Building a resilient workforce to increase sales effectiveness

One important aspect that sets apart successful people from the rest is how they deal with setbacks. Imagine that Elon Musk stopped thinking differently just because he was bullied when growing up, or that JK Roling quit writing after she received 12 rejections from major publishers. Imagine that Stephen Hawking, who was diagnosed with one of the worst diseases known to humanity (ALS), would stop to help the world understand the mysteries of the universe. How did they overcome their setbacks and become extremely successful? We can learn from the resiliency of these people in order to be more productive and improve sales effectiveness.

Resilience is particularly critical in sales, since these jobs are often marked by high levels of stress, rejection, and burnout. As a manager, even when you do everything right, your employees will still face setbacks and challenges. 

So how do you encourage a resilient mindset in your employees? Luckily, resilience is a skill, which means you can help increase it by learning new habits. 

As always, our team of psychologists have gone through many research studies drawn from the fields of cognitive, clinical, Industrial and Organizational psychology.

We will cover two specific ways to help teach your team how to be resilient at the workplace and increase sales effectiveness. 

  1. Building from within – Develop a resilient mindset
    1. Create supportive social connections that encourage resilience 
    2. Positivity: focus on positive emotions
  2. Focus on the context – Create a work environment that encourages resilience
    1. Encourage employees to treat new challenges as a learning opportunity; focus on continuous learning 
    2. Provide access to mental health support


What is resilience? Why is it important for sales effectiveness?

Resilience refers to the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. It is an essential part of organizational adaptability in uncertain and dynamic business environments. In order to increase sales effectiveness, employees need to think about what happened, and turn negative events into learning cases. Because indeed, you can’t succeed when you stop trying. And what doesn’t kill you can actually make you weaker when you fail to learn and grow.

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But resilience is more than just a beneficial, individual character trait. Resilience drives important organizational outcomes, including sales performance. There is general consensus among scholars that resilient employees increase their organization’s capacity to engage in ongoing development, survive major crises, and thrive under uncertain circumstances. But how do you help employees overcome difficulties and develop from challenges? 

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Build from within – Helping employees develop a resilient mindset

Even if employees know that successful people like JK Rowling and Elon Musk failed repeatedly, failure can still be difficult. It is human nature to focus more on the bad than on the good–what psychologists call “negativity bias.” We will discuss two tactics to help overcome this bias and develop a more resilient mindset: social connection and positivity. 

Create supportive social connections that encourage resilience.

Long-term isolation is incredibly stressful, and it is even registered as physical pain in the brain (Perhaps you learned that the hard way during the COVID-19 pandemic). The social repercussions of this discomfort directly impact sales effectiveness since positive social relationships are one of the most important factors for reducing work stress. Good social relationships are tied to greater psychological and physical well-being which is in turn linked with sales effectiveness and productivity. 

So it’s not surprising that social relationships also matter when it comes to resiliency. They can help relieve stress and give you a profound sense of emotional security and the feeling that someone has your back. Therefore, building connections specifically aimed at being supportive and sharing experiences can be especially helpful to build resilience. But how do you encourage the social relationships of your employees?

At the vast majority of companies, the creation of these supportive networks is left up to chance. However, companies can help foster them by removing barriers to connect and actively encouraging social interaction. 

Regular informal social events. A common option is to organize regular informal social events for your team. These experiences should be positive, enjoyable, and regular. The idea is to ensure people have regular positive contact opportunities to see what they have in common. 

Events can range from lunch-time trivia to charity events to museum visits. Mixing up the options–both what you do and when (during the workday, on weekends)–can help ensure that people with different non-work obligations can attend at least some events. 

Organize and encourage “resilience groups”. An even more targeted option is to create “resilience” groups within the company. These can occur in each department, or across departments (which can help expose employees to new people and ideas). 

To encourage participation, leadership may consider providing snacks or automatically scheduling the event on company calendars. To help employees feel more comfortable expressing complaints or failures, leadership may want to abstain from attending some sessions and ensure that discussions will be kept confidential. 

This group of colleagues can get together on a regular basis to discuss challenges and solutions, and provide support. By sharing difficulties and voicing thoughts, people can discuss their experiences and perhaps even provide insights and different perspectives on certain issues. Especially when these disruptive events occur at the group-level (e.g., the COVID-19 pandemic), these support groups can be very fruitful.


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Positivity: Focus on positive emotions.

Another way to foster a resilient mindset is to focus on positive emotions. According to the Broaden and Build theory, positive emotions (such as joy, interest, and contentment) broaden your awareness and encourage novel, exploratory thoughts and actions. This implies that positive emotions don’t just help you feel good in the moment, but they also help build lasting resources in the long run. These resources–contentment, new ideas, social connections, etc.–can help motivate employees and increase sales effectiveness.  

But how would that help to build a more resilient mindset? The idea behind it is that when we feel more positive emotions than negative ones, difficult situations are easier to handle. In essence, positive emotions build emotional resources that are needed for coping. Therefore, positive emotions will prevent you from falling victim to the downward spiral of failure. (Check out our previous posts on avoiding this downward spiral). 

So how do you encourage positive emotions among your employees? 

  • Managers can cultivate positive subjective experiences by encouraging employees to think about what they are grateful for and what brings them joy. You can go about this in different ways. You could simply instruct employees to write down 3 things that they are grateful for each day in a personal journal, or provide a public board for people to publicly post what they’re thankful for each month. When done on a regular basis, such gratitude exercises can indeed increase positive affect within employees.
  • Employees can also benefit from restorative breaks, such as going on walks, socializing and other activities that are recharging and non-demanding. For example, there are web-based programs aimed at increasing positive sentiment. These platforms enable employers to offer mood-enhancing structured breaks to their employees so they can watch videos and images tailored to their preferences. There is solid evidence that these programs, aimed at increasing positive emotional experiences, are successful.
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Organizational support – Creating a work environment that encourages a resilient mindset

In addition to encouraging employees to develop their resilience on a personal level with social relationships and positivity, managers can create a work environment that emphasizes and encourages resilience. There are several ways you can act upon this. 

Treat challenges and failures as learning opportunities. One way to increase employee resilience is to stimulate employees to try, and perhaps even fail, in order to learn from challenges. Explain to employees that you expect things to go sideways on occasion, and it is important to learn from such experiences. This reinforces the idea that even if things go wrong, they will be able to do better next time. 

Leaders should also help employees identify possible triggers to stress, as this awareness provides individuals with the opportunity to prepare and gather resources to ‘bounce back’ if needed. More specifically, you can use the following tips: 

  • Openly share bad news. You should make employees aware that problems will arise at some point, and show them that this is not necessarily an inherently bad or avoidable thing.
  • On the other hand, celebrate successes. Celebrating collective successes helps to create a sense of belonging and attachment in organizations. Funny detail: as a celebrating ritual, a company in South Africa rings a bell and lets everyone cheer each time a new employee is hired into a venture. This kind of ritual can build a sense of belonging, and can help foster positive emotions to protect against setbacks.
  • Once a challenge has passed, discuss what happened, why it happened, and how it was dealt with. By identifying what could have been done differently, employees can learn from experiences and be prepared when the next challenge arises.
  • Encourage a growth mindset. Although people with a fixed mindset believe that abilities are innate, people with a growth mindset believe that they can acquire abilities through effort and study. With the latter, failure is seen as a stepping stone to improvement. To foster this, you can informally teach your employees what a growth mindset is, which is essentially about believing in self-initiated change. If a certain issue arises you can for example ask questions like “How can you improve from here?” and “What can I learn from this?”.
  • Demonstrate that the company values growth after setbacks. For instance, consider rewarding improvement over time, new skill development, etc.
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Provide and normalize access to mental health resources

Being able to bounce back does not mean being unbreakable. While taking the road to becoming more resilient, some employees might experience extreme difficulties. If for example an employee knows that an upcoming challenge will be especially difficult, or if they are currently feeling overwhelmed in a way that affects their sales effectiveness or general wellbeing, then individualized assistance may be necessary. Sometimes leadership can provide this help, but other times formal mental health therapy or science-based coaching is more appropriate. 

Sometimes you have to seek out expertise rather than simply relying on another worker’s rank or seniority. You can for instance offer your employees: 

  • One-to-one chats. Usually, this is a good starting point if an employee wants to voice their concerns or problems. In general, focus on inclusion and empathy, since scholars persuasively argue that compassion can foster greater workplace resilience overall.
  • Professional counseling. Although it can be helpful in itself (or even knowing that ‘the door is open’), some problems will be beyond your scope of expertise as a business leader. In these cases, professional counseling–especially therapists trained in evidence based practice like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)–are appropriate.
  • Science-backed, self-directed resources for building general wellbeing and resilience. Because one-on-one coaching and professional counseling can be time intensive and expensive, another option is for organizations to provide employees with self-directed tools to build a resilient mindset.These apps can offer them science-based tips to work on their resilience. Of course, PsychologyCompass’ Cognition Coach is a great way to work on this, since it offers employees short daily ToDos to improve their wellbeing in 13 areas (including resilience and burnout) and measures employees’ improvements as they grow.
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Recap of building a resilient workforce to increase sales effectiveness

In sum, there are several ways you can help foster a resilient mindset in your employees. Resilience helps boost their overall wellbeing, productivity, and sales effectiveness. You can encourage employees to build from within as well as focus on the organizational context. 

  1. Build from within – Developing a resilient mindset
    1. Create supportive social connections that encourage resilience 
    2. Positivity: Focus on positive emotions
  2. Focus on the context – Creating a work environment that encourages resilience
    1. Encourage employees to treat new challenges as a learning opportunity
    2. Provide access to mental health support