A “white-knuckle” strategy will not work when facing and managing elevated levels of business and personal disruption over extended periods of time with no foreseeable end in sight. Successfully thriving in uncertainty requires smarts, mental stability, and a level of resilience that has heretofore been outside of the realm of training and strategy of most workplaces.

This being Mental Health Awareness Month, I wanted to share some thoughts.

Now more than ever, waiting until “things get back to normal” in times of chaos is neither a sustainable nor viable strategy for success. The unfolding of the pandemic clearly demonstrated this. It is the companies and people who were able to unhook from banking on a return to normalcy, get clear about what was happening, and move forward instead of looking back that were able to adapt faster and adjust more comfortably. 

Curious about this dynamic, I embarked on an experiment toward the end of 2020 in which I extended an invitation to all of my 4,763 LinkedIn connections to join me in a twenty-minute conversation. What unfolded were 161 interactions and more than 80 hours of dialogue with people in 24 different countries. From a mayoral candidate in New York City to an intern in the middle of Brazil, from executives to academics to entrepreneurs – 85% of the conversations turned quickly toward mental health and resilience.

This has simply confirmed that mental health and the resilience that flourishes from well-being, is a strategic business imperative.

If your employees are melting down, your organization cannot thrive nor function to its maximum ability, particularly in times of unforeseen, massive disruption.

It doesn’t get any clearer than this. We’ve seen a substantial rise in mental health issues globally due to the direct and secondary effects of the pandemic. In the U.S. alone, the percentage of people experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression has gone up from 11% in the first half of 2019 to 42% as of December 2020. As mentioned above, 85% of the conversations I held during the seven-week experiment touched on or centered around mental health or resilience. 

Additionally, if you and your employees are not adept at dancing with change and uncertainty, you and they will not be easily or readily able to implement the nimble strategies required to be successful in an increasingly disrupted world. Your organization is facing a clear and present risk if any meaningful percentage of its members (including you) are resistant or simply mentally unable to address change.

While the pandemic and its resulting disruptions hit us with the shock of a lightning bolt, there is a tsunami of change on the horizon and it’s coming in hot. We are only 1% into the massive shifts that are beginning to show themselves with the advent Fourth Industrial Revolution and its exponential changes. (Check out the Peter Diamandis & Steven Kotler book The Future Is Faster Than You Think for more on this.)

The “normal” that we are moving toward consists of more disruption, not less. So, your organization and the people who comprise it must develop the mental health and resilience toolkit to not only survive change, but to thrive through it. How to begin?

The first step is to make a conscious and purposeful shift in initiatives around mental health to destigmatize any antiquated, “taboo” thinking about it. Instead of mental health benefits being relegated to health insurance policy, bring mental health and well-being into the core values of your organization.

Have leadership actively participate in and evangelize taking mental health days, participating in well-being initiatives and mindfulness training. AmBev, Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Brazilian operations, have hired a Director of Mental Health to create programming that does exactly this.

Another key step is to incorporate resilience training into your learning and development curriculum and making ongoing participation mandatory for everyone at every level of the company. 

Of the top ten skills that the World Economic Forum says that we will need for 2025, “Resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility” along with “active learning and learning strategies” are the self-management skills that everyone will need. If we are truly only a small percentage into the massive changes on the horizon, isn’t it better to be prepared than unaware?

In this new era, successful organizations will develop the ability to quickly and easily adapt to, or better, direct market disruptions with proactive and preemptive positions rather than scrambled, surprised reactions. Think creative vs. reactive. 

One of the participants in my aforementioned 2020 experiment is Christopher Spikes, CEO and Founder of Authen, a high-performance athletic wear company in Brazil. He and his leadership team practice what he has dubbed “creative self-destruction.” Essentially, causing the disruption internally before the market can do it for them. Tactically, he might say, “Ok. I am not qualified to do my job in 6 months’ time. The market will have changed, the company will have changed… Who do I need to become? What do I need to learn / unlearn, do / un-do to be ready?” 

As time continues to unfold, and we make stronger decisions about what comes next for our organizations and ourselves, those who are prepared to lead and thrive will put mental health and resilience at the center of their strategic plans.