.
  • Second, they proactively have a plan for how their team can meet growing demands while fostering an environment where identifying new and better ways of working are encouraged across the team.
  • Lastly, leaders persevere by recovering quickly from setbacks and helping their teams do likewise by handling difficulties as positive learning opportunities to grow stronger.

“Employees who believe their leaders are nimbly resilient are nine times more likely to think they’re also nimbly resilient,” adds Stettler. “So, you can see that when organizations, leaders and employees embrace and promote nimbly resilient behaviors, it creates an agile environment for sustainable growth and success no matter the challenge.”

Measuring metrics on nimble resilience

Actions are only as good as their outcomes – and if you’re not measuring the data on how nimble your people are then you’re wasting a golden opportunity to adapt and grow even further.  Fortunately, new to this year’s Global Culture Report is an action guide to help organizations reflect on their existing resilience framework, identify strengths and opportunities to infuse principles into culture through policies and programs, as well as chart a roadmap with measurable outcomes.

The action guide intentionally helps organizations take a personalized approach by asking such questions as:

  • How does your organization define and approach resilience, and how does that affect your current workplace culture and employee experience?
  • How would you rate the three core behaviors of nimble resilience across the organization, leaders, and teams?  How does your culture reinforce these ratings?  What policies or programs could you leverage to close these gaps and measure improvement?
  • What milestones, challenges and outcomes do you hope to achieve over the next quarter?

“By working through these exercises, organizations will be able to draw meaningful connections and create actionable strategies for making nimble resilience part of an organization’s ethos,” says Stettler. As an example—one program or tool organizations could leverage to better infuse nimble resilience into culture is recognition.  In fact, organizations that align their program to recognize people for core behaviors often see those practices quickly becoming integrated.

“So, be sure to give frequent, personalized, and meaningful recognition to those who adapt through change, proactively find new ways of working, or persevere through setbacks. Afterall, when individuals see their leader and organization as nimbly resilient and recognition is integrated into culture, the odds of engagement increase by 7x and desire to stay by 3x.”

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