Project Management

The Skills Stack for Resilience

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By: Greg Githens, PMP

I’m looking forward to presenting about resilience at the 9 September Virtual Experience Series: A Deep Dive in Organizational Agility: Adaptability, Resilience and Learning.

In case you haven’t heard the phrase, “skills stack,” it is similar to how organizations use the jargon of “technology stacks” or “solution stacks.” It is a way of inventorying and describing the capabilities that can be brought to bear on the needs of a situation. The concept of an individual skills stack is particularly important because the workforce of the future is more focused on matching skills to situations rather than role (position descriptions) to situations. So, rather than searching for a generically-described “project manager,” organizations will look for people with specific skills.

For an example, imagine an organization that is trying to incorporate resiliency principles in its work. It would benefit from managers who are skilled in recognizing emergence and learning from experimentation.

Celebrities and writers everywhere are talking about resilience and I believe it will be the word of the year for 2020. Resilience is not another word for perseverance, “grit,” or optimism. The fundamental feature of resilience is that it is a response to trauma. I use the word trauma to capture a range of concepts: discomforts, injury, insults, unpleasantries, anxieties, etc.

It’s helpful to note that resilience is not limited to individual psychology. Personal resilience also has aspects of physical and financial, manifesting in a person’s disease resistance or in their choices to hold funds in reserve for the unexpected.

When we enlarge our view to larger systems, we find that resilience is found in ecosystems, for example, a resilient forest will quickly show emergent growth after a forest fire. Business continuity and disaster preparedness are also expressions of resilience.

Now, to the skills stack for resilience. There are three microskills that are particularly important for resilience. They are ambition, anticipation, and reframing.

The microskill of ambition captures an individual’s desire to make a positive impact on her world. Individuals with higher levels of drive have more personal resilience. They prevail over adversity. They are determined to achieve their goals.

The microskill of anticipation is that of looking into the future, knowing that your decisions today will bear their consequences in the future. This microskill is developed by identifying and examining yours and other’s anticipatory assumptions. What do you think the future will be like? What “pockets of the future” are now emerging? When you are hopeful, what is the source of your hopes? When you despair, what is the source of your despair?

The microskill of reframing is a behavior of intentionally adopting new points of view and explanations. An example of a reframed understanding is seeing how a threat to safety might become an opportunity for growth. Another reframing is the observation that trauma helps individuals and societies grow stronger.

You can increase your resilience by developing these microskills. As a bonus, you also enhance your strategic thinking, which is a rare and valuable competency that can help you have more influence and impact in your organization.

There are three resilience capacities of individuals and organizations. They are absorption, adaptation and transformation (AAT). Sometimes we need to be stronger so that we can absorb the trauma and keep functioning. Sometimes we need to pivot and work around the trauma.

Resilience includes adaptation, but adaptation alone is insufficient for the demands of the coming decade. Sometimes, we must embrace fundamental change by taking a new and unproven path to growth.

Our capacity for resilience helps us – individually and organizationally - bounce forward to a better future. And it’s worth emphasizing: it is much better to bounce forward than it is to bounce back. The future is going to be different and we want to be proactive in making choices that are going to better ourselves and our organizations.

Our society is in a period of great change. Project managers need to step up to the challenges and consider that resilience is welcoming emergence every day.

I close with this observation,

“Ordinary leadership involves perfecting the known, whereas the chief task of extra-ordinary leadership is imperfectly seizing the unknown.”

Interested in learning more about resilience, bouncing forward, and extra-ordinary leadership? Join me on 9 September at 11 a.m. EDT (UTC-4) for The Skills Stack for Resilience at the PMI Virtual Experience Series. I’ll be providing pragmatic tips for improving resilience and I look forward to answering your questions.

Posted by Kimberly Whitby on: September 01, 2020 11:41 AM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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Great topic and insights, thanks for sharing Kimberly.

Hi Kim,
This piece from Greg is great!!! This statement is powerful "Resilience includes adaptation, but adaptation alone is insufficient for the demands of the coming decade. Sometimes, we must embrace fundamental change by taking a new and unproven path to growth."

Thank you for your comments. I hope you'll attend my session on 9 September at the PMI Virtual Experience Series. The session's title is The Skills Stack for Resiliency.

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