Cultivating Adaptability and Resilience
By Cyndi Synder Dionisio, Practice Lead for Project, Program and Portfolio Management, IIL
There is a principle in the PMBOK® Guide – Seventh Edition about adaptability and resilience, and if there is anything the past 2 years has taught us, it is the need for adaptability and resilience. The principle states:
“Build adaptability and resiliency into the organization’s and project team’s approaches to help the project accommodate change, recover from setbacks, and advance the work of the project.”
With the rapid pace and relentless need for transformation we are all facing change fatigue – so how can we continue to not just adapt but thrive in this environment? In this article I’ll talk about personal adaptability and resilience and provide you with some ways you can cultivate these two important qualities.
Adaptability isn’t just about being able to adjust to new or changing conditions, environments, trends and other circumstances; it is about being able to adjust quickly, calmly and effectively. Change is often accompanied by stress, uncertainty, anxiety, self-doubt, and other limiting feelings. To move past these feelings and cultivate adaptability, we can take steps to prepare for a changing environment. When I say prepare, I’m not talking about preparing for a specific change, I am talking about updating your mindset and the way you think about change. There are three ways you can prepare yourself to function effectively in a rapidly changing environment.
- Be observant. Rather than waiting for the next shift in your job, the competition, the market, etc., spend time observing what is happening. Look for trends and indicators of what is likely to happen. This behavior can put you in front of the change rather than being taken by surprise. Being ahead of the change allows you to maintain a sense of calm and prepare for what is coming.
- Develop a growth mindset. Rather than seeing change as something that is bad, frightening or irritating, focus on what you can learn. What new skills can you develop? How will the new situation help you? Find ways you can turn it to your advantage. This mindset will help you maintain a positive attitude and shift your thinking from victim to victor.
- Learn to accept change. Things are going to change whether we want them to or not and whether we are ready for them to or not. As the quote from Star Trek says, ‘resistance is futile’. Therefore, the faster you can accept it, plan for it, and even leverage and grow from it, the happier you will be.
With change and transformation, preparation is only half the game. The other half is how you respond. There are several ways you can foster adaptability in the face of disruption. To start with, be curious and openminded. Ask questions and listen with an open mind. Try and understand what led to the current situation, what it means for you and your organization, and how to support the change.
Next, think about the situation from multiple perspectives. Talk with your team members and colleagues. Get their take on the situation. Apply that curiosity we talked about above. When you can see a situation from multiple perspectives, you are more effective in dealing with the challenges it can bring.
Which brings us to the next aspect of cultivating adaptability – approach the situation as a problem-solving opportunity. There are plenty of problem-solving frameworks you can apply to provide some structure to the process. Most of them have these common elements:
Define the problem → identify the solution criteria → generate options → consider risks associated with the options → evaluate the options using the criteria → choose the best option.
To strengthen your adaptability mindset when you are generating options, look for innovative solutions, foster creative thinking, and stretch your imagination. Don’t settle for the easiest or even the safest response. Think bigger, thing differently. You may end up with the easiest or safest response, but don’t lose the opportunity for innovation.
Given that a change in the environment or conditions is often accompanied by a change in job roles and responsibilities – develop your skill set. This may mean developing new technical skills, or it may mean acquiring or brushing up on leadership and interpersonal skills. Afterall, it has been said that it isn’t the strongest or most intelligent that survive, but the most adaptable.
Another key quality we can all benefit from is resilience. Resilience is the ability to adjust to or recover readily from adversity, crisis, setbacks, change, and other significant sources of stress. We don’t have the luxury of evolutionary change. We must adapt quickly and recover quickly.
Here are four ways you can cultivate resilience in your work and personal life.
- Keep things in perspective. While a disruption or change may seem like a major concern, if you can step back and look at it from a wider lens, you will often find it is not as monumental as you first thought. Keeping things in perspective can include asking yourself, in the overall scheme of things, is this going to be a big deal in my life? Or does it just seem that way now?
- Maintain a positive outlook. Thinking of all the things that could go wrong, or how awful the situation is, is counterproductive. No matter what the situation, endeavor to find a way to maintain a positive attitude. Your ability to recover from adversity is directly influenced by your attitude. Pay attention to both your internal words and your external words. The things you tell yourself are just as important as what you say out loud. Keep both conversations positive.
- Accept change. Accepting change is a part of building resilience as well as adaptability. We can’t recover and move on if we are still holding onto the past or wishing things were different. People who are resilient acknowledge what is and keep moving forward.
- Learn. The most resilient people are always learning. You can learn from positive as well as negative outcomes. You can learn from peers, mentors, and friends. Spend time reflecting to see what behaviors or actions you can carry forward, and which you should adjust in the future.
The only thing certain these days is change! Thus, one of the best things you can do for yourself, both personally and professionally, is develop your ability to be flexible and adapt, and to recover quickly and learn from your experience.
About the Author
Cynthia (Cyndi) Snyder Dionisio is a professional project management author, consultant, and instructor. Ms. Dionisio provides consulting and training services for LinkedIn Learning, academia, government and private industry. An accomplished author and facilitator, she has written a dozen books on project management and trained thousands of project managers. Cyndi has been the Chair for three editions of the PMBOK® Guide. In 2009 she was awarded PMI’s Distinguished Contribution Award and in 2018 she was presented with the PMI Fellow Award.