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Resilience through change

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Agriculture and food are dynamic and ever-changing industries. That means businesses and the people who run them have to possess a level of resilience in order to be successful long-term. Employees must to be able to adapt and grow in spite of the challenges that change often brings.

We recently had the opportunity to ask a few questions of Dr. Tom Dukes, Director of Quality at Community Ventures in Living, who specializes in counseling and human development. Dr. Dukes is an expert in resilience and has provided some insights into how managers can be more resilient and effectively cultivate the same in their teams.

The agriculture industry is ever-changing. What does being a resilient leader in an ever-changing industry mean?

Dr. Dukes: Resilience is defined as positive adaptation in the midst of adversity. For many, constant change can be viewed as adversity. The role of leaders isn’t to achieve and maintain some mythical goal of equilibrium. There’s no such thing. Rather, to be a successful leader in a climate of change means having the resources, both internal and external, to deal effectively with the challenges associated with change.

Employees look to leaders for guidance on what to do in challenging times. What are some practical ways to lead through challenges?

Dr. Dukes: Managers often forget that one of the most powerful tools they have at their disposal is to serve as a model in the way they approach their work and the way they think about what they do. Leading by example means demonstrating the organization’s cultural values and work ethic in all that one does. It means valuing and treating employees in a way that shows them the way to successfully build relationships that are productive. We call this dynamic “parallel process.” It means that leaders demonstrate in everyday interactions with their people how they want their people to interact with customers. It’s much more powerful than simply telling direct reports what they should do.

What are the most significant tools that can help leaders become more resilient themselves?

Dr. Dukes: Research in developmental psychology has demonstrated that there are key factors that help individuals to be more resilient. We call these factors “developmental assets.” These are the building blocks that contribute to the likelihood of resilient outcomes. There are four clusters of internal assets that include commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies, and positive identity. And there are four clusters of external assets that include support, empowerment, boundaries and expectations, and constructive use of time. Science has shown us what people need to be resilient. It’s up to leaders to find creative ways to provide both the conditions and the support that we know lead to more positive results and outcomes.

What does it mean to be a resilient employee?

Dr. Dukes: I think every leader probably has their own definition of a resilient employee. However, there are some common factors that most would likely agree upon. Ideally, resilient employees are the ones who show up with well-developed internal assets. That means they are self-assured and self-confident. They are honest, fair, hardworking, and care about treating others well. They possess effective social skills, are culturally sensitive, and have the ability to resolve conflict. Finally, resilient employees are life-long learners. They have a desire to learn from experience, grow in understanding, and develop wisdom.

How can leaders help employees assess their resilience?

Dr. Dukes: We’ve developed a tool, a survey instrument, that quantifies the level of these developmental assets that we’ve been discussing. Leaders who first understand their own asset profile are in a position to more effectively assess and develop the assets in their employees. By using our tools, we give them the ability to understand their team members more deeply and be more responsive to what each one needs to be more successful. They have the capacity to be much more effective in their leadership efforts because their actions can be targeted and precise.

How can leaders then encourage and cultivate improved resilience in their employees?

Dr. Dukes: By first assessing and understanding more deeply their own constellation of developmental assets, leaders are more effectively able to support employees in examining themselves and creating goals for self-development. An understanding of developmental assets gives leaders a language through which they can strategize and be intentional about supporting and promoting those components most needed by their team members. External assets play a big role here. You can think of these as the structure and culture that a leader creates in the workplace. The research shows that people clearly do better in work environments in which boundaries are clear and expectations are made explicit. High expectations coupled with high levels of support lead to optimum levels of performance. Employees who are empowered in their work feel that they have a voice in strategy discussions and goal setting. They feel respected and valued. All of these things can be provided by leaders either directly or indirectly. So, paying attention to them and integrating them into routine practices is a way to provide the conditions we know help people be resilient.

How does resilience help leaders and employees contribute to company goals?

Dr. Dukes: As we’ve been discussing, another of the clusters of external developmental assets is constructive use of time. This isn’t just about time management, it’s about feeling like our work is meaningful. It’s having a clear sense of purpose and an understanding of how individual goals align with the organization’s goals. All of this leads to increased employee buy in, and to employees taking ownership of the tasks and projects that will lead to goal attainment. And managers know that when employees have bought in and taken ownership, they give the added effort necessary for success.

Leaders have the potential to influence company culture. How can they identify the current culture, set goals for change and reach those goals?

Dr. Dukes: My colleague, Dr. Scott Downey, does a great job of describing the organizational artifacts that reveal and perpetuate organizational culture. Things like written policies, unwritten rules, company heroes, celebrated stories, and annual traditions all show us what is valued and expected within a given culture. Scott and I help leaders to identify, understand, and assess the factors that have created and sustained the culture of which they are a part. Then, with the insights they gain, they are able to be deliberate about implementing changes over time that can shape the culture in the ways they desire. It allows for a more strategic approach to influencing aspects of the workplace that can often be hard to pin down.

As an organization grows, it’s important for leaders and employees to grow and adapt with it. What are some ways both can successfully accept change and thrive in it when it’s not always smooth?

Dr. Dukes: This is a good question. Organizations have their own developmental trajectory. They mature and adapt over time in response to changes in the environment, just as individuals do. This question really begs for a continuation of the culture discussion. People thrive when the culture is positive, energized, and supportive. When goals are clear, and each person’s role is clearly defined, and the expectations placed on them are in line with their goals for themselves. When an organization accepts that development is continuous, and change is inevitable, then leaders have an opportunity to be strategic and intentional about their efforts to shape how they and their team members respond, adapt, and grow through the process. That’s really the heart of what it means to be resilient.

Cultivating Resilience

Dr. Dukes will lead a variety of sessions at the Cultivating Resilience open-enrollment program from Purdue’s Center for Food and Agricultural Business, which runs Aug. 23-24 on the university’s West Lafayette campus. Other program experts are Scott Downey and Nicole Widmar. Learn more and register.

AUTHOR
Libby Witham
June 28, 2018
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