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Developing a mindset of resilience during changes and crises


When your organization goes through unstable or challenging times, it’s critical that everyone on your team adopt a mindset of resilience.

A mindset of resilience is:

  • The capacity to continue to develop despite disruption – for example, being able to adapt to changing circumstances, incorporate new behaviors and follow new processes
  • The ability to let go of what makes you comfortable
  • A tolerance for ambiguity

Why is a mindset of resilience important?

Charles Darwin phrased it best: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one that is most responsive to change.”

Examples of changes that could upend your workplace and test the mental fortitude of your team to varying degrees:

  • Pandemics, such as COVID-19
  • Severe economic downturns
  • Industry disruptions
  • Technology disruptions
  • Incidents of terrorism
  • Natural disasters

For your business to survive and even thrive amidst this type of turmoil, your team needs to be flexible.

Part of their ability to cope with change will be due to their own natural tendencies.

The other piece of it is environmental. How can you, as a leader, create a positive, supportive atmosphere that can help to guide everyone through a turbulent period? Let’s explore this topic further.

Linear thinking versus a mindset of resilience

Why is it that having a mindset of resilience can be such a challenge for many of us?

We’re creatures of comfort.

We crave predictability.

As much as we may realize that change can lead to good outcomes – after all, it’s the impetus for innovation, evolution and growth – we can often resist change.

That’s why it’s our norm to revert to linear thinking and processes: Step 1, Step 2, Step 3, etc. It’s what we’re familiar with, it’s what we’ve been trained to do and it generally leads to a predictable outcome.

But, almost always, linear thinking will fail employees in a crisis – especially those situations involving multiple changes at once, back-and-forth fluctuations and uncertainty of the future. These situations call for flexibility, agility and more out-of-the-box problem solving.

The processes your employees are accustomed to following may no longer be relevant or adequate for resolving the challenges that your organization now faces. There also may not be a clear beginning, middle and end to the challenges plaguing your organization.

Linear thinking can trap us into thinking there’s only one acceptable way of doing things, which blinds us to other possibilities.

In this situation, linear thinking can make employees feel “stuck,” and prevent them from moving forward and finding success in whatever the “new normal” is.

Employee health and well-being

Why else is a mindset of resilience critical?

Don’t underestimate the physical and emotional toll that workplace disruptions can have on your employees – particularly those who struggle with resiliency.

When changes or crises happen, some of your employees may immediately think:

  • Is the company safe?
  • Is my job secure?
  • How do I fit into the new landscape?
  • What’s the demand for my skill set?
  • If the worst happens, how will I pay my bills and provide for my family?
  • Will I be needed anywhere else?

Certainly, extreme stress related to job security and finances can affect one’s physical health. The hit that an employee’s ego and sense of worth can take can also harm their mental health.

If someone on your team has a poor relationship with their direct manager, and therefore minimal environmental support, their fears will be exacerbated along with the physical and emotional toll on them.

Fearful, negative thinking can be toxic within your team because:

  • It can impact productivity and quality of work.
  • It can cause employees to become self-focused and withdrawn, resulting in failures to help each other and identify larger opportunities for your company.
  • It tends to be contagious, spreading from one team member to another quickly.

In short, it can absolutely impair your company’s ability to get through changes and crises.

Stages of getting through crises

To help your team navigate changes and crises, you need to understand what the typical reaction to a loss of normalcy looks like and the emotions that people commonly experience in these scenarios.

Your team will go through a process similar to the Kübler-Ross change cycle: An initial period of shock and a collective sense of trauma and loss, followed by denial, anger, depression, acceptance and integration. As a final stage, people tend to try to find meaning following change, according to research.

Along the way, people can relapse into previous stages.

Some people will advance through the stages much faster, depending on their pre-existing mindset.

Eventually, most people reach a place of transcendence over the challenge at hand, release what’s painful, make meaning of the situation and move on within the “new normal.”

Promoting a mindset of resilience

Now, let’s discuss what you can do to:

  • Sidestep linear thinking
  • Safeguard the health and well-being of your employees
  • Help your employees advance through the change curve faster
  • Encourage a mindset of resilience

Acknowledgement of the situation

Don’t let panic and rumor spreading take root within your team.

It’s important to bring your team together to confront the issue head on.


  • What’s happened
  • The known impact on the business (so far)
  • What can be expected in the immediate future
  • What employees can do at the current moment (if anything)

This eliminates some of the mystery and uncertainty.

Discussion about the locus of control

Ironically, understanding what we can’t control often makes us become more controlled and mindful in our actions.

As a group, talk through what your team has no control over versus what your team can control.

What you can’t control: All externalities

For example:

  • The changes or crises themselves
  • What other companies in your industry do
  • Government regulations

What you can control and what fosters forward momentum: Your reaction to these externalities

This includes:

  • Individual behavior and mindset
  • Clarity of purpose
  • Care shown for others

Communication and transparency

When done right, your communications with your employees can create a sense of stability and connectivity – both of which are critical in preventing feelings of panic and isolation. People need to feel like they know what’s going on and are included in the solution.

1. Assemble a team from your existing staff focused solely on communicating about the crisis at hand.

2. Communicate only what you know for certain.

Don’t engage in speculation – this only introduces uncertainty. Speculation can also give people false hope or unnecessary worry.

3. Focus more on what you’re committed to doing during the recovery and stabilization process rather than what you can promise.

The difference in commitment versus promise can seem like semantics, but a promise often carries more weight and feels more ironclad.

But a promise can also be more dangerous. When you’re dealing with a fluid situation, promises can be difficult to keep no matter how good your intentions are. You’ll want to avoid the perception that you’ve lied to your team.

4. Convey a plan – or that you’re in the process of creating one.

Your team will want to know what’s next and that you’re doing something to prepare for it. Even if you don’t have a lot of information to share, share what you can. This will help to reduce employees’ anxiety.

Have a contingency plan if conditions shift.

5. Use a variety of communication media to reach everyone on your team.

When selecting media, consider the length, complexity and urgency of your messaging, as well as the type of business and workforce you have.

Talking to employees face to face is often ideal, especially during major changes or crises.

However, if you have a remote or widely distributed workforce, or face-to-face interaction isn’t necessary to convey a particular message, you can employ other media:

  • Text messages
    • Video messages
    • Videoconferencing or conference calls
    • Email
    • Regular mail
    • Posters
    • Flyers

6. Know that the frequency of and need for communication may diminish over time.

At the beginning of a change or crisis, you might communicate with your team daily. As the situation stabilizes, communication might taper off to a weekly basis.

Prioritization and time management

Clarify for your team what’s important right now. This is what they should direct their focus toward.

  • What are your most critical concerns?
  • Which tasks or projects require a sense of urgency?
  • Which tasks or projects can be set aside temporarily?

This prevents people from wondering what they should be doing and whether they’re adding value and avoids wasting time and resources.


Don’t concentrate responsibility for all the important tasks that must get done at the top of your organization. You’ll only make yourself and other senior leaders overwhelmed and stuck in the weeds.

Instead, delegate what you can to other team members and their direct reports further down the organizational ladder.

Assigning people tasks gives them a sense of mission and purpose, as well as security. The last thing you want is for people to feel idle and not useful – that’s not conducive to a mindset of resilience.

Delegating tasks can also promote:

  • Agility and better planning (you’re free to focus on the bigger picture and next steps)
  • Identification of more efficiencies
  • More idea-sharing and collaboration across the team
  • Discovery of new talents and assets in certain employees

Rejection of linear thinking

Work with your team in moving past how things used to be done.

  1. Reset expectations about what the foreseeable future looks like. Make it clear that there will be unknowns and shifts in conditions to help increase employees’ comfort with ambiguity.
  2. Establish new goals, no matter how small or short-term.
  3. Discuss what’s changed, such as:
    • Work processes
    • Physical workspace
    • Team composition
    • Reporting structure
    • Business model
  4. Challenge prior assumptions and constraints.
  5. Develop problem-solving mentalities.
  6. Encourage ideas, recommendations and creativity.
  7. Explain why a positive mindset and willingness to adapt is so important. Emphasize that this is a trait your organization values.

Employee assessment and engagement

Check in with your team regularly about how they’re doing. You’ll want to help employees who are struggling, demonstrate concern for your people and nip any negative attitudes in the bud.

This can be done through:

  • Quick pulse surveys
    • Sent via email or text to employees
    • 10 or fewer questions, including both quantitative and qualitative questions
  • Small or one-on-one team meetings in which more reserved people may feel more comfortable speaking up
  • Large meetings in which people have an opportunity to voice concerns directly to leadership

If employees show signs of struggling, have options ready for alleviating stress. This should be part of your organizational culture. Your attentiveness to employee well-being can also reduce unnecessary medical or workers’ compensation claims.

Examples of what you can provide for employees:

Additionally, train your managers to:

Much of an employee’s mindset at work is tied to their relationship with their immediate supervisor. A manager who projects warmth, openness, caring and confidence will help your employees to feel more secure despite uncertainty.

If an employee clearly needs more time to adapt, be flexible and allow some grace. Everyone deserves a period of time to assess their capacity for resiliency and to make adjustments. Consider how you can accommodate their personal needs without negatively impacting your business or consuming too many resources during a time of crisis.

Summing it all up

Changes can be incredibly difficult for your employees. It can call into question everything that’s familiar to them in the workplace and even affect their physical and emotional well-being. Furthermore, their adverse reaction can prevent your business from overcoming a crisis. That’s why, as a leader, you should promote a mindset of resilience:

  • Openly acknowledge challenges and negative events
  • Remind employees what they can control
  • Practice regular communication and transparency
  • Prioritize areas of focus
  • Delegate tasks to team members
  • Move past linear, step-by-step thinking
  • Check in with your team regularly to gauge well-being

For more information about guiding your team through periods of instability and uncertainty, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to leadership and management.