During the COVID-19 pandemic, some Canadian bio-economy companies fared better than others despite facing similar challenges. What’s behind those different outcomes? In part, varying levels of organizational resiliency. To learn more, BioTalent Canada explored organizational resiliency, its contributing factors, and how companies can cultivate it.
Based on that work, this resource looks at how certain skills can help bio-economy companies build and sustain organizational resiliency.
What is organizational resiliency?
Organizational resiliency refers to the capability of an organization to anticipate, absorb, react and adapt to internal and external disruptions and associated impacts. Fundamentally, it’s about how organizations overcome adversity to ensure sustainability.
This definition was validated in interviews with bio-economy employers, whose comments suggested three major characteristics shared by resilient organizations:
- They are agile, flexible and adaptable with their operations and internal processes.
- Their employees are engaged with leadership both formally and informally.
They have empowered cultures stemming from engaged employees who feel they are listened to and their needs considered during times of change.
What skills are important for building a resilient organization in the bio-economy?
Organizational resiliency is associated with a host of “soft”, “cross-functional” or “transferrable” skills at multiple levels in organizations. Adaptability, flexibility, positive outlook, communication, problem-solving and creativity are some of the most often cited of these skills. Critical thinking/analysis and problem-solving in particular have remained in fairly constant high demand since 2016. As of 2020, likely as a result of pandemic impacts, there has been a significant increase in the demand for self-management skills such as active learning, personal resilience, flexibility and stress tolerance, placing these within the top 10 of emerging skills in demand.
Responses from employers in the Canadian bio-economy echo many of the global results. The top five “very important” skills to address the challenges and opportunities the pandemic presented to their organizations were:
- Adaptability (82%)
- Communication (80%)
- Positive attitude (78%)
- Problem-solving (78%)
- Collaboration (71%)
The study found that bio-economy companies that successfully navigated the challenges presented by the pandemic consistently ranked these five skills as important. The inverse also held true: companies that reported less success ranked these skills as less important. Empathy, self-awareness and creativity/innovation were also associated with greater success. These findings were similar across company size, sub-sector and region.
Building resiliency through cross-training
One bio-manufacturing facility with around 50 employees found that cross-training within departments was a strong contributor to its resiliency during the pandemic. This was important because smaller teams were particularly susceptible to labour shortages and absenteeism related to illness, quarantining and caring for family members.
The organization had established cross-training within its teams as a priority before the pandemic, training all new staff in their own roles and tasks as well as those of other team members. Managers and supervisors are also trained and certified as required for all roles in their units so they can step into any role to maintain production. This approach to cross-training requires significant technical skill sets supported by strong collaboration, adaptability and communication skills to enable employees to effectively and quickly transition between roles as needed. Teamwork is also an ongoing area of emphasis for this company.
How do leadership skills contribute to organizational resiliency in the bio-economy?
Strong leadership that promotes cohesive and interdependent teams is a critical component of a resilient organization. Resiliency is associated with leadership skill areas such as decisiveness, integrity, self-awareness, self-regulation, mental agility, optimism and connection. Surveyed bio-economy employers emphasized that these areas are closely connected with organizational resiliency. They specifically cited the following as helpful:
- Empathy and vulnerability, compassion, emotional intelligence, ability to build meaningful relationships, listening skills
- Situational awareness, at multiple levels
- Problem-solving, creative solutions, openness to other ideas
- Collaboration, ability to be actively engaged with various teams
- Transparent, engaging, open and clear communication
- Mental flexibility, agility, resilience mindset, critical thinking, self-confidence
- Project management and planning, change management
- Conflict management, ability to “push back” constructively when disagreeing with ideas/people
Leadership is key to building the “resiliency muscle”
A small medical device R&D company with about 15 employees views organizational resiliency as a “muscle” that has to be built up and worked to become stronger. For that company, leadership skills that focus on communication, transparency and collaborative problem-solving have been critical to building up that resiliency muscle.
Although the company acknowledges the importance of leadership for its own sake, it emphasizes that the ultimate goal of leadership is to support a dynamic team that works together and uses its collective creativity to solve problems. This requires all team members to have strong interpersonal skills, understand how to appropriately “push back” on ideas, and appreciate a diversity of perspectives. One of the ways the company builds presentation and communication skills is by asking employees who take training or attend conferences to present overviews and key points internally when they return.
How does employer mindset affect the development of key skills?
Although all the skills identified as supporting organizational resiliency can be learned, some bio-economy employers continue to believe that individual employees or recruits “have it or don’t,” rather than viewing these skills from a development perspective. Workplaces that actively support curiosity, managed risk-taking, learning opportunities and overall professional development for employees are often the most successful in attracting, developing and maintaining talent with the skills they need. Leaders who engage with and promote a learning and growth mindset among employees also perceive their organizations as more resilient and better able to meet, address and benefit from challenges they encounter.
How can bio-economy employers build skills to enhance their resiliency?
There are various resources available to bio-economy employers to help them develop their teams’ skills, including a wide range of training courses.
Some BioTalent Canada resources include:
- BioTalent Canada Essential Skills Fundamentals courses
- Building Workplace Resiliency resources
Learn from others
Incorporating the principles of inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility (IDEA) into your organization’s operations and culture is also a critical element of building resiliency. Check out these stories for insight into how other organizations have incorporated IDEA principles into their business — and the benefits they’ve seen as a result.
- Shift Health: An inclusive future is a community effort that starts at home
- Origin Materials: Making inclusivity a standard business practice
- STEMCELL Technologies: How IDEA principles became embedded in one company’s DNA
Methods and sources
BioTalent Canada recently conducted research on organizational resiliency in the Canadian bio-economy in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the project, BioTalent Canada is producing a series of resources, including brief introductions to some of the key topics related to organizational resiliency.
This resource on how certain skills can help build and sustain organizational resiliency in the bio-economy is based on findings from:
- A survey of 344 employers in the Canadian bio-economy
- In-depth qualitative interviews with 33 employers
- A systematic environmental scan of literature and available training, tools and measures related to organizational resiliency
Funded by the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Centre.
 World Economic Forum (October 2020). The Future of Jobs Report 2020.
 Southwick, Martini, Charney, & Southwick. (2017). Leadership and Resilience. 10.1007/978-3-319-31036-7_18.