Written by Elatia Abate
Building resilience in our world of accelerated change
The case for a Chief Resilience Officer
Earlier this year, I was reading an article in The Economist entitled, “Hail to the ‘Chiefs’” that described how CEOs often create executive roles to face new, big challenges. Essentially, they do this for three reasons, to:
- channel resources and attention to big problems
- attract talent
- signal internally and externally that issue X matters and that they are doing something about it.
Simultaneously, I was analyzing data from a seven-week project I conducted in September and October of 2020. For this experiment, I reached out individually to all my LinkedIn connections (4,763 at the time) to invite everyone into a twenty-minute conversation.
In that exchange I asked everyone the same five questions:
a) How are we connected?
b) What are you up to now?
c) What is the biggest challenge you are facing?
d) What is the biggest opportunity you see?
e) Given your area of expertise / from your vantage point, what one piece of advice would you share to help a fellow human being navigate the next 18-24 months?
What resulted were 161 conversations and over 80 hours of dialogue with people in 24 countries. Of those conversations, 85% of them were partially or entirely about mental health and resilience.
While there are many fascinating outcomes, two things are abundantly clear:
- First, the “white knuckle” strategy of “wait until it’s over and then…” that many organizations and individuals have employed throughout the pandemic is not sustainable or advisable going forward.
- Second, resilience (organizational and individual) is no longer simply a nice idea, but a strategic imperative if any institution plans on thriving in the coming months and years.
Enter the role of Chief Resilience Officer, meeting the three aforementioned criteria. This individual would be entrusted with building organizational resilience through cross-functional strategy design and implementation support, as well as developing employee resilience by partnering with the CHRO/CPO to create comprehensive and constantly evolving individual resilience training for every employee at every seniority level.
While the pandemic and its resulting disruptions hit us with the shock of a lightning bolt, there is a tsunami of change on the horizon and coming in hot. We are only 1% into the massive shifts that are beginning to show themselves with the advent Fourth Industrial Revolution and its exponential changes. (Check out the Peter Diamandis & Steven Kotler book The Future Is Faster Than You Think for more on this.)
In this new era, successful organizations will develop the ability to quickly and easily adapt to, or better, direct market disruptions with proactive and preemptive positions rather than scrambled, surprised reactions. Fundamentally, they will develop the ability resolve the “Push-Me/Pull-You” problem of integrating the need to produce results today (i.e. sales, profit, market share, quarterly returns) with the (seemingly) competing priority of transforming future trends into current business outcomes. The Chief Resilience Officer would use their knowledge of strategic foresight, external market dynamics, and internal strategy and capabilities to direct these efforts.
There is a massive rise in mental health issues globally due to the direct and secondary effects of the pandemic. In the U.S. alone, the percentage of people experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression has gone up from 11% in the first half of 2019 to 42% as of December 2020. As mentioned above, 85% of the conversations I held during the seven-week experiment touched on or centered around mental health or resilience.
If your employees are melting down, your organization will not thrive. Additionally, if you and your employees are not adept at dancing with change and uncertainty, you and they will not be easily or readily able to implement the nimble strategies required to be successful in an increasingly disrupted world. Your organization is facing a clear and present risk if any meaningful percentage of its members (including you) are resistant to change.
So, in addition to the immediate action of shifting mental health and wellness from a healthcare benefit to a strategic development imperative, a Chief Resilience Officer would partner with the CHRO or Chief People Officer to develop robust resilience training for all employees at every level of the organization.
This resilience training should include the participation of a VP of Mental Health, similar to what AB-InBev’s operation in Brazil has recently adopted, support of robust mindset coaching programs, and training and development curricula focused on components of strategic resilience, including clarity of individual purpose and values, systems and methods used to identify and challenge assumptions, and active empathy building and connection-strengthening techniques.
Whether your organization chooses to create a Chief Resilience Officer role, or not, the questions raised are ones that should be considered. Moving forward, disruption of exponential size is going to occur with greater frequency. And, when these exponential changes begin to converge…
 Abbot, Allison. “COVID’s mental-health toll: how scientists are tracking a surge in depression,” Nature, February 3, 2021. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00175-z.
By Elatia Abate, Futurist & Partner at Supertrends Institute