Reflection, Rejuvenation, and Resilience

'The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new' – this was a useful quote, attributed to Socrates, (but see endnote to this blog) to get in my in-box this week as I've been asked to help design a half day workshop for a healthcare client.

They've had tidal waves of change during 2013: they've been preparing for a location move – happening next month, they have a new CEO and several new senior leadership team members, they have new business processes, their client base is changing, and they've had to keep the day to day operational. Through all this a lot of the staff have felt stressed and anxious.

However, things are not going to get less challenging and they might get even more challenging in the coming year(s). Immediately, they face implementing aspects of the US Affordable Care Act, switching their patients to a new records system, extending their range of services, contending with likely cuts in funding and managing the general scrimmage that comes from aiming to offer improved patient experience and better outcomes.

Boldly the CEO is closing the facility for an entire morning for the workshop, which is a hefty investment so it has to be good. So, with the quote in mind I suggested that we focus the workshop on skills for building the new organization in order to meet all the coming changes with energy.

Three workforce skills we feel are keys to this are reflection, rejuvenation, and resilience. During my runs the last few days I've been working out what line to take on these three capabilities. I'm wondering how can we turn ourselves from a somewhat adversarial fight with old 'we've always done it this way', and instead turn to a positive, collective effort in building the new, learning how to effectively surf what someone in the organization described as 'the tidal waves of change' that are coming and feel exhilarated by the effort.

The design challenge is to have a fun, productive, and energizing morning with a hugely diverse range of staff. We know we can't be theoretical or teacher-like but have to design things to be engaging and active. To order my thoughts a bit I've been looking for pragmatic and actionable ways of talking about each capacity. Once I have these clear I can start on the designing the day and the activities.

Reflection for our purposes is about critically examining various experiences and finding out what we've learned from them that we would do differently in future. Stephen Brookfield who has worked in healthcare environments wrote a practical worksheet outlining four critical thinking processes that lead to learning. His approach is nicely summarized in the Community Toolbox, being developed by a project at the University of Kansas They say that in thinking of a situation, event, issue, etc. ' Reflection [involves asking questions like] Did it work? If so, how can it work better? If not, what went wrong, and how can we fix it? What have we learned here that might be valuable in the future? Reflection leads you to the consideration of another problem or goal, and the cycle begins again. The goals of a reflective activity are to identify:

  • Truth: to separate what is true from what is false, or partially true, or incomplete, or slanted, or based on false premises, or assumed to be true because "everyone says so."
  • Context: to consider the context and history of issues, problems, or situations.
  • Assumptions: to understand the assumptions and purposes behind information or situations.
  • Alternatives: to create ways of approaching problems, issues, and situations that address the real, rather than assumed or imagined, factors that underlie or directly cause them — even when those factors turn out to be different from what you expected.

As I think on this I can imagine perhaps an activity centered around a story about an organizational event – the same story told from three different perspectives asking which one is true, or what in the history of the organization led to the event happening, or what might the various stakeholders in the event have been assuming, and then reflecting on the alternative ways of handling the event.

Rejuvenation is an easier capability to tackle as it's about taking a break from everything stressful, and really enjoying, recharging, recreating, refreshing, restoring, revitalizing, reviving and renewing oneself. It doesn't have to take a long time, and doesn't need to involve a week on a retreat although it could. I like the small rejuvenations throughout the day, like the 3-minute breathing space meditation, or a delicious cup of tea (made the English way a la George Orwell's 11 steps) but one friend loves her twice weekly jazzercise class, and my daughter loves a Chinese style foot massage.

I'm thinking here that each of the attendees at the workshop will have a favorite way of rejuvenating and we could have a selection of concurrent 'learnshops' from some of them, for example 30 minutes of drumming techniques, or learning to crochet, or zumba dancing.

Resilience is a much touted word at the moment. In fact, I'm beginning to lump it along with 'agile', 'adaptable', and 'scalable' as one of those words that Lucy Kellaway in her wonderful Financial Times management column loves to ridicule in her Golden Flannel Award . However in the discussion of resilience written by the late Christopher Peterson, I find just the sensible way of thinking that I like. He talks of resilience as 'best used descriptively to refer to the bouncing back to "normal" following potential adversity. What is normal may or may not be all that good. It depends on where someone starts. … It needs to be recognized that resilience is multidimensional, meaning that one can bounce back in some domains but not others. … It also needs to be recognized that the length of time that needs to pass before resilience is evident may vary greatly, depending on the person and the domain.'

Ann Masten, a professor at the University of Minnesota researches resilience predominantly in children and has an excellent You Tube video on pathways to resilience in children and adults. She offers a list of 12 factors associated with resilience which she says should be 'ordinarily available' but if they're not how do you compensate?

And this is the bit I'm currently wrestling with. What activities will encourage development of resilience? There are some self-assessments that could promote discussion (though I'm not a great fan of this type of instrument). I think positive psychology and mindfulness approaches could be very helpful, as could personal stories of 'withstanding or recovering from significant disturbances that threaten adaptive function, viability or development'. (Ann Masten's definition of resilience)

Jane McGonigal has a short HBR piece Building Resilience by Wasting Time and offers some activities. I rather like the notion of 300 people of snapping their fingers 50 times or counting backwards from 100 by sevens which according to her 'is a scientifically backed way to improve focus and determination-—and thus mental resilience.' But I'm not sure I would recommend this for the workshop.

If you have ideas on fun, energizing and maybe even 'scientifically backed' ways of building resilience let me know.

End note: The quotation is from a character named Socrates who was a gas-station attendant in a book published in the 1980s by Dan Millman, Way of the Peaceful Warrior. The quote was not from the renowned Greek philosopher.