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How to embed adaptive behaviours across the organisational culture

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Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, organisations are rapidly developing new, ingenious ways of working as they adapt to fresh challenges and constraints. New business models have emerged overnight through collaboration and better decision-making processes, providing a new meaning to the traditional methodologies used in project and programme management.

To stay relevant, project professionals must think and act adaptively. The notion of being adaptive is not new, but current challenges call for project professionals to adapt to changes that are not always predictable through the lens of traditional project and programme management. Instead, being adaptive means bringing together the right people with the appropriate skills and capabilities, and creating conditions that allow the people and organisation to succeed.

What does it take to be an adaptive project professional?

The project life cycle breaks down activities into phases, products or services to the end user. However, it is very unlikely that each project requires an organisation to do the same thing repeatedly in the current climate, where there is a growing need to integrate internationally beyond existing boundaries through digitalisation. Meanwhile, climate change and increasing life expectancy are creating pressure on us all to do things differently, while embedding emotional intelligence to bring new insights.

Project professionals need to adapt to the new reality by:

  • making quicker decisions to respond to new demands;
  • expanding their network to include those with different backgrounds and expertise to bring new insights;
  • embracing change when it’s not always clear or understood by others.

Adaptive project professionals bring other disciplines into the fold to create a hybrid approach. However, project professionals themselves need to be diverse thinkers to navigate unexpected problems.

Underpinning this, the leadership team will need to enable high-quality decision-making from project professionals at C-suite level to unlock any uncertainties and complexities. In this way, leadership will better understand the context of the operational environment and respond to challenges caused by change.

Launchpad into an adaptive behaviour and culture

Adaptive organisations have a clearly communicated ambition and a framework within which project professionals have the freedom to work and innovate. The people closest to the business opportunities and problems have the resources and finances to experiment with new ways of working. Innovation at the interface closest to the customer or citizen provides the opportunity to realise value early. This builds motivation and commitment to taking what works, learning from it and replicating it across the organisation.

Project professionals need be multi-skilled and driven by solving problems through innovation, while also scanning for analogies to solve problems with proven solutions from elsewhere. 

Also focus on recruiting team members who demonstrate attitude and aptitude

A project professional will need to optimise their skills and capabilities while harnessing those of others to balance traditional methods and innovation. This is not to be confused with other practices that provide the flexibility to draw on experimentation to deliver an output or outcome. The skills and knowledge of project professionals are required to understand the capabilities of an adaptive culture. This culture can be achieved by: 

  • developing skills and capabilities beyond someone’s job title to unlock hidden talents and encourage diversity in thinking;
  • creating an environment for C-suite members to listen in on some of the key challenges so key decisions can be made promptly;
  • using innovation hubs as a safe space to test different options to optimise key outputs and outcomes; and
  • exploiting technology, analytics and automation to empower new ways of working and bring new insights early on in the process.

Adaptive leaders are cultural architects – they build a shared vision in order to inspire innovation and empower the organisation to challenge the way things are done. They don’t seek unnecessary certainty, but guide the initial experiments and changes and help teams to learn from each other, stay connected and share experiences.

Adaptive is not a ‘one-time’ operation

For most organisations, the response to the pandemic has taken a huge effort at a time when colleagues, customers and suppliers have, perhaps, been more tolerant than usual. However, the pandemic has brought into sharp focus the complexities involved in running organisations today and the potentially crushing impact from the global threats that we live with.

Looking ahead, markets, customers, citizens and employees will expect organisations to be adaptable – ready to continuously evolve their offering, structures, systems, use of technology, workforce and culture. Project professionals will be at the heart of the solution.

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