When the going gets tough…

Posted on 12 Apr 2011 by The Manufacturer

Martin Carver of people development company Primeast blogs on building resilient teams through mental toughness

British businesses are still beset by failure rates that look set to loom above pre-recession levels until 2015 at the earliest, according to the latest Industry Watch report by accountancy firm BDO. Although manufacturing may be leading the pack in economic recovery, with insolvencies falling by 28% in 2010, the ability of staff to capitalise on any economic benefits is paramount for the continued recovery of an industry which was so badly hit by the global economic downturn.

In order to not only arrest decline but return to a healthy period of growth, it is my view that companies should realise the vital importance of arming staff – especially managers and leaders – with the necessary psychological skills and tools to adapt in a positive way to organisational change.

Long associated with elite sportsmen and women, mental toughness is a concept that is increasingly in demand among businesses. It’s about harnessing the power of stress to improve personal and organisational resilience.

Mental toughness gives you the focus and tools to persevere, as well as to recover quickly from setbacks. We are receiving feedback from clients on how nurturing resilience among managers and other staff is equipping them to battle their way through these extraordinarily tough market conditions.

One way you can do this is with a profiling tool based on a rating system. You ask a series of insightful questions in order to assess an individual’s resilience and ability to cope with stress and you then create a development report which provides a snapshot of the person or team’s current mental toughness. Using this method, you can also identify someone who is too tough, and potentially blind to the impact they create.

Used throughout both the public and private sector, mental toughness programmes can be invaluable for organisations entering a period of restructure or other change. When a business is undergoing a restructuring process, it’s common for its people to develop change fatigue. A mental toughness programme can ensure that, psychologically, your managers, and other staff, have the readiness and propensity to take the business forward. How do employees cope when they have just lost colleagues in restructure and redundancies? It’s tough on the people who are leaving, but don’t forget those who stay behind and pick up the pieces.

It’s not about creating a workforce of warriors, tough to the point of aggression, though. The idea is to help people understand where they are in relation to challenge, commitment, control and confidence, to give them a focus so that they can adapt more quickly and efficiently. Different roles require different levels of resilience; it might be necessary to ramp up an individual’s mental toughness to enable them to keep themselves and colleagues focused and pulling together as a team through a period of change.

An over-emphasis on toughness can indeed be counter-productive. We encounter people who score all tens on the toughness scale but they tend to be arrogant, bloody minded and difficult to work with. In these cases toughness can become a weakness.

Top tips for developing mental toughness

• Work with someone else to help you review and prioritise your work, especially when things are changing quickly
• Time management tools and techniques could help you be better organised

• Take time to understand the people around you – their strengths and weaknesses. Play to their strengths and don’t expect things that they can’t reasonably deliver.
• Recognise contributions from others and give praise where it’s due.

• Start you next piece of work with a colleague – share the challenge and the problems!
• Relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises or yoga could help you cope more effectively with stress.
• Remind yourself that what you do really does matter – identify the benefits of what you do.

• Praise yourself when you achieve – and seek every opportunity to do so
• Change your work environment temporarily to set new challenges.
• Find ways to make sure that if you have something to say you say it!
• Get a mentor
• List five positives about yourself and work with a manager, friend or colleague to identify these.

Martin Carver, is head of organisational development and change at people development consultancy Primeast