Training For the Worst

Training For the Worst

Disasters - whether manmade or the result of nature - are bound to occur, no matter how finely tuned a business is. Resilience training is key to making people more capable of bouncing back quicker and emerging stronger from these shocks and stresses.

Emergencies happen. They can happen to anyone, anywhere, any time. Every week, somewhere in the world, there is an extreme weather event. Sometimes Mother Nature just rises up, and there you are in the middle of an unavoidable situation. Some situations are more predictable than others. The most dangerous events happen so fast you barely have time to react. These are the ones no one prepares for, that come without warning. There are no ominous black clouds, no eerie chills, no flashing neon signs.

Natural disasters worldwide have increased, especially since the 1970s. Since 1990, natural disasters have affected approximately 217 million people every year. This pronounced shift can be seen in extreme rainfall events, heat waves, and windstorms. There were three times as many natural disasters between 2000 and 2009 compared to the number between 1980 and 1989. Millions of people are being made homeless by climate change-induced weather extremes. The result: Economic damage has seen a steady upturn.

Difficult situations are bound to occur, no matter how finely tuned a business is. Disaster may be just around the corner, and the government won’t necessarily be there to help. Disruptions come in all sizes and flavors. Every storm is different—do not plan for the next disruption based on what happened in the past. The gravity of the situation and what could be done to survive the next catastrophe actually can be turned around into an opportunity to increase business. It’s every business’ responsibility to prepare a contingency plan for a disaster.

Humans learn, adapt, and improve upon resilience. The same is true for organizations, systems, and societies. In the face of stress and shocks, many companies today are turning to resilience training, building this into employee education and development strategies. Building resilience is about making people more capable of bouncing back quicker and emerging stronger from these shocks and stresses.


The ability to recover from a catastrophic event requires committed people with a common understanding of methodology and principles. So employers must put their people first to succeed. Resilient systems, organizations, and individuals possess five characteristics:

1. Awareness of their strengths and assets, liabilities and vulnerabilities, and the threats and risks they face. This requires sensing and information gathering, including robust feedback loops, such as community meetings or monitoring systems for a global telecommunications network.

2. Surplus of capacity to operate under diverse circumstances, beyond what is needed for everyday functioning. This includes redundancy, alternatives, and back-ups to call up reserves during a disruption.

3. Systems to deal with situations and interferences without extreme malfunction, catastrophic collapse, or cascading disruptions.

4. The ability to bring together cohesive solutions and actions by sharing information through transparent communication with people and entities that are affected.

5. Capacity to adjust to changing circumstances during a disruption by developing new plans, taking new actions, or modifying behaviors to better withstand and recover from disruption.


Being prepared means having a comprehensive continuity plan to address any catastrophic event with protocols clearly communicated to managers and staff alike. This plan is a roadmap for the continuance and restoration of mission critical functions during and after a disaster. This plan must be practiced time in and time out in real-life scenarios. The following is a set of Continuity Plan Principles. Think them through. Write down your own thoughts. And create your own plan for distribution to key personnel well ahead of any incident that could cause a disruption to your operations. Copies should be stored off-site—an obvious but often overlooked requirement.

  • The CEO is in charge. It is the CEO who will have to answer for the consequences of whether a business continuity plan works or not.
  • Analyze potential threats. Take no shortcuts. Look at the overall impact an event might have and how to deal with that impact. Your response to a disaster will depend on both the nature and the extent of the disaster. Some threats, such as a tornado or flood, may physically destroy your IT in frastructure. Others, such as pandemic disease, can affect human resources while leaving buildings and machinery intact. Plan to cover contingencies for as many threat types as possible.
  • Maintain the value stream. Focus on how your business creates value in the marketplace and what functions and assets help promote that value. Determine where key vulnerabilities lie in relation to those value-producing areas. Then plan for ways to keep that revenue stream going when disaster strikes.
  • Assign responsibilities. A key component in any crisis management situation is to assign areas of responsibility and establish a chain of command. Be sure to assign alternates in case some of the important players are not available. Training key personnel in disaster preparedness, incident management, and recovery is a responsibility to be addressed.
  • Emergency contacts. Update contact information on people and entities who may need to be alerted when a disaster occurs. Include information for both internal personnel (CEO, CIO, legal advisor, etc.) and external personnel and services (police, fire, ambulance, security services, utility companies, building maintenance, etc.).
  • Establish recovery teams. It takes teamwork to manage a crisis and to put things in order once the immediate crisis is over. Appoint a disaster recovery team (DRT) made up of trained specialists with the knowledge to handle all aspects of common disasters (safety specialist, IT specialist, communications specialist, security specialist, personnel specialist, etc.). The team will work with emergency services during the disaster and have access to equipment they need during any emergency. A second business recovery team should be responsible for the reestablishment of normal operations after the crisis ends.
  • Off-site backup. Good business continuity plans addressthe restoration of important digital data if it is destroyed. Store copies of important data on removable media kept at a different physical location or back it up via the Internet on a remote server, or both. Key personnel should know where it’s stored and have the keys (i.e., passwords to restore it), so users can get back to a productive state as soon as possible. 
  • Backup power. For business continuity, plan for what to do in the case of a long-term outage. Have backup generators in place and ensure that key personnel know how to switch to generator power if and when necessary. Providing full electrical power to a building with a generator can cost much more than using the power grid, so determine in what situations it’s better to close down operations and send everyone home rather than run on generator power.
  • Communications strategy. To keep in touch with customers and employees who are off-site, your plan should specify which employees have cell phones and their numbers, as well as whether and where you have other methods of communicating during a disaster. Key employees should have alternative e-mail addresses that they check regularly. These addresses should be known to other key personnel in the case of emergency.
  • Operational site alternative. Spell out a plan for setting up operations at an alternative location if your building is destroyed or rendered unusable by a disaster. Best practice is to have ready access to an empty facility that you can move into. The plan should take into consideration the estimated costs of moving, setup, and ongoing operations in the new facility.
  • Other essential backup. Essential equipment may be destroyed or damaged and have to be replaced. The plan should lay out how the equipment will be replaced.
  • Recovery phase. Assess the damage, estimate recovery costs, work with insurance companies, monitor recovery process progress, and transition the management of the business operations from the recovery team back to the regular managers. Respect the greater good. Express compassion. Families come first—recognize that employees will not return to work until they feel their families are safe. Communicate before, during, and after a disaster. Let employees update their status and let them know when they can return to work.
  • Third-party evaluation. Get an outside evaluation of your company and how you have set up your business continuity plan. This way, all parts of a company can be assessed with a neutral eye, and changes can be made accordingly.
  • Test and re-test. Ensure that your business continuity plan is effective and identify necessary modifications through periodic testing. Practice the plan and explore what has changed in your business that might make your plan obsolete and push your plan until it breaks

Dennis Walsh is an Ontario, Canada-based futurist and corporate strategist who advises organizations on global trends, plausible scenarios, emerging markets, and business markets. He is the author of the Future Cities Trilogy, which includes: “ Enterprise City: How Companies Are Changing the Global Urban Landscape” and “Millennial City, How a New Generation Can Save the Future.”

Best of All…Hope

By Hendrie (Hank) Weisinger, Author, “Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most” (Random House)

Hope is the basic ingredient of resiliency. After all, if an individual has no hope, there would be no reason to make an effort to overcome adversity or bounce back from a setback. Ever since Pandora let hope out of the box, it has served man well. Studies show that adults and children who score higher in hope:

  • Score higher in self-esteem, meaning in life and happiness
  • Cope better with injuries, disease, and physical pain
  • Excel in academics from elementary to graduate school
  • Perform better in sports

Reflect on these findings and you will see they are all descriptive of resilient individuals.

What makes hope spring eternal resilience? Considering that nobody “invented” resiliency, it must be hope’s evolutionary function: to prolong life by attaching the individual to a positive outcome. Cancer-stricken patients are resilient because they wish to see their grandchildren; managers are resilient because they want to be successful.

We often admire resilient individuals as if they are doing something special by overcoming adversity through the most trying conditions, but the fact is, life is hardwired to be resilient. Ecosystems after draughts and floods bounce back. The body, without treatment, often mends its own injuries. The same is true for our emotional landscape. A broken heart mends, and after a devastating setback, spirits may be down, but for most, they come back up.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, there is nothing special about being resilient—Mother Nature made us that way so we could work through the difficult moments we all encounter and prolong our life. From an evolutionary perspective, hope fuels resiliency.

But what about individuals who lack resiliency, those who give up easily or let a setback send them into depression—the ultimate killer of productivity? And what about a company that throws in the towel and spirals downward because of a product failure or loss of market share? These non-resilient individuals and organizations have a common denominator: They have lost hope and have no chance of achieving a favorable outcome. Thus, they see no reason to make an effort. A physician might say, “He’s lost his will to live.”

Resiliency can be returned, fostered, and instilled in any individual, studies tell us, if you create hope. You can do so by applying the major concepts of Hope Theory: Agency and Pathway Thinking. Agency, commonly called “willpower,” is the motivational component that propels people along their chosen routes to achieve goals and also reflects their belief in being successful: “I know I can do this!” is a high willpower belief.

Pathway Thinking is the ability to identify the necessary routes to achieving that goal. The more pathways or “way power,” the more the individual or organization perceives the goals can be achieved, and the more hopeful they become. More effort results, and resiliency is in action. Two tips to keep in mind:

  1. Create “willpower” by establishing meaningful goals that provide purpose and meaning. These goals are physically arousing and translate into directed energy. After a setback or in times of adversity, reiterate your meaningful goals, purpose, and meaning, and you will begin to feel resilient.
  2. Create pathways. Brainstorm and problem solve obstacles by creating and innovating new routes that can help you achieve your goal. Break each down into a simple step; each step taken will increase your willpower to continue. You become resilient because you are hopeful you will make it.

In the end, hope is the best of all possible things.


By Paul G. Stoltz, Ph.D., Founder and CEO, Peak Learning, and author, “GRIT: The New Science of What It Takes to Persevere · Flourish · Succeed”

Today, “grit” is a hot topic in leadership, education, performance, and personal success. So far, the conversation has focused on appreciating and understanding basic grit, or what I call “grit 1.0.” Grit 1.0 is about degree or quantity of perseverance or persistence, as in “How persistent are you?” or “How much grit do you have?”

But the time has come to advance the conversation and upgrade GRIT. The research my team and I embarked on in the development of my new book reveals that quality actually may trump quantity. Enter GRIT 2.0, or simply, GRIT. GRIT comprises four dimensions: Growth, Resilience, Instinct, and Tenacity.

When it comes to upgrading from grit 1.0 to GRIT 2.0, the key is to focus on not just how much, but how. Relentlessly going after your goals in ways that are even unintentionally harmful to others, or beating your head to a bloody pulp rather than re-assessing or re-routing your approach may score high on quantity, but not so much on quality. It turns out that growing both quality and quantity—holistic improvement of GRIT—creates the biggest upside. Here are five simple starter tips:

1. Growth: Growth is a mindset. But when it comes to GRIT, research reveals it is about more than having a “growth” or “fixed” mindset. In the world of GRIT, Growth encompasses your propensity to rise above the immediate situation to seek fresh, alternative perspectives, ideas, and insights as a way to improve your approach, expertise, and chances of success.

Gritify any goal or plan by asking, “What additional, new, fresh insight/information/input should I/we seek to enhance our current plan and long-term chances of success?”

2. Resilience: When I began my research 35 years ago, I literally had to explain, and often spell the term, “resilience,” for any client or firm with whom I was exploring methods for measuring or enhancing this core element of human endeavor. To this day, when I ask a group of hundreds of people, “If someone is resilient they…?” The room-wide response is, “Bounce back!”

But resilience, especially in the world of GRIT, is about much more than bouncing back. In our collaborative efforts with Harvard Business School and MIT, we arrived at this definition: Resilience is your capacity to be strengthened and improved by adversity. So the ultimate quest is to become more “Response Able.” Response Ability is your ability to respond optimally to whatever happens the moment it strikes.

Every time you face any adversity, simply ask, “How can I/we respond more optimally—better and faster—to this adversity?” Or, “How can we harness this adversity, so we look back and say, ‘Thank goodness this happened; we’d never be where we are now if it hadn’t!’”

3. Instinct: Think about that person who consistently pursues the wrong goals or goes after his or her dreams in less than effective ways. Over time, that pattern can lead to a tragic life. That’s why Instinct, your gut-level propensity to pursue the right goals in the best possible ways, is so critical to true GRIT.

4. Relentlessness: Relentlessness is powerful. Refined relentlessness is unbeatable. That’s why knowing when to step back, re-assess, and, if necessary, re-route is key to long-term effort, energy, and success.

Gritify any effort by simply asking these questions: “Is this still the right goal? Is this the best possible version of the goal? If not, how would we refine the goal to make it even more compelling and true? Is our current plan the best way to get there? If not, how can we refine and improve our approach to at least increase our chances of success?”

5. Tenacity: Persistent, unrelenting effort defines what most of us think of when we hear the word, “grit.” Our research shows that most people who accomplish something truly noteworthy go through a period of perceived zealotry, meaning the people closest to them begin to question their judgment. Yet it is that one additional, beyond-any-reasonable-expectation effort that creates the breakthroughs the rest of us get to admire and enjoy.

GRIT-up your pursuits by asking, “If we were to give this one more wholehearted effort, where and how should I/we go for it to most dramatically enhance progress and success?”

Amp Up the WhyTry

If GRIT is your capacity to dig deep and do whatever it takes to achieve your most difficult and worthy goals, then your reason, your why, must be massively compelling. One simple tool my team and I use with people is called the WhyTry. Here’s how it works. Ask yourself (or others):

How strong is our Why? (1-10)

How strong is our Try? (1-10)

What do we need to do to maximize and align them both?

How many people have you known slaving away at a job, an assignment, or anything where their Try is maybe a 9 and their Why has dimmed to a 2? Not only is that imbalance unsustainable, it is draining.

Conversely, what happens when the Why is a 10 and the collective Try is a 3? Answer: Not much. Some of the resulting poisons worth listing include disappointment, delays, frustrations, compromises of integrity that come from overpromising and under-delivering, and guilt from not doing what you know you should be doing.

Amp up, then align your why and your try, regularly, and you’ve gritified your effort, while enhancing your chances of success.

4 Core Principles of Resiliency Training

By Jenny C. Evans, Founder and CEO, PowerHouse Performance, and author, “THE RESILIENCY rEVOLUTION: Your Stress Solution for Life 60 Seconds at a Time” (Wise Ink Creative Publishing)

1. Recognize that the amount of stress people are facing is never going to diminish—there is no way to “reduce” it. No one’s job is going to start asking less of them, nor are their family, loved ones, or friends. Resiliency training helps people understand how to recover from their stress more quickly and efficiently. It also helps people raise their threshold for stress, so they can handle more before the stress response is stimulated.

2. Understand that stress is not something that only happens in our heads. Stress is a physical, chemical event that radically changes our physiology and chemistry. These changes happen for a very good reason, but the environments we’re currently living and working in are short-circuiting our physiology, and we’re missing the benefits. How we typically react to stress today kills brain cells relating to memory and learning. Stress also jumpstarts the primitive parts of our brains relating to survival, overriding the advanced portions of our brains necessary for good business performance. Stress is also responsible for insomnia and increased body fat, appetite, and cravings for high-fat and high-sugar foods. These negative side effects not only decrease quality of life for individuals, but they diminish professional productivity while increasing health-care costs, employee burnout, and turnover.

3. Learn to correct your chemistry and physiology in response to stress, enabling you to perform to your absolute best at work and home. Resiliency training participants learn how stress alters their physiological state; what they can do to minimize the negative effects; and how to capitalize on the positive aspects.

4. Achieve long-term implementation and success. You can teach people all the best strategies, but if they can’t consistently use them over the long term, there’s no point in having the training.

Most implementation plans call on only the conscious part of the brain relating to willpower and self-discipline to behave differently. However, research shows that willpower is an easily exhausted resource. The more we use it, the less of it we have. By creating an unconscious change strategy, in addition to a conscious one, we use 100 percent of the brain. The unconscious portion of the strategy capitalizes on how our environment influences and dictates our behaviors without us being aware of it. By creating a microclimate of optimal defaults where we work and live, we are nudged into making better choices. Change becomes automatic, and we actually have to go out of our way to behave in ways not in alignment with our resiliency goals.



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