The ability to adapt to unforeseen challenges and embrace innovation is essential for an organisation’s success. However, many businesses fall victim to the ‘threat rigidity’ phenomenon, wherein they become rigid and resistant to change due to perceived threats. This poses significant challenges for HR professionals who are tasked with cultivating a culture of adaptability and flexibility among employees and leaders.
What is threat rigidity?
Threat rigidity refers to an organisation’s tendency to become resistant to change when it perceives external threats or challenges. This natural response can lead to a rigid organisational structure, reluctance to embrace new ideas and a strong preference for the status quo. As a result, businesses may miss out on valuable opportunities, lose their competitive edge and hinder growth and innovation.
“Human resource departments must leverage data analysis to gain valuable insights into their organisation. Data from attrition analysis and exit interviews shed light on factors influencing different aspects, including rigidity within the company”, suggests Jacob Jacob, G-CHRO, Malabar Gold.
From his extensive experience in the HR field, Jacob observes that by recognising the significance of employee satisfaction and well-being, modern organisations are adopting a ‘terms of endearment’ approach. “This involves tailoring policies, such as flexible working options, leave arrangements and employee benefits, to align with the specific needs of their workforce. As frontline employees play a pivotal role in driving customer service and product quality, these employee-centric policies become crucial for overall success,” opines Jacob.
“Human resource departments must leverage data analysis to gain valuable insights into their organisation. Data from attrition analysis and exit interviews shed light on factors influencing different aspects, including rigidity within the company.”
Jacob Jacob, G-CHRO, Malabar Gold
He says, “With myriad employment options available, employees now have the freedom to choose the work arrangement that best suits them. Companies that fail to adapt to the changing needs of their workforce and maintain rigid structures may find it challenging to attract and retain top talent. Empowering employees encompasses focus on not only work-related factors but also a positive company culture and shared values, creating alignment and a sense of belonging among the workforce.
As HR professionals, it is essential to be vigilant in identifying signs of threat rigidity within the organisation and among employees.
What are the indicators of threat ridigidy?
According to Sarma Chillara, CHRO, Skoda Auto, “Signs of threat rigidity include resistance to change, working in silos / not sharing information and inability to deal with problems or a dynamic situation.”
He suggests “using appreciative enquiry to analyse the reasons why people don’t want change, or what their underlying fear/ reasons for resisting the same are before resorting to course correction.”
The common symptoms of threat rigidity are as follows:
Resistance to change: Employees displaying strong resistance to any modifications in processes, policies, or organisational structure may be exhibiting signs of threat rigidity.
Lack of innovation: An organisation that consistently adheres to traditional practices without exploring new possibilities is likely to succumb to threat rigidity.
High turnover: If valuable employees are leaving due to frustration with the organisation’s resistance to change, it is a clear sign of threat rigidity.
“Signs of threat rigidity include resistance to change, working in silos / not sharing information and inability to deal with problems or a dynamic situation.”
Sarma Chillara, CHRO, Skoda Auto
Low employee engagement: A disengaged workforce may indicate a lack of alignment with the organisation’s values and vision, leading to reduced flexibility and adaptability.
Chandrasekhar Mukherjee, CHRO, Bhilosa Industries, says that effective communication is the backbone of any successful change-management strategy within an organisation. He shares, “When implementing changes, whether they involve new technology, processes, or organisational restructuring, it is crucial to communicate clearly and transparently with all stakeholders. This includes employees at all levels, management, and other relevant parties. By keeping everyone informed and engaged throughout the process, concerns can be addressed proactively, and resistance can be minimised.”
According to Mukherjee, employees may often fear the unknown, worry about the impact on their roles, or simply feel uncomfortable with the unfamiliar. By acknowledging these concerns and addressing them through open dialogue and supportive measures, employees are more likely to embrace the changes and become advocates for the transition.
“When implementing changes, whether they involve new technology, processes, or organisational restructuring, it is crucial to communicate clearly and transparently with all stakeholders. This includes employees at all levels, management, and other relevant parties. By keeping everyone informed and engaged throughout the process, concerns can be addressed proactively, and resistance can be minimised.”
Chandrasekhar Mukherjee, CHRO, Bhilosa Industries
He further suggests, “Conducting surveys and utilising leading indicators are effective tools for assessing the organisation’s readiness for change and identifying potential areas of resistance. Surveys allow HR professionals and leadership to gather valuable feedback from employees and pinpoint specific issues that may hinder the change process. Leading indicators, such as tracking performance metrics and employee engagement levels, can help detect signs of resistance and rigidity in various departments or teams.”
How can threat rigidity be mitigated?
Mitigating threat rigidity requires proactive efforts from HR professionals, and they can implement a range of strategies to promote adaptability and flexibility within the organisation.
Fostering a learning culture is paramount. Encouraging continuous learning and professional development empowers employees with the necessary skills and knowledge to embrace change with confidence. Additionally, establishing open channels of communication is vital to creating an environment where employees feel safe to express their concerns and share innovative ideas without fear of repercussions. Breaking down silos and encouraging cross-functional collaboration further enhances adaptability by promoting the exchange of diverse perspectives and creative solutions.
Recognising and rewarding innovation reinforces a culture that values forward-thinking individuals and encourages employees to embrace change. Lastly, by leading by example, HR professionals themselves must embody the qualities of adaptability, demonstrating openness to change and inspiring employees and leaders alike to adopt a flexible mindset in the face of uncertainty. Through these strategies, HR professionals can effectively mitigate threat rigidity and pave the way for an agile, innovative and adaptable organisation.
Chillara feels that possible solutions to threat rigidity could be, “Focussing on change of culture, taking steps to promote collaboration amongst teams (such as CFTs), encouraging employees to accept new ideas by rewarding these behaviours, and empowering people to take decisions.”
Human resource professionals play a pivotal role in promoting adaptability and flexibility among employees. Encouraging a learning culture, fostering open communication and emphasising collaboration are key strategies. Rewarding innovation and leading by example further solidify the organisation’s commitment to embracing change. By implementing these strategies, HR professionals can create a dynamic and resilient workforce that is well prepared to navigate uncertainty and drive innovation.
Threat rigidity can be detrimental to an organisation’s ability to adapt and innovate in today’s dynamic business landscape. Human resource professionals play a pivotal role in identifying and mitigating the negative effects of threat rigidity by fostering a culture of adaptability and flexibility. By promoting learning, collaboration and open communication, HR can help leaders and employees embrace change and drive innovation during times of uncertainty. Embracing adaptability becomes a competitive advantage, ensuring an organisation’s resilience and continued growth in an ever-evolving business environment.