Backlash to resilience?

In recent years “resilience” has been one of those buzz terms that HR has jumped onto (2014 being my first major exposure to it) yet, as Donald Clark puts it, “faffing around with [such] abstract words in L&D had become an ‘obstacle’ to progress” too. So where are with resilience – is it a “thing”? Is it something to be considering as we look to improve performance?

Personally I’ve quite liked resilience as a way to describe capacity to deal with the prospect of change and other knockbacks, essentially how “bouncebackable” someone is. However, more recently it has felt like resilience has been increasingly used as a criticism and, to me, tied in with a general approach to blaming workers (at least in the US and UK). See also the similar L&D focus on creativity and the criticisms, even made at the generational level, of a lack of entrepreneurialism. My feelings here have in part been triggered by Liz Truss claiming Brits need to work harder as well as criticisms of workers for “quiet quitting” (QQ). On QQ I agree with a lot of this article, it is both nothing new and also a sign of poor management IMO.

A recent Reasons to be Cheerful pod included a section from Bruce Daisley, who questioned our shared understanding of resilience. This was a little lost at the end of a pod nominally about education given Daisley did not stick to the school focus. Indeed they challenged the usual approach to resilience and instead argued that workplace resilience should not be seen as an individual competence. They, correctly in my opinion, argued that a lack of resilience has been used as a way to criticise individuals. I much prefer his suggestion that resilience comes from a shared capacity and it was interesting to hear Nigel Paine (over on the Learning Hack) similarly arguing for less focus on individual competencies and more focus on team/organisational levels. It didn’t initially click when listening to the Bruce Daisley pod appearance that he is behind one of my other subscriptions “Eat Sleep Work Repeat“.

Resilience is often closely discussed, or used interchangeably, with “positive mindset”. In this regard I often still struggle with the concept of encouraging people to be positive. However, as often mentioned on here, I do remain a fan of the Path of Possibility. That model being part of Strengthscope’s logic and, whilst I remain slightly sceptical on their view on resilience (not least due to the focus on the individual), I do like the concept that strengths (particularly at the team level) are a way to make more resilient organisations.

Overall, resilience is likely to stick around as one of those areas where HR/L&D develop it as topic which will land better with some audiences than others. Indeed there will no doubt be ongoing debate, off-the-shelf learning, etc related to this. I suspect it will be one of these rather evidence-lacking areas that are used to get people to reflect rather than having a noticeable impact on performance. However, as part of a wider set of development including encouraging people to focus on what energises them at work it will likely remain part of our shared terminology and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Author: iangardnergb

My name is Ian Gardner and I am interested in various topics that can be seen as related to learning, technology and information. To see what I am reading elsewhere, follow me on The Old Reader ( and/or Twitter (@iangardnergb).

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