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Resilience at Mars: growth and transformation in extraordinary times

July 13, 2020 - 10 min read

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The rise of resilience

Resilience at the core

The positive ripple effect of resilient leaders

And Mars is a terrific example…

The road to human-centered transformation

In the spring and summer of 2020, BetterUp partnered with Josh Bersin Academy for an exclusive three-part webinar series designed to help professionals adapt and thrive in this era of remarkable change. Together with Global Industry HR Analyst, Josh Bersin, we sat down with today’s leading thinkers, researchers, and a who’s who from Fortune 500 companies all with the goal of answering a single question: How do you cultivate next-level resilience during these extraordinary times?

In our first episode, Josh and  Dr. Gabriella Kellerman, Chief Innovation Officer at BetterUp, led a discussion on resilience as the bedrock of any Human Capital strategy with Kristin Colber-Baker, Global Head, Strategic Capability at Mars. The trio set the stage – contextualizing the current pandemic within a history of societal and market disruption, and exploring the unique ways Mars, a company with a 100+ year history, has sought to nurture resilience and hope during challenging times.

You can watch the entire on-demand webinar here, but here are the highlights from our insider’s view into Mars’ quest for resilience.

The rise of resilience

 “Dealing with unpredictable events is part of running a great organization and you have to design for it ... so our job as HR professionals is to do some serious thinking about what will make our companies resilient.” – Josh Bersin

It goes without saying that the state of disruption we’ve met in early 2020 continues to create massive uncertainty, challenge, and stress all around the world.

While the pandemic has in many ways created a shared global experience, it has also thrust individuals and organizations into seemingly uncharted and unpredictable territory.

Yet, in some ways, we’ve been here before.

Over the last 30 years, we’ve seen devastating natural disasters, financial crises, cyber-security breakdowns, social injustices, and – now – a global pandemic. Known as Black Swan events, these disruptions are, by definition, unpredictable, rare, and have severe impact or consequences. However, as Josh Bersin points out, they are more common and frequent than we might first think.

And yet, due to their unpredictable nature, it often feels like individuals and organizations are being asked to navigate wholly new challenges and to transform in ways never imagined even just a few months ago.

But, as history has shown us, without the right mindsets, skills, and organizational practices, these kinds of events can cause long-term disruption. Enter Mars.

Resilience at the core

Organizational and individual resilience are not new concepts, but as Dr. Gabriella Kellerman pointed out, “This pandemic has vividly illustrated why resilience has to be at the bedrock of any Human Capital strategy.”

In its long history, Mars has certainly seen its share of Black Swan events. And with each one, it’s grown stronger and more resilient. But how?

“Resilience,” explains Kristin Colber-Baker, “means you’re able to withstand or recover quickly from a difficult situation.” To be able to meet adversity in this way, you must first identify your purpose and those values for which you stand.

At Mars, this kind of organizational resilience is actually designed into the system. Resilience is deeply rooted within The Five Principles which have provided “clear direction and a moral compass” for the company and its employees for over a century.

Because these principles – Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency, and Freedom – are at the heart of every decision at Mars, they have helped create a philosophy – a human capital strategy, as it were – that anticipates change and disruption and offers a consistent and abiding vision that has guided employee and organization alike for generations.

The positive ripple effect of resilient leaders

What happens when an entire society – and its workforce – experience extreme stress all at once? As we’ve seen with COVID-19, the effects are dramatic. Tensions and difficulties abound, people are mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted, and frustration is high. It should come as no surprise then that productivity has dropped by 18% or more in these past months. But there is hope and it begins with your leaders.

Leaders who are high in resilience have direct reports who are themselves 3x more resilient than counterparts and experience burnout half as much. Teams led by resilient leaders are more productive, innovative, and agile. In other words, leaders who have developed the skills and habits to cultivate resilience, are able to create an environment and experience that allows others to bounce back and even thrive.

“Resilience,” as Dr. Gabriella Kellerman shared, “is what determines whether your employees are experiencing all of these things and flaming out or managing well, even growing stronger because of them.”  

“Resilient workers are significantly more productive during these times because they have skills and strengths in optimism, cognitive agility, emotional regulation, and self-compassion. They also make it a priority to engage in those core habits of wellbeing; they sleep and exercise more and eat better.”

And Mars is a terrific example…

In her role as Global Head of Strategic Capability at Mars, Kristin Colber-Baker recognizes the importance of this leadership “ripple effect” and constantly looks for opportunities to empower the company’s leaders to help contribute to employee well-being and thriving at work and at home.

“In one initiative, we started by asking each leader to identify their own purpose because identifying purpose is at the very foundation and core of thriving associates. It allows them to identify what they’re standing for and therefore withstand things that could detract from what they stand for.”  

Digging in deeper, Colber-Baker and her team were not surprised to discover that – in addition to a sense of purpose – care and trust were also hallmarks of its leaders. “The practice of care combined with the environment of trust is an amazingly powerful combination.” 

Grounded in the Five Principles, these leadership qualities of purpose, care, and trust, create an organizational framework for employee well-being at Mars that helps its people remain productive and positive even during the most difficult times.

But what can you do for those individuals in your organization who could benefit from increased resilience?

The road to human-centered transformation

The first half of 2020 has clearly demonstrated that resilience is the bedrock of any sustainable talent and business strategy.

But, currently, only 22% of today’s companies are prioritizing resilience as a core competency, including self-compassion and emotional regulation. Yet, as the Mars example shows us, it’s possible to not only survive disruptive circumstances – like this pandemic – but to adapt and grow because of them, individually and organizationally. And Josh Bersin agrees.

“This isn’t just a recovery. We’re not reopening, we’re transforming, what we do, what we sell, how we go to market, how our customers do business with us, how we do business with each other.” 

But, this kind of growth, as Colber-Baker points out, requires continual practice and support to turn actions into resilience. “People need to know,” she says, “they have the psychological safety to experiment with new ways.” 

The good news is the mindsets and behaviors that we see as strengths in resilient leaders can be developed and, more specifically, can be coached. At BetterUp, we’ve seen resilience increase as a result of coaching by 125% within three months.  And this growth is noticed by managers and teammates along the way.  For example, 79% of managers of those receiving coaching, report seeing greater adaptability in their direct reports within 60 days of BetterUp coaching.  

As Colber-Baker highlights, “Coaches are a brilliant way to help sustain what I, as an individual, desire but likely cannot sustain on my own. It’s just a great support mechanism, which is why we use and partner with BetterUp.”

We challenge you to take inspiration from Mars and other HR and business leaders. When you focus on the human needs of your employees and customers, you can nurture the kind of hallmark resilience that will benefit your people and your organization for years to come.

Learn more about the transformational impact of coaching here.

At BetterUp, we’re excited to partner with organizations like Mars,, Biogen and NetApp who are committed to enabling their employees to thrive in the face of adversity.  Hear how they are leading the way, register here to watch all three episodes on resilience.

Published July 13, 2020

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