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Adam Grant on Creating a Resilient Workplace Culture in 2021

Few people understand what it takes to overcome unexpected challenges through resiliency and innovation better than Adam Grant, organizational psychologist and New York Times bestselling author of Originals and Option B.

In episode 91 of the HR Break Room® podcast, we sat down with Grant to better understand what it will take to overcome the challenges brought on by 2020 and have a successful 2021.

Take care of yourself

Many HR professionals who were leading changes last year are now dealing with burnout and fatigue. How can HR teams address these issues and remain resilient?

Grant recommends taking care of your own needs first.

“I think we’ve all heard the saying on an airplane that you’re supposed to secure your oxygen mask before you try to assist others,” Grant said. “And I cannot imagine a profession where that’s more true than HR or a time where that’s more true than right now.”

To illustrate his point, Grant described a conversation with astronaut Scott Kelly and how he mentally prepared before spending a year in space. According to Grant, Kelly set a goal to come back to earth with the same energy and enthusiasm he had before he left.

Grant said it’s important for HR teams to establish the same kind of goals.

“I think as an HR professional, the first objective is to say, ‘Okay, how do I come out on the other side of this pandemic? Whether that’s going to be late spring or late summer or fall, how do I come out of this with the same energy and enthusiasm that I had back in January, February 2020?’” Grant said.

Rebuild through innovation and adaptation

In 2020, many companies were focused on survival. As we enter a new year with new challenges, businesses need to focus on innovation and adaptation.

“[Innovation] brings lots of ideas and suggestions from below and empowers people to take initiative and raise possibilities that otherwise would not have been considered,” Grant said.

He described the successful innovation of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to develop the NBA bubble and complete the 2020 playoffs without a single COVID-19 infection.

“I think the ability to adapt really hinges on saying, ‘You know what? We’re going to become a learning organization,’” he explained. “And one of the defining qualities of a learning organization is you run experiments, right? If I’m a CEO or if I’m a head of HR, I’m not going to start by saying, ‘This is our policy; here’s how we’re going to run a hybrid schedule.’ I’m going to say, ‘Look, let’s survey our employees; let’s find out what everybody wants.’”

Grant also recommends leaders clearly communicate challenges and how they will be addressed — even when they don’t have all the answers.

“What we needed leaders to do more effectively during this crisis is to frame problems, right? And say, ‘Look, here’s the challenge that we’re facing. And let’s talk through the different ways that we might go about navigating it, knowing nobody has the answers yet.’”

Improve employee buy-in through digital transformation

The digital transformation has changed the way we work perhaps more in 2020 than ever before. Data from McKinsey & Company shows that we vaulted forward five years in consumer and business digital adoption in only eight weeks (between March and May of last year).

These rapid changes can be difficult for employees and lead to resistance in accepting and using new tech. But the key to improving employee buy-in is simple.

“I think the biggest barrier to buy-in when it comes to digital transformation is people just not being familiar with or comfortable with the new tools they’re being asked to use,” Grant said. “And I think one of the ways that HR can solve that is just to make the tools more familiar.”

According to Grant, it’s all about infusing the familiar into the unfamiliar to help people embrace digital transformation.

“Sometimes you’ve got to look outside your own organization, your own industry, your own country, find an example of the digital transformation that you’re trying to pull off and has worked elsewhere, and then highlight how it’s been effective in that place. And the hope is that then people can connect the dots,” Grant explained.

This blog only scratches the surface of the stories and insights Grant shared in our webinar. To hear them all, you’ll need to click here and listen today!


The information provided herein does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, tax, accounting or other professional advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation and for your particular state(s) of operation.