20 Nov 2021

Making resilience routine: how a crisis has the power to lead to behavioural change

The power of a crisis

The global pandemic has created turmoil for many organisations. Undoubtedly, this is one of the most challenging periods in recent history. But it also presents an opportunity – crises can actually be valuable. 

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” said Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s Chief of Staff, during the 2008 global financial meltdown. Leaders can use the opportunity to instil the sense that something must change. Charles Duhigg talks about the ‘Power of a Crisis’, suggesting that good leaders can seize crises to remake organisational habits.

We looked at the ‘habit loop’ in our previous blog post. We learnt that the three-step process (cue, routine and reward) is something that quickly becomes automatic. That’s why it’s easy to fall into bad habits.

Destructive organisational habits

Companies are guided by long-held organisational habits, patterns that often emerge from thousands of employees’ independent decisions. These habits or routines are crucial – without them, most companies would never get any work done. But many of these habits involve the wrong sorts of behaviour and can create a destructive workplace culture. 

Perhaps now’s the time to examine our organisational habits and start shaping a workplace culture we can be proud of?

For many employees, in challenging roles, and in challenging times, willpower, resilience and self-discipline are important traits. But, despite best intentions, it’s easy for fatigue and negativity to set in. There are days when we’ve had enough – we snap, we get distracted, we give up. 

How to make resilience routine

But we can get better at impulse control, by taking it one habit at a time. When you learn to hit the gym, tackle your to-do list or order salad instead of fries, part of what’s happening is you’re changing how you think. By fixing just one bad habit, you’ll get better at regulating your impulses – and this will have a positive impact across other areas of your life. Get the hang of willpower, and it will become a habit.

Starbucks makes for a fascinating case study. They created a training programme to develop resilience and self-discipline amongst their customer-facing teams. Employees had to imagine unpleasant customer interactions and put together a plan for responding. They created willpower “habit loops”, in the form of suggested responses and behaviours (the routine) for when the customer kicks off (the cue). By choosing a certain behaviour ahead of time, and then following that routine when the cue happens (customer complains), the routine of resolving the situation calmly and effectively becomes a habit.

And what about the reward? What’s in it for the employee? Starbucks went about their training in a way that gave their employees a sense of agency and ownership. Resolving a customer issue provides a sense of satisfaction and gives the employee the feeling they are in control. Willpower and self-control (resisting the urge to snap or fight back) become the norm. The new organisational habit of self-discipline oozes into other areas of employees’ lives –  a win-win situation for all.

If we can make resilience and self-discipline habits at an organisational level, we’re actually making it easier for our people. If we’ve got routines in place, employees can do what they need to do without having to think about it  (and that’s brainpower that can be spent on more important tasks).

There’s nothing we can’t do if we get the habits right. In our next article we explain how we can go about fixing individual habits, by using the habit loop model.