Developing adaptive employees has been a goal of organizations for over a decade. While the pandemic forced a degree of adaptation for all of us, it also created even more uncertainty as we look toward the future. Moreover, adaptation fatigue, one of the myriad reasons people resist change, may have worsened, making it even harder to encourage team members to continue to be adaptive or, more simply, to go with the flow.
That leaves leaders with a tremendous challenge: how can you help team members who were hired for clearly defined roles and responsibilities transform into engaged workers who rise to a challenge?
The historic focus on processes, controls and efficiency to ensure standardization in production created employees who were trained to follow routines, not to question the status quo. Employees were rarely encouraged to constantly evaluate their work and look for new ways to change those processes. Rather, they were taught to follow rules or suffer punishment, which could take a variety of forms, from critical performance assessments to lower bonuses to lesser status among peers.
In contrast, researchers have found that developing resilience, or helping team members learn how to respond openly to challenges, is the key to establishing the right mindset for change. That requires a tolerance for ambiguity and an inquisitive attitude that many workers were struggling to maintain before the pandemic, let alone after these past two years. But becoming more resilient is not only possible, it may be the best path toward a healthier happier workforce in the future.
Developing a Resilient Brain
Resilience is a challenge for the brain. To preserve energy, our brains prefer to create habits that enable automaticity-the performance of tasks without much conscious thought. If a behavior is routine, like brushing our teeth, our brains use significantly less energy to complete it.
Additionally, all throughout our lives, the brain undertakes two adaptive functions to encourage the creation of those well-worn pathways: priming and pruning. Priming is the neural mechanism that makes the pathways move quickly. The more we do something repeatedly, the smoother that pathway becomes (and the more habitual…