In another installment of Resilience Radio, Linda talks to Jessica Bronzert about transitioning from an internal consultant at a Fortune 50 company to starting her own consulting firm.
Linda: Good afternoon and welcome to Resilience Radio where we look at the art and science of thriving in a turbulent world. I am happy to be here and I am delighted to have with me Jessica Bronzert who is a former client of mine. We worked together at a Fortune 50 company where she was and she is now on her own as an executive coach and change management consultant with the Sparks group based out the Charlotte area in North Carolina. Welcome Jessica.
Jessica: Hi Linda, how are you?
Linda: I am doing great. It’s a rainy and snowy day here on the east coast and I think we are all planning for a weekend where we might have to test our resilience.
Jessica: I think so.
Linda: So tell me and our listeners a little bit more about what you do in your work.
Jessica: Thanks for having me today and I am really glad to be here. So, as you mentioned, I was with a fortune 50 company and did change management work. That is essentially what I do out on my own now as an executive coach and change management consultant. I really have leaders, teams and organizations build the capacity that they need to deal with the changes they are facing in a world that is more complex and more challenging than it’s ever been before.
Linda: What are some of the challenges that they run into?
Jessica: Sure, so leaders are facing a whole lot of challenges both personally and professionally as they do their work. We know that the world is more interconnected than it’s ever been before. In fact, a company that I did a lot of work with you at, as we both know, was really working to integrate all the channels in which it did business. I think a lot of organizations out there are facing similar challenges. Technology and the rate of change generally in the world are moving at a very face pace and that has a lot of implications for the businesses that people that are working in but also personally as people are dealing increasingly with ambiguity and dealing with complexity in the workplace. It is really challenging for leaders out there. In addition to all the personal challenges that people can face along with the way. So that’s really what I help with.
Linda: I know one of the projects we worked on together was about how do you look at the level of change that’s going on in an organization and figure out whether people can absorb it all. Can you talk a little bit about how you are thinking about that?
Jessica: Sure, so the work that we did, I refer to it as the capacity work and really enjoyed doing that with you. Essentially, we look at the demand of the change portfolio in the organization on the people who are going to be on the receiving end of it. So what are they going to have to do differently? How disruptive is that going to be to them on a number of different fronts? We try to apply a little bit of objectivity to that and a little bit of art as well and look at how disruptive it’s going to be. Then, what do we think people can absorb? How much energy is in the organization to handle that change? Is there a disconnect between how much energy they’re going to need to manage the changes that are coming and the portfolio. If so, what can we do to help build resilience in the organization to handle those changes or adjust the portfolio in some way; either stop some things, delay some things, reorganized some things what have you.
Linda: So it sounds like a classic supply and demand issue. We have a lot of change demand coming in and we either need to have more energy to deal with it or have less change coming in right?
Linda: So one of the strategies then to build people’s resilience, as to figure out how you help people increase their ability to absorb change so that the changes are not as over burdening on them. Can you talk a little bit out some of the work that you did there to build resilience in the organization?
Jessica: Sure, so as you it was one of the change interventions that we used that was very popular and people really enjoyed it. And, in addition to people just liking it was quite effective at helping people gain awareness about their own resilience characteristics, their own level of energy to bring to the changes. So, our work in this organization started at the executive level and then as they got a little bit of traction there we brought if further down in the organization. We actually implemented a workshop on resilience as part of a leadership development program for the mid level leaders who were all going through a similar leadership development experience. We took one afternoon of that program and devoted it entirely to resilience. We had everyone take, and your listeners may not know this, there is actually an assessment that helps measure and individual’s resilience at any given point in time. So what we did is we ran, this was 400-450 employees in this organization, we ran them through this assessment called the Personal Resilience Questionnaire, the PRQ. Then did the workshop where we talked about what resilience is and how it works and walked them through the model and gave them their results and really brought the concepts to life in the room. So they would have an understanding both as leaders who needed to change themselves but who were leading their teams through the change. What does this work look like and how can you be cognizant of your own resilience and the resilience of others as you’re in the midst of transformational change?
Linda: Can you give me an example of an insight that someone might get out of the program that would be helpful to them?
Jessica: Sure. One of the insights that was always really interesting in this particular organization was around the organized characteristic. Actually, let me take that back. Let me focus on the flexible thoughts characteristic which is always kind of interesting from a global perspective. So this is an organization that grew rapidly during the 90’s and the early 2000’s before the housing crisis. It very much was a retail organization, stack it high and let it fly. It was about executing a process over and over again without a lot of variability. So that flexible thought characteristic in the resilience model tend to be a little bit lower on average for people in this organization because that wasn’t something that had historically been valued in the culture of creative thought and kind of going after things in different ways. It has been very static and execution oriented if you will over a number of years. So that was sometimes an interesting insight for people to see that especially globally you could kind of see the trend across this group of employees.
Linda: You know it’s interesting that you should bring that up because I was talking to someone today about work that we did at another organization way back when. We were talking about resilient cultures and can you create a resilient culture in an organization. I told her about an organization that we worked with where we assessed the resilience of something like 500 people in the utility company right about the time that the utilities were being deregulated. When we took the average of all of the scores they were pretty typical. They were sort of mid range compared to our larger database for all the characteristics except the flexible thoughts one. As you know that characteristic is about dealing with ambiguity, coming up with lots of possible creative options and it turned out that this was an organization that had a lot of X-military as leaders who were very focused in structure and process. It had been in a very highly regulated industry. So there really wasn’t a lot of opportunity for people to think creatively and so they found that this was a blind spot that they didn’t have that energy present in the organization and had not valved that. So, it limited their ability to really think creatively. It sounds like in your organization where it’s very process and system oriented that may have also been the case.
Jessica: Yeah. So the flipside of that is that the organized characteristic was a bit of a strength for the organization because that ability to create structure, follow structure and then communicate it to other people so they could do the same thing was a competency or characteristic that was valued in the organization. So that tended to be a little bit higher that the average.
Linda: Do you send the message to people that they can change their resilience or that their kind of born with what they have and end up sort of being stuck with what they’ve got?
Jessica: Well, as a good student of yours I know that resilience can be developed. So, absolutely there’s no point I think in teaching resilience and becoming aware of your resilience if you don’t want to do something about it or realize you have an opportunity to improve it. So we absolutely focus and I continue to focus in my own practice on the idea that resilience can be developed.
Linda: Have you seen your own resilience change over time?
Jessica: Oh yes. I actually have kind of an interesting story about that. So the first time I took this assessment that I mentioned a couple of minutes ago, I had a fairly average profile. It was relativity resilient. There wasn’t anything too wonky about my results if you will. I didn’t think too much about it. I was just becoming acquainted with the framework and the concepts, so it was another assessment that I had taken. Then I took it again a year later. When I saw my results I had this sense that something was off a little bit. I think this looks pretty different than what happened last year. What’s going on? I had one of those moments of sort of shredding my doubts trying to find the previous year’s results. When I found it and put the two of them next to each other, I realized that indeed my profile had changed pretty significantly. I was showing up as being less resilient in the second year than I was in the first year. As someone who has an opinion about my own resilience is being pretty good. I was like what is going on? My Positive: World had dropped. I was feeling less optimistic about what was going on in the world. My social flexible semi-ability or my tendency to reach out for support and help had dropped quite a bit. There was several aspects of my resilience that were much lower and I realized all of the sudden that in the previous four months my father had passed away, my son had been diagnosed with autism and my grandmother had passed away. Literally like November, January, February those things had happened and I think I took the assessment again in late February. So it was right on top of all those changes. So it was a huge insight for me really that I had been expending energy a lot of energy adapting to these massive disruptions in my life. It had shown up. It had shown up in my resilience. I was struggling to be resilient in the face of these life changing disruptions that were happening to me. So I have absolutely witnessed my resilience change over time pretty significantly.
Linda: That’s a really interesting story. There are a couple of places I would love to go with that. The first place I would like to go is—tell me about how you’ve used that story in training because I know that you’ve shared with me that you have been comfortable being transparent with folks about your own story.
Jessica: Yeah, I don’t want to give away my secrets too much for anyone who I might train in the future but I like to use my own profiles when I do teach on resilience and to show people: A, that I’m a human being and even though I’m teaching these concepts, I also subject to them that I have not completely mastered them and I’m continuing to work on my own resilience and grow as a person if you will over time. The most important lesson that I try to convey is that you need to ask why. Why does somebody’s resilience look like it does at any given point in time. Because if you think about those three things that I just mentioned, none of them had to do with work. I was also facing a lot of disruption at work but it paled in comparison to those person disruptions. If I didn’t tell anybody at work about those things they would have had absolutely no awareness of that, right? And yet, I was showing up in a different way because I was unable to bring these characteristics to my work as much as I had been able to do before those things happened. So the biggest take away for me and that I try to convey to other people is, is to have some compassion or some empathy or to seek to understand why somebody’s resilience profile might look the way that it does or why somebody’s showing up the way they are in the face of change. There may be a lot going on but you don’t have any awareness about.
Linda: You touched on the other piece that I thought was really interesting which is that changes outside of the workplace. You and I both got our start in using this resilience work helping organizations going through changes and looking at the energy demands that organizational changes make on people. You very quickly realize that people only have one energy supply. There are physical, mental, emotional, spiritual energy. There is only one bucket of energy that people draw on and if it that energy is being used for changes outside the organization, whether its loss of loved ones or illnesses or going to school or whatever it might be, it’s not available for additional demands that are going to be placed on people. So to me that sort of interplay between what’s going on at work and what’s going out outside of work and what’s going on in the world around us is all very interesting in terms of how all of those change demands come in on us.
Linda: So, what’s one thing that you’ve done for yourself to build your resilience?
Jessica: There are probably two things actually that I think are worth pointing out. So, the first is that I mention that sort of reaching out to others for support. In the assessment it’s called social flexible so that’s the language I go to but that’s a little jargony. So we just talk about that characteristic is remembering that you can’t do it alone and that not only do other people offer just support and encouragement but they also may have advice or ideas or suggestions for how to deal with the disruption. My default is to sit on the couch and sort of feed my introvert if you will when I’m facing change. But if can be aware that’s that not a strength for me and to make a little bit of a concerted effort to reach out to a friend or to engage some family support or what have you. I tend to be bullied by that quite a bit. It takes me a little bit more energy to do it as we have been talking about energy but the payoff for me is really terrific in terms of just managing through any kind of disruption a little bit more effectively. Then the other one was self care, just making sure that I’m getting exercise, that I’m eating well, sleeping enough, focusing on making sure that my basic needs are met while I’m under stress or in the midst of change. That is another ongoing opportunity for me. I do a lot better when I focus on that and I can tell that things are more challenging when I don’t.
Linda-Absolutely. No nurturing the energy supply is a really important part of the mix isn’t it?
Jessica: It sure is.
Linda: Talk to me about how all of that has played out as you’ve gone out on your own? I know you’ve taken the leap fairly recently into your own business and I’ve had the joy of hearing some of your journey along the way and I’d love you to share some of that story about how it felt to leap out of a corporate setting into a self-employment world.
Jessica: Yeah, that’s such a great question. I was just having a conversation with somebody the other day where I was comparing from my perspective what I think how the mindsets really are different from being an employee in a company or in an organization vs. working for yourself and how resilience is so important when you’re not in that environment if you will, where a lot of things are built in for you. So I’ve had to draw my resilience skills quite a bit going out on my own because it is a disruption. It is a change. I thought maybe I had an idea of what it would be like when I was out on my own but you never really know exactly how things are going to unfold. Even though things are going, I think, really well in my new budding practice. There is still a lot of things that I’m learning, a lot of things that I just don’t understand how they work yet. It’s not a steady state kind of environment. So I’m having to keep a positive attitude, that’s a resilient skill. I have to maintain my confidence in myself. I have to constantly reevaluate where I should be focusing my time and my energy. What’s most important on any given day and any given moment in terms of building my practice? I have to be creative in learning how to do things that I don’t know how to do yet like keep accounting records, develop a CRM system to keep track of my leads and my clients. I have a whole different network of contacts in addition to all of my old contacts that I am building. Socially, it’s quite a bit different. So there are a lot of aspects of resilience that I’m drawing on as I go out on my own. I’m really glad I have awareness of what those characteristics are so I can be a little bit more deliberate about engaging them.
Linda: That makes good sense. I know that there are probably places where you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone a bit to get things done.
Jessica: Yes for sure.
Linda: As of recently you’ve been doing more public speaking. You talked about sitting on the cough and feeding your introverts so how does it feel to get out there and give talks?
Jessica: It’s a lot different. I did a lot of speaking in the company that I worked for but it was a little bit different because it was as a representative of the company inside the company as a resource and this speaking now it’s really me, myself and I representing myself in promoting my business and hoping that people want to engage further right. I’m speaking as a business development or marketing approach. I had my first official speaking engagement this week as part of my new practice and I was fairly nervous about it because the circumstances around it were different. I, again, used a lot of those strategies that we’ve been talking about. I have a couple of friends in the room and pumped myself up beforehand and practices so that I would take some of the uncertainty out of the experience. I really enjoyed it. I had a great time and I’m looking forward to doing more.
Linda: Wonderful. I hope it leads to lots of good business for you.
Jessica: Thank you.
Linda: Can you talk a little bit about the coaching that you do? How does that work. What kind of things do you find yourself coaching people around and where does resilience fit in to all of that?
Jessica: Sure. Well, my speciality in coaching is really working with leaders and organizations who are facing some kind of change or disruption themselves, maybe they’ve recently been promoted or maybe they’ve taken on new responsibility or maybe they find themselves in a challenging political situation at work. There are all sort of presenting issues if you will as to why somebody might want coaching. I have found resilience to be a great construct to introduce into some of my coaching work because it’s so relevant to change and is about change and giving people a model to think about. So, one example is that I am working with a client right now who actually is reentering the workforce after a period of time away and is facing starting a new job and doing some traveling for that. The family logistics are going to have to completely shift around in order to accommodate that. It’s a big change to reenter the workforce after a period of time away. I actually introduced the resilience model to this client this week and we talked through a little bit of where is this client able to spend their energy pretty easily, where do they like to go? What resilience characteristics are they most comfortably using and where, if they were to put a little bit of energy could they get more of a return by bringing more resilience into the situation if you will. So, its relevant just about everywhere and I find that my clients really benefit from having a deeper way of thinking about it rather than just this sort of generic idea of, I need to be resilient.
Linda: The other thing that I think is interesting and as I’ve working on the manuscript for my next book, I’ve been thinking about how all of the different kinds of challenges we face have some things in common in terms of how they draw on our energy. So whether it’s the really big awful things like losing a loved one or natural disaster. Or it’s the things like having a flat tire or having to deal with some new aspect of your job. They really all call on some of the same kinds of things. So giving people a language around it and helping them recognize that they can have some self awareness about their responding, whatever the challenge might be I think can be really helpful.
Linda: What’s next for you? What are some of the things that you’re looking at ahead to do in this world around change?
Jessica: That’s a great question. Well, as we have been talking about I am excited about getting out and doing some more speaking and continuing to build my coaching and consulting practice of helping leaders and teams. I’m excited about developing some group coaching programs potentially this year to sort of bridge the gap between the organizational setting or sort of the enterprise work and the individual work because I think people really benefit from, just like your listeners benefit from listening to your interviews with people have experienced change. I think that people benefit from hearing each other’s stories and to do that in a group setting could be really interesting. So I’m excited to continue building my practice on all three of those fronts, the individual coaching front, the consulting or organizational work that I have been doing which includes partnering with you on the resilience work and then potentially growing in this group or team space a little bit.
Linda: That really sounds exciting. One of the things that I’ve been curious about for you and really for everybody I talk to these days. I’ve sort of had this notion that we can each seek out our own resilience gymnasium. That we can found the places to strengthen our resilience muscles deliberately. In one of the examples I use for me, is that sailboat racing is one of the places where I do that. So I deliberately put myself in a situation where I’m going to be challenged, where there’s going to be unknowns where I’m going to have to learn to deal with the unexpected. Do you have places like that in your life? Do you have a resilience gym that you go to?
Jessica: The first thing that popped into my mind is the vein of my improved self care this year I decided to try out boot camp exercising. I’m sure your listeners have heard of this. It’s sort of very high energy fast paced intense exercise for short periods of time. Well, it doesn’t feel short to me. So I am going to boot camp three times a week and am pushing myself physically in a way that I have never done before. So I feel like I’m working on my physical resilience in a quite literal sense to build my stores of energy in that way and get stronger.
Linda: Do you find that it is also a psychological gym for you?
Jessica: Yeah. I’m scared of that place. I was very nervous to go because I didn’t know if I could do it. Actually, it’s so funny you asked about this because I just met another woman there and had a nice conversation with her this week. She’s new too and she leaned over to me and she said “I’m still kind of scared to come here.” I said, “I am too a little bit.” Like it’s a little scary not to know what the workout is going to be every time and to know whether or not you’re going to have the physical stamina to complete it. It is uncertain. It’s a little bit of disruption on not as severe of a scale as some of the things that we’ve talked about. Absolutely, there is something about trying something new that I have never done before and that is challenging, very challenging. So I would say that is my resilience gym right now.
Linda: One of the things you mentioned earlier when you were talking about your own resilience is the loss of several loved ones but you also talked about a child being diagnosed with special needs. Is there anything that you want to share with the listeners about how you’ve dealt with that challenge or what kind of help you’ve reached out for or anything that you feel like might be useful to people facing a similar situation?
Jessica: Thank you for asking about that. I think anyone who has a child with special needs or anyone who’s got children and knows that it takes a village to raise that child, I think that a universal experience. That is just intensified when you have a special needs child. So I think it’s been and will continue to be a learning experience for myself and my husband as we raise both our son with autism and our other son who is neuro typical. We have struggled quite frankly to maintain a positive attitude at times, so that’s something that we work hard on. We have had to find, refine, recalibrate the resources and professionals that we engage with in support of our son. There’s a lot that goes into it. We have absolutely had to draw on our resilience skills and get better at them. I think that’s probably one of the biggest areas of growth for both of us is learning how to parent a special needs child. I think people think well maybe you get it figured out and then you’re good. My experience, our experience is that you get set for a little while but then the situation changes and your back to drawing board in some way shape or form. There is some element of it that is never-ending. You need that store of energy to be replenished because you’re constantly drawing on it on any given day, week, month or year. Anyone who is in a challenging parenting situation, special needs child or not, I think that knowing a little bit about resilience is just a tremendous asset to be able to self diagnose how you’re doing at any given point in time and be able to help yourself mange through what is just a very challenging thing and rewarding. Definitely rewarding but also challenging.
Linda: Do you find that you and you’re spouse’s resilience strengths complement each other?
Jessica: Yes. Very much.
Linda: That’s great.
Jessica: We had a conversation this morning about maintaining a positive attitude. This wasn’t in relation to our special needs and it was actually about our other son who got himself into a little bit of trouble. I was taking a little bit of, yeah, it’ll be alright, he’s going to figure it out. My husband was a little more disappointed in his behavior. So yeah we do balance each other out quite a bit in that regard.
Linda: I can relate to that. I really appreciate you taking the time to come here and talk with me today. Is there anything else that you would like to share as we wrap up?
Jessica: I don’t think so. This has just been delightful. Thank so much for having me and I was really glad to have the opportunity to talk about our work together.
Linda: If people wanted to learn more about you and your work where would they go?
Linda: Great. Well thanks again Jessica and I hope that you have a great weekend ahead and thank you all who tuned to this episode and we look forward to having you join us again down the road.
Jessica: Thanks so much Linda.
Linda: Okay. Bye-bye.