How to build resilience — for the next crisis

CIMA President Nick Jackson, FCMA, CGMA, offers tips for leaders to build personal and team resilience — and ways to support struggling employees.
CIMA President Nick Jackson, FCMA, CGMA

CIMA President Nick Jackson, FCMA, CGMA, says finance leaders have a fundamental role in building resilience — both for themselves and their teams. They also need to invest to ensure employees are equipped with the right tools and have access to the right data to do their job effectively.

What you’ll learn from this podcast episode:

  • The meaning of “resilience”.
  • Why leaders need to be clear about team priorities.
  • The warning signs that a team member is underperforming.
  • How leaders can support struggling employees.
  • The imperative for teams to have the right data and tools.

Play the episode below or read the edited transcript:

To comment on this episode or to suggest an idea for another episode, contact Oliver Rowe, an 
FM magazine senior editor, at


Oliver Rowe: Welcome, Nick. In 2020 resilience became quite a buzzword. The need for business and personal resilience became more critical as the pandemic hit. So, perhaps, firstly, how would you define resilience?

Nick Jackson: I guess it's fair to say it's very much a word of the moment. But I think we can all recognise where and when it is lacking or when it's present. For me, there are two perspectives on the word "resilient". But essentially, it's about the ability to cope with pressure. Firstly, I think it's how do we as individuals or organisations manage pressure such that we can continue to perform effectively.

The second aspect of it is how readily are we able to bounce back in the face of adversity or in the face of disruption. So, once performance has been impacted, how agile do we respond to those circumstances. So, there's two aspects, I guess, pre and post the impact on performance.

Rowe: Thank you. Why is it still important for businesses, finance leaders, and their teams almost a year on from the start of the pandemic?

Jackson: Well, I don't think it should be seen as a new concept. I think resilience is something that's always been around. Clearly, it's just got further emphasised — or its importance has been emphasised by COVID — because it's exposed much more rapidly where resilience has been lacking. We've seen quite a few examples of that. Disruption and technology innovations, which have been removing the barriers to entry for new players, has been similarly exposing this lack of agility to respond to new business models. That's often due to things like lack of investment: businesses who haven't recognised to be resilient and to be agile is critical to their sustainability.

Rowe: Thank you. Let's focus for a moment on the people aspect. For which individuals and teams is it particularly important to build resilience?

Jackson: I guess, I think about the finance team as a whole here. For me, a particular angle on that is around the comfort or otherwise of dealing with uncertainty. We are trained to provide certainty over our numbers and the way that we present our numbers in terms of how we are articulating business performance. We budget on the basis of previous history. We make assumptions that are underpinned by trend analysis and the like. However, our ability to draw upon such historical information or the relevance of that type of information is being severely challenged. We now need to encourage our teams to be much more comfortable with being roughly right or understanding where the equation is between risk and accuracy. So, it's clearly important for the team as a whole. It's clearly important as finance leaders we are able to have resilience amongst ourselves to continue to motivate and provide direction for our teams. Again, it's that uncertainty I think a lot of us find awkward and difficult, so we need to have mechanisms to help us cope with that uncertainty.

Rowe: Some team members have struggled during the pandemic. What are the signs that a team member is not performing at their best?

Jackson: What I would say, it's important really to look for early warning signs rather than wait for underperformance. I think if the performance is starting to be impacted, you may have missed the boat. So it's really about looking at motivation levels. For me, I look at energy, how engaged are our team members in the conversation. You know, provide opportunities for discussion and look for those who are more or less engaged, those who are taking more of a back seat. Is that deviating from their normal behaviour? Or is that normal, which is fine — there are people who are reflective and come back in. But it's really energy levels and deviations from normality. Another area I look at quite a lot is attention to detail. I think that quickly exposes where people are perhaps feeling a little bit more jaded or less motivated.

Rowe: You talked a bit about the role of leaders in finding solutions. In what other ways can leaders bring solutions in this area?

Jackson: I think all leaders have their own different ways of providing support. Clearly, I just reflect upon the sort of the things I've seen and that I try and do. Where I would look to start, though, is to build some consensus with team members who may be struggling. Consensus with them about what the problem is. You need their buy-in to ensure that anything you might put in place is recognised as helping them to address that motivational challenge.

The sorts of things I look at to do here is, first, we as leaders have to be clear in our priorities. Often our teams may be feeling they've got conflicting priorities across the organisation; everybody wants it now or done tomorrow. Our role as leaders is to help our teams understand what really is important, get the balance right between timeliness and quality of work, providing them with the permission to enable them to be more flexible about those things that are lower priority.

Then there's more tactical things around informal team sessions. So, I've got colleagues who run meetings where there's no discussion about work. It's entirely — kind of an end-of-day reflection on how things are going, a chance to swap stories that are not necessarily work-related. You know, trying to create "water-cooler" moments, as we call them. The opportunity just to have a join in. Some people would set up a standard time once a week where whoever wants to join the conversation just joins the conversation. You know, over a cup of coffee or whatever. It's trying to find those ways of developing some more informal team collaboration types of ways of being.

Then, the last thing I'd say is leaders just thinking about flexibility of working patterns. Particularly with increased working at home, we risk being seen as a 24/7 resource that our organisations can call upon. That is not the new way of working. But some people are happy to say the quid pro quo is that they might want to do the school run. That means they might work later in the day, which is fine. It's allowing that kind of flexibility I think is important.

Rowe: Thank you. Finally, Nick, what would be your top three tips for leaders and their teams to start to increase their resilience to better weather the next crisis?

Jackson: So, I would say the first thing, it's a bit like — remember when I did a rescue diving course and the first thing to do as a rescuer is to think about yourself and don't put yourself in harm’s way. I think the same thing here is find time for yourself both physically and emotionally. Then encourage your teams to do the same. You know, they've got to look after themselves. That's tip number one: Find time for yourself and encourage your team to do the same.

Secondly, I think it's about identifying those things that could help make life a bit easier or enjoyable for your teams and invest in those things. So, a prosaic example would be — at a business level — have your teams got the right tools that enable them to do their job effectively, have they got access to the right data, et cetera? Or are they still having to cope with data from multiple sources that they're spending time having to retrofit to solve problems? Have we supported them in that? Then, in the family life, are we investing time and support in terms of our hobbies, and our friends, and our families? So, recognise and invest in the things that will help make life easier for you.

The third one for me is the real truism, which is reminding your team not to worry about the things that are outside their control. Only focus on the things that you can do something about. Escalate the things that you're worrying about that are outside your control, but don't worry about them. Focus on the things you can command. Those would be my three tips.

Rowe: Nick, thank you.