Grow Your Own Resilience — Lionesses of Africa

By Lionesses of Africa Operations Department

As we come to the end of yet another year ‘like no other’, it is only right that we look to the future with an understanding of what has passed. After all, none of us can claim not to have been infected by the events of the past two years, not only by the horror that was 2020, but then the realization in 2021 that Covid was here to stay, and either we adapted our businesses or we were finished. Sadly, no one cares why a company goes out of business, there are no excuses in the business afterlife – it is just closed, which in anyone’s books is pretty final. 

In a recent McKinsey report entitled, ‘Battling burnout: A conversation with resiliency expert Dr. Amit Sood’ (here) he stated that: 

Stress is not a creation of our own volition; it is a part of how the brain operates. By improving psychological resilience, we also can improve our physical resilience to be able to tackle whatever comes next.” True of nature, true of our employees, true of businesses…

As we discussed last weekend, working with our employees has such huge benefits and in these dark days where Covid seems to be the ‘gift that keeps on giving’ (as it keeps on rearing its ugly head, time and time again), absolutely essential. Overnight we have as entrepreneurs learnt the art of being nimble, of pivoting and of finding the way each and every morning of pulling the duvet off, putting on a brave face and heading out to face the world. 

Having seen our companies surviving and now hopefully thriving in the new Covid Era we should next look at how we can bolster this resilience, through our own employees who have grown with us within our young business, who still have so much to learn about the science of running a business and train them in the art of expecting shocks (which seem to come at an ever increasing speed) and finding solutions to (occasionally bizarre) problems. To build a resilient Management and C-Suite level, to both run with you the ever growing company, but also so that when that fateful day comes that you recognize your company, your baby has now grown from 1-5 employees, into a grumpy teenager, pushing and pulling for empire with 100-200 employees and possibly further into young age with 500-1000 employees, you will have built a Management and C-Suite that can take over from you, to not only run the business, to continue to build the company, but still have the ability to be nimble, to plan ahead for Black Swans (yes we know a ‘Black Swan’ event is one totally unexpected, so by definition it is something for which it is impossible for which to totally prepare and plan – but still one can install nimbleness into your management thinking!), and to be aware of the world around that could potentially impact the future.

Unsure as to why you can’t continue to run your company forever as growth continues? Well, apart from the obvious – being knocked down by a bus or taxi as you calmly cross the road one day in Kinshasa, Lagos or Nairobi – a growing company will start to demand other skills that perhaps you do not possess. Who knows, maybe you do possess these skills, but most often there comes a time when as your company grows, you may recognize that your entrepreneurial mindset may not be best suited to run your company now that you have 300 or 1,000 or 10,000 employees, a far larger turnover, a factory where you cannot even hear yourself thin,k and a Board that is becoming ever more nervous. We previously wrote earlier this year of a factor of 10, where each time your employees multiply from 10 to 100 to 1000, or 20-200-2000, this is a whole new mindset and leadership required.

Things always seemed far simpler when it was just you and a few employees manufacturing by hand and stuffing your bags one by one with your amazing products. But here we are now – a completely different company (certainly if the noise levels are anything to go by!), and that will demand a different style of management, a CFO planning strategy many years ahead and a CTO with a budget that just blows your mind.

The ‘great’ thing and why now is the perfect time for us to be thinking of building resilience into our employees and middle management is that as McKinsey say here, “If you could say anything positive about the COVID19 pandemic—and its latest twist, the Omicron variant—it might be that it forced a lot of people to get better at accepting and acting upon the need for change.

This ability to accept change allows us to build a new resilience into our future Management and C-Suite team, to create a “physical resilience [within them] to be able to tackle whatever comes next…”

As BCG say here, “Businesses often frame crises as periods when the focus should be on risk and damage mitigation. For a resilient company, however, crises can instead offer opportunities for differential growth and advantage.

BCG go onto say that resilience brings a competitive advantage through three main pillars of performance and these are:

  1. Lower shock impact”. Think of your car, not only do you have the shock absorbers in the form of a bumper and a safety shell to take the brunt of any impact – but also one assumes you don’t drive with your eyes closed, but alert to any potential threat that might cross your path.

  2. Faster recovery speed”. Know anyone at a high level in sports? Their recovery rate is incredible. Where we would still be aching and groaning three days later, they are up springing around the very next morning!

  3. Greater recovery extent”. This is directly related to the speed at which companies adapt to the ‘new normal’ and in turn then shape their industry. This gives our star performers the ability to sustain their new found dominance for longer.

This is what we want. We may not have it as yet, we may have got through the first two years of the Covid Era by the skin of our teeth, but to build for the future, to really build, we must look to build resilience into our company. That comes from training our people, and recognizing the future leaders and working to install in their minds this physical resilience that they in turn build resilience into the fabric of the company.

We are not for one moment suggesting that you subject your best employees to mountains of stress, to 24 hours of loud music (although our children seem to manage that quite easily!), or sleep deprivation (kids! – just how do they do it?!) just so that we can announce loudly that our employees are now resilient – please don’t try that. But we were excited to see that Heidrick and Struggles have brought out some research on this exact issue (the resilience training, not the loud music). Don’t worry if you have never heard of these global thought leaders, many haven’t and that is because they are one of the world’s leading executive search agencies. Get a call from them and you have really made it, as they only deal in the rarefied C-Suite atmospheres of Fortune 500, FTSE 100 and other multi-billion US$ companies. Luckily for us mere mortals in the Lioness Head Office, they also have world beating leadership, organisation and culture divisions that push out incredible research.

In their research ‘Developing future-ready leaders’ (here), they say “Organizations that rethink a few aspects of their executive development programs will have the best chance of developing leaders who will help them thrive now and deliver a sustainable and resilient future.

So what are the main priorities we need from our future or even current leaders? 

Number one is “leading through influence”, which we can all agree is far better than ordering team members or employees to just do! The great leaders of all time have had this ability. We have to find those of our employees who have that ability or guide the others to think more like that.

The next is “execution” – there is far too much talk and no trousers in the world currently. Eventually we all want people to just stop talking and get on with it! Within your organisation you have those able to execute…and yes, certainly those able to talk! As we and indeed Shakespeare showed (here), a Macbeth is just as bad as a Hamlet – as so often – balance is the key.

Third is the need to think outside the box to create new possibilities. We all know of people who are just two dimensional – get stuck in strange positions purely because they cannot see the wood from the trees. We need to find those with that third dimension, that ability, or show those a bit nervous it is possible… 

Finally, the one we love – “having an ownership mindset.” If all our employees looked upon the company as their own, as having ownership of their decisions, of thinking of the future direction of the company, of not only recognizing responsibility, but also obligations, what a difference that would make.

They quote Tim Munden, the chief learning officer of Unilever, who recently said, “Our job as leaders is to set direction, define parameters, and then let people run with it. But there are plenty of things that can get in the way of that. Fear, insecurity, uncertainty.” 

How we do this whilst there is this “fear, insecurity, uncertainty” around?

H&S firstly suggest, through ‘role-modelling by current leaders’ – this will include openness about mistakes made by the leaders, to allow them to show that we are all human and that the world will not end if something doesn’t quite turn out as expected. To encourage certain risks to be taken in allowing team members or junior employees to try out their ideas (usual factory rules on Health and Safety accepted of course!), and to work with them to find solutions to any problems that might pop up – the unintended consequences we old hands know all about! Not only are we able to teach during this and direct to our values and purpose, but most importantly we shall begin to see the natural leaders move to the fore.

Secondly they suggest individual or small-group coaching – again a safe space (which is always so important), but here we are looking for thoughts and ideas to be talked through. Problems aired and solutions found. This aspect of opening up and then together solving problems starts to engineer nimble thinking.

Through both of these not only are we able to train our employees during this and direct them to our core values and purpose, but most importantly we shall begin to see the natural leaders, who lead through influence; who think outside the box when addressing problems or issues; who are three dimensional, adding colour to solutions; able to take calculated risks; who recognize that unintended consequences sometimes do pop up, but are able to react, quickly and nimbly, move to the fore.

As we move towards the end of 2021, you have done the hard work, now time to build for the future, a future where only the resilient will survive.

Stay safe.

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