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Resilience 2021? No Way!

By Richard Citrin and Michael Couch

Thought Leader

Many people are already citing the word “resilience” as the 2021 Word of the Year. We heartily disagree! And that is saying a lot considering that Richard wrote an award-winning book, The Resilience Advantage, and that both of us speak about resilience as a core tenet of effective leadership development.

In our definition, resilience is much more than just “bouncing back.” Resilience for us is about how we manage crises and adversities through sound preparation, focused effort when we are in the middle of the crises, and how we “bounce forward” and use our learnings to make things better.

In truth, 2020 was our year of resilience. We saw how organizations flexed their muscles of awareness, agility and adaptability to move with the crises at hand and get things done quickly and efficiently. 

In one of our Leadership Café podcasts, Lisa Scales, CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, described how the Food Bank quickly and rapidly developed their “Doorstep Delivery” program that has brought thousands of meals to people who are older than 60 years of age and are in need of food. In previous years, Lisa told us, it would have taken the Food Bank 6-12 months to develop, vet and implement this kind of program, but given the urgency of the Pandemic and the need for speed, it only took them five days to get it up and running. 

That is the grit and agility of resilience.

We think that 2021 will be the year of the “Bouncing Forward.” After all, everyone is coiled tight like a spring waiting to unleash the pent-up energy of the year we’ve spent in near isolation. We’re ready to let go and return to all the ways we use to work and live our lives. There is, however, a part of us that knows we’ll not be going back to the old ways.

The Pandemic has pushed companies over the technology ledge and that will be a major driver of how we accelerate out of the Pandemic, like a spaceship using the gravity of another planet to speed its way home.

A 2020 McKinsey study reported that executives reported an acceleration of current technology adoption and a focus on future products that will further digitize customer and employee interactions. Furthermore, Work from Home (WFH) will redefine the workplace. We already know several companies that are shifting out of formal worksites and into shared workspaces. Telecommuting will no longer be seen as a perk, but as a necessary option for most employees. Telemedicine is here to stay. On-line schooling won’t go away as we suspect more parents may opt for blended systems or even more home schooling options. Technology like Zoom, Peloton, Slack, Netflix, Door Dash, Microsoft, Teladoc and Calm are all helping people continue to work and manage their sanity. In fact, companies are reporting an increase of close to 40% greater tech adoption as a result of the Pandemic.  

So, how can technology leaders and others make 2021 a year of transition out of the Pandemic year of 2020? Here are three ideas to consider.

Keep the health and wellness of your employees front and center. 

Mental health has been a major emphasis this year and research shows that the greatest risk of mental health dangers occur after a crises or challenging event occurs. Many employees report that they are working more, are more productive, and for many of them, their time off this year was spent close to home and probably connected to their digital devices. Continuing efforts to create healthy spaces with the encouragement of exercise, social connection and (if necessary) forced time off digital devices will ensure employees will have the energy required when our next phase of work is presented. Like school superintendents who announced during the recent December snowstorm, “students are ordered to close their computers and go outside and play!”, our employees may need to be reminded to take some time off.

Build a 2021 strategy with flexibility and the ability to say “No.” 

Among the many learnings from 2020, perhaps most foremost is the misconception that a fixed strategy will somehow actually play out. Whereas the Pandemic forced us to make radical changes in how we operate, 2021 will present a myriad of opportunities, probably more than can be handled. I was speaking to a young tech entrepreneur recently and he told me that he has so many opportunities going into 2021, his biggest challenge is what he will be saying “no” to pursuing. There will be many opportunities in 2021; what will you say no to?


Both your customers and employees have gained a lifetime of experiences and understanding as a result of the Pandemic. They have been thinking about how work can be done more efficiently and effectively and what they need to do to be successful. Although it may not seem inspirational to listen rather than speak, this skill may be the most important one that will motivate your team members. Our recent research on how employees perceived their company’s response to the Pandemic showed that most companies did a great job of communication to their employees, but employees felt that they had fewer opportunities to be heard. Being heard and respected creates strong bonds.

Here’s to 2021. The Year of Bouncing Forward!