rope abstract UN022

Adaptability and Resilience—The Key to Being a Change Agent

Healing from the trauma caused by a crisis like the pandemic is tough. Here are five steps that you can take to be a change agent for yourself.

What will the world look like after the COVID-19 pandemic? I think we know the partial answer to this question. The way of working has quickly evolved around us with hybrid working becoming more normal, the balance of power shifts to the side of the workforce, and let’s not forget The Great Resignation just yet. However, with so many changes going on around us—like a never-ending April Fools prank—the rest of the answer remains a blindspot. Terms like “post-pandemic” are popping up, but the truth is the pandemic is not over yet. Despite that, our lives and work must go on, and we need to learn ways to be as resilient and adaptable as possible.

I think of myself as a resilient and adaptable person in life and at work. There have been many times throughout my entire career when I faced setbacks, yet I always managed to turn the odds in my favor. I used to work in the hospitality industry, an industry that is known to be fragile and event-sensitive. I have survived my job through multiple terrorist attacks in Europe and have gone through so much crisis management training. The pandemic, however, is proven to be an entirely different colossus.

Even for those who are usually resilient, the whole crisis still takes a toll on their mental health. Before joining SHL, I was doing some freelance work. The crisis started almost at the same time as I started my business, so you can imagine how hard it was, especially when at the same time I also lost my mother to COVID-19. While I must admit I jumped with joy when the world started shifting toward the remote work model, my personal loss and the uncertainties caused by the crisis were too much to bear. I longed for stability and a break, for my mental health’s sake. My story is not that unique though. I know many people who went through similar things, and some even worse as they also lost their jobs.

Despite these difficulties, I also know that I would not stay down for too long—the fighter inside me would not allow it. I knew that to improve my situation, I needed to do something to change it, so I could rebound from the trauma and get back to fully functioning again in my private and professional lives. That is when I decided that I needed to be a change agent for myself.

Even for those who are usually resilient, the whole crisis still takes a toll on their mental health.

What is a change agent?

According to Lunenberg (2010), a change agent is an individual who initiates, stimulates, facilitates, and coordinates a change effort. In organizational terms, a change agent can be internal (e.g., managers) or external (e.g., third-party consultants). Now, when I said I wanted to be a change agent for myself, I projected that definition to my experience. I think of myself as an organization, and my different thoughts and feelings are different departments that control and manage my emotional and physical beings. If you have watched the movie “Inside Out”, the story focused on five characters: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust—all of them are the emotions of a girl named Riley. I think of myself as Riley in my story, and I needed to somehow manage my emotions to be able to navigate through the muddled world resolutely.

How to be a change agent?

Based on my experience, I concluded that to be a change agent for yourself, you need to start with two things: adaptability and resilience. Recently our Science team in SHL conducted a study to examine the impact of the pandemic on the workforce and found that the crisis negatively affected the workforce’s overall adaptability and resilience. Again, this echoes my point at the beginning of this article, everybody is affected by this mess, even those that are normally tenacious. As understandable as it is, bouncing back from this trauma is critical—and that is why everybody should be a change agent for themselves. 

To mobilize the change within you, I laid out five steps that you can practice. I said “steps” because order is important as each step builds a foundation for the next.

  1. Accept your emotions
    In the movie, Inside Out, Joy, Anger, Fear, and Disgust tried to limit Sadness’ influence over Riley, as it seemed that her existence continuously threatened Riley’s emotional stability. But what happened when there was a power struggle and both Joy and Sadness were absent is even more catastrophic than ever before. We need to accept our emotions as what they are. It is okay not to be okay sometimes. Without sadness, fear, and anger, we cannot appreciate the good things that we lost—the memory of the people we love, our freedom pre-pandemic, and so on.

  2. Accept that “change” will always exist—in fact, embrace it.
    No matter where you go, nothing will ever be the same. Even our existence is not perpetual. But that is the beauty of life. With every change, comes a learning point. And if there is no change, there will be no butterfly. One of my favorite quotes describes this perfectly if we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we are not really living.” – Gail Sheehy.

  3. Do not lose focus on your goals
    Now, when you have accepted your emotions and embraced change, you can shift your attention to your goals. After my personal loss, I took a few weeks off work to rest and mourn— something that I realized I really needed after working non-stop for a while. That period gave me enough time to reset and start thinking about what I truly wanted moving forward.

  4. Take care of your emotional well-being
    As I mentioned in the definition of a change agent, a change can be done internally and externally. As you are in the process of working toward your goals, do not forget about your internal state: your emotional well-being. Be kind to yourself by valuing your mental health. Take regular breaks to recharge your mental and creative battery. All this time, society has been teaching us to take holidays to recuperate from work. Taking holidays should actually be done even before you feel the heat from work to prevent burnout. If you have a planned vacation, you will have something to look forward to, so you have some milestones to reach and celebrate. Finally, be grateful for the small things around you. I always say when you are on a journey toward a beautiful destination, do not forget to stop and smell the flowers, admire the blue sky, and listen to the chirps of the birds—because they are beautiful too.

  5. Be agile and open to experience
    While you may have full control over what can be changed within you, you cannot control what other people might or might not do. You can, however, influence others to be better. Be transparent and communicative and use every opportunity to exchange ideas. I have regular talks with my team about how to improve our work and well-being, and in every single brainstorm, we all learn something new. Keep taking steps, even if it is a tiny steps, to improve yourself every single day. 

I have laid out my blueprint for becoming a change agent for yourself. But when you are a people leader in an organization, the journey becomes more complex as it involves many individuals with different thoughts and feelings. But one thing is for sure: to speed up the recovery from a crisis like a pandemic, organizations need to have a people-centric approach—there is no other way.

Download our whitepaper “How the Pandemic Changed Our Adaptability and Resilience” to learn five ways you, as people leaders, can help your teams recover from the collective trauma!

headshot sabrina wijaya


Sabrina Wijaya

Sabrina has many years of experience in marketing communication and has worked on various projects revolving around content strategy, digital marketing consultancy, social media management, and SEO copywriting. She holds a master's degree in Digital Marketing from the University of Amsterdam. She brings her expertise to develop SHL's digital content and brand strategy globally. She is enthusiastic about people, content creation, and organizational culture.

Explore SHL’s Wide Range of Solutions

With our platform of pre-configured talent acquisition and talent management solutions, maximize the potential of your company’s greatest asset—your people.

See Our Solutions