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Adaptability and resilience: a case study

Adaptability case study - firefighter

The following case study shows how taking an adaptable mindset to the changes we face can help us to be more resilient. Please note that Phillip is not a real client, and that we have created this case study based upon our experiences of working with a variety of individuals across a number of sectors. 

About adaptability 

Resilient individuals are able to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances or life crises. Learning to be more adaptable can help people to respond more effectively to events, using them as opportunities for growth and development rather than seeing them as catastrophies.

Overview of case study  

Phillip has worked for the Fire and Rescue Service for 25 years. He joined straight from college, keen to make a contribution to the safety of his community and hoping to feel a sense of pride in his work. 

During his time in service, he had experienced and embraced many changes in the use of more advanced equipment. leadership styles and in the increased use of IT for day to day communication. In the past he had been commended on his ability to adapt to new demands, however, when he learned that his role was due to change from traditional firefighting to a more educational and community engagement based position, he began to feel uneasy and concerned about his ability to succeed. 

Phillip understood the need for change - the Fire and Rescue service had been successful in their previous educational and prevention programmes, and as a result there were less and less emergencies to attend. This meant that increasingly, he and his team would be sitting around on shift, waiting for something to happen. The decision had been taken to make use of their free time by tasking firefighters with the job of going out into the community and speaking with people about fire safety within their homes, fitting fire alarms and delivering presentations in schools and organisations. 

Phillip had always enjoyed the sense of significance he got from his role - his friends and family often referred to him as a hero and secretly, he really enjoyed people looking up to him in this way. He found it difficult to see how fitting fire alarms would give him the same sense of importance. 

Over a short period of time he became more and more demotivated, lacking the confidence to give presentations to groups, and worrying about knocking on doors and going into people's homes. 

A question of choice 

However, Phillip soon realised that he had a choice: he could look for and explore the opportunities that the change in role presented to him, or he could take the decision to find another role outside of the organisation. Phillip still felt very committed to the Fire Service, and decided to speak with his manager. 

Between them, they came up with a plan of action which involved: 

  • Phillip agreeing to commit to giving the new role a try for the next 6 months 
  • Phillip making time to go and see the Learning and Development department to explore what training he could get access to, which would help him to develop the skills needed to present to groups and better engage with the community. By doing this, Phillip learned that the organisation ran regular training events on Presentation Skills and he booked himself on a course immediately
  • Phillip finding a mentor within the organisation who had experienced similar change, and had responded successfully. He arranged a meeting with Sarah, a FireFighter who had joined the organisation just 5 years ago but who seemed to be popular and very open to the new ways of doing things. Sarah was happy to help and give an hour each week to Phillip. They agreed to meet and explore the ways in which he could gradually take on more of the new responsibilities, and the new behaviours he would need to adopt
  • Phillip's manager agreeing to have fortnightly meetings where he would provide honest and constructive feedback about Phillip's progress. Phillip also agreed to seek regular feedback from colleagues and other stakeholders and where possible, make subtle changes to his approach so that he could continually improve 


Phillip's commitment was recognised and appreciated by his manager and the wider organisation, and over time he began to develop a very specific role for himself which involved going into various organisations and helping with the designing of buildings and factories at the early stages. He gave advice on fire prevention and crucially, began to feel that same sense of pride in his work, knowing that he was contributing to people's safety as they went about their day to day lives. By taking an adaptable approach to how he could meet his need to contribute and to have pride in his work, Phillip was able to gain new skills, enjoy his role, and experience more positive growth and self development than he was expecting in the latter stages of his career. 

How Phillip successfully adapted to his new role 

  • He took a positive approach to his thinking 
  • He maintained a positive attitude and looked for the opportunities in his changing circumstances
  • He looked for ways of turning adversity into an opportunity for learning and positive self-development
  • He found ways to overcome obstacles by seeking support from his manager, a mentor and the wider organisation 
  • He became aware of his inner critic and didn't let it stop 
  • He developed new skills 


There is always going to be change in our personal and professional lives, and we have to learn to adapt to it. Within nature, the species that adapt are the ones that survive, whereas the ones that don't eventually disappear. By taking a flexible approach to his thinking - Phillip was able to survive in an organisation he loved. He previously believed that the pride he gained from his job came through fighting fires, however learned that he was able to shift his thinking and therefore gain the same amount of pride by instead preventing fires. 

Characteristics of resilience 

Adaptability is just one of 18 characteristics of resilience that we have identified. Take a look at our questionnaire or read the dedicated pages on our website to explore the others, or click here to watch our resilience animation to find out more about what makes a resilient individual. 

If you would like to learn more about how to take an adaptable approach to your personal or professional life, contact our team to discuss what we can offer. Please call 01270 764003 and ask for Ann.