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Gap International's Alignment Factors Reinforce Resilience

​The COVID-19 pandemic hit organizations hard, but those that were resilient may have had something to set them apart, says a new study: the ability to create a sense among employees that their contributions were vital to their employer's goals—and the organization's survival—during a time of upheaval.

Researchers from Gap International and SHRM Research examined the following factors that created alignment and these factors' relationship with organizational resiliency during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. Purpose: the power and connection between any individual and the largest expression of the organization's reason for being in existence.
  2. Ownership: the degree to which individuals hold themselves personally accountable for the performance of their organization.
  3. Risk: the freedom to challenge the status quo, communicate unconventional ideas and take bold actions.


More than 600 senior leaders from organizations characterized as resilient and non-resilient were asked about their standings on each of the three factors. 

As expected, researchers found senior leaders in resilient organization had higher standings on the Purpose factor compared to those in non-resilient organizations. This finding was in line with Gap International's previous research examining these factors, showing that:

  • Teams with a strong sense of purpose are energized and eager to deliver results that positively affect the organization's future.
  • Employees who have a shared sense that their work is meaningful feel they are all working toward a higher purpose.
  • Employees who have a high sense of purpose in their work are more likely to take on greater and more important leadership responsibilities.
  • Employees who have a sense of purpose in their work are more likely to perform outside of their job expectations and create new opportunities to fulfill the organization's vision.
  • Teams and team members who have a sense of purpose enjoy going to work, are fulfilled by what they do, believe they are contributing to the organization's success and feel they can face challenges.

"A company's purpose can serve as a North Star during times of ambiguity," but purpose often doesn't happen automatically, the report researchers said. Developing purpose takes honest, thorough discussions.

However, such discussions "compete with other agenda items, and therefore often people just don't get around to it," researchers noted.

"It is likely that the more resilient organizations were having these conversations before and during the pandemic."


Gap also found that employees' feelings of ownership for their work reinforce organizational resilience. When that ownership is strong, employees:

  • Regard their work as integral to the organization's success.
  • Hold themselves accountable for that success.
  • Are willing to express views outside the scope of their roles and responsibilities because they want to make an overall impact and feel they can do so. 
  • Feel supported enough to express unpopular views and deliver bad news.
  • Communicate their concerns and ideas about the organization's performance to people who can take action.

"It is so natural for people to own their part, thinking that is primarily how they can contribute to their organization's success," the researchers pointed out. A resilient organization, though, is one "where people go beyond their part and … understand that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

"It appears that during the pandemic, resilient organizations were indeed creating a sense of mutual ownership," researchers noted.


Somewhat surprisingly, researchers found that all senior leaders had relatively low standings on the Risk factor and resilient organization had lower standings on the Risk factor compared to those in non-resilient organizations.

Alex Topakbashian, vice president at Gap International and responsible for the company's Breakthrough Diagnostics practice, noted that when things are going well, people are less likely to introduce change or take action that they think poses a risk. People are more willing to try unconventional approaches, he said, when left with no other options.

"Leaders of resilient organizations simply made decisions and took actions that they saw were necessary," Topakbashian said. "Therefore, what might have felt like a risk in normal times was simply what needed to get done during the crisis."

When it comes to risk-taking, senior leaders at resilient organizations may have been less willing to challenge the status quo and try new ideas, according to the report. The study suggests several reasons for this:

  • Senior leaders may not see a need to change if their organization seems to be doing well.
  • Senior leaders may be more committed to how things currently operate.
  • Senior leaders may fear their organization could not withstand much more change while in the throes of the pandemic.
Regardless of the reason for being risk-averse, "this is an area of potential concern for organizations," researchers noted, "because risk is often vital for creativity, innovation and potentially overcoming future adversities." 


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