Leadership And Resilience In Turbulent Times

Ian Wilkins speaks to Wasps Rugby Union legend and Cognacity co-founder Dr. Phillip Hopley, about how today’s current business climate is characterised by ambiguity, turbulence and high turnover.  Moreover, the amount of information our brains process has doubled over the last twenty years.  Now more than ever Hopley says it is important to look after employees …

Cognacity was formed with the aim of bringing experts in mental health and performance together to help optimise health and enhance outcomes for individuals, corporates and sports teams. Hopley co-founded Cognacity in 2007 following a chance meeting with fellow psychiatrist Dr. Gary Bell. Two quickly became three as Bell introduced Hopley to his colleague Prof. Pieter Kruger, a Clinical Psychologist with an impressive record in elite sport. A native of South Africa, Kruger was a former 5-times National Cycling Champion who would go onto become Performance Psychologist with the Springboks at the 2015 Rugby World Cup and the current Blitz Bokke Rugby 7’s team.“Immediately it became apparent that we had a common interest in sharing best scientific practice and creating expert teams” says Hopley, “This connection occurred at a time when most clinicians in their field worked independently, in separate locations and in an arguably disjointed way. Our experience in the NHS and elite sport taught us that combining our fields of expertise would benefit patients and enhance our working environment. Our vision was to bring together a team of outstanding people to deliver top class clinical services with emphasis on personal empathy. We needed to unite expert clinicians with proven track records in successfully treating the full range of mental, behavioural and developmental disorders. Hopley was quick to reference two big events as a major turning point for the organisation. Evolution through disaster…

“2010 brought about huge changes. Firstly, the team was joined by Rob Archer, an influential Occupational Psychologist who really opened our eyes to the benefit of applying our skills in a preventative framework within the workplace.”

This addition to the team proved to be key in driving Cognacity in new directions, particularly in response to a major global disaster. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill began on April 20, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico, on a  drilling platform operated by Transocean and leased by BP.High-pressure methane gas from the well expanded into the drilling riser and rose into the drilling rig, where it ignited and exploded, engulfing the platform.  The blast killed eleven workers and became the biggest marine spill in US history. At least 1,400 dolphins were found stranded in the Gulf of Mexico, what is widely considered the largest mortality event ever to occur in the Gulf region.The impact on the environment was catastrophic and Hopley was quick to also identify the impact the event would have on BP. “One cannot underestimate the pressures and stress that were placed on thousands of employees within BP.  Leadership is identified as a key determinant of the success of organisations, especially during turbulent times. The fallout of the oil spill put CEO Tony Hayward under enormous personal pressure and responsibility for his team worldwide.”Hayward would probably be best remembered for a series of erratic remarks and statements culminating in the infamous “I’d like my life back.’ He was soon replaced.

With employee and leadership stress at an all-time high, the Cognacity team were approached by BP and challenged to create a programme that would empower BP employees to perform under pressure. Cognacity’s resilience training was initially rolled out within BP’s legal function.  An independent resilience assessment measured their employees before and after the training. The results were startling. Amongst a host of markers what really stood out for the team was a 20% reduction in stress and risk of stress-related ill health, together with a 17% improvement in employee engagement level. These results were backed up by an independent study by the University of Surrey’s Department of Psychology, which assessed the effectiveness of Cognacity’s resilience workshops delivered to 450 lawyers and legal personnel across 19 countries over a two-year period.Results indicated that  6-10 months after the resilience training, BP employees had significantly lower levels of work-related fatigue than a comparison control group who had not received the training.

The lawyers also had meaningfully lower levels of effective work-related rumination -otherwise known as the thinking process that leads to stress, better sleep quality and less cognitive failures. Put simply, the vision that the team had back in 2007 had been put into practice and delivered against the harshest backdrop of them all. The success of the BP programme gave Cognacity the inspiration to continue its work in the field of workplace performance; to empower people to not only survive, but also to thrive in today’s ever-changing and cutthroat business world. Cognacity soon began to roll out their resilience services to over 60 blue chip organisations, including British Airways, Mars, PriceWaterhouseCooper, Schroders and 3M.

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