Adaptability – the new gold dust competence

adaptability skillsOur CEO at Jaluch has long been preaching that adaptability should be included in all sets of leadership competencies and that adaptability is a critical ingredient in today’s workplace. But it occurred to us that we have never written about this somewhat nebulous topic … and isn’t everyone adaptable anyway?

So let’s put the record straight and share some of our thinking on this topic as increasingly we are finding the training enquiries coming through include something around the need for adaptability in the leadership and management team.

The key questions, of course, are:

  • How do we define it adaptability?
  • How do we measure adaptability?
  • Can we train people to be adaptable?
  • What do we even mean when we say we want staff who are adaptable?

“Adaptability is the simple secret of survival” Jessica Hagedom

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change” Stephen Hawking

“AQ – just as important as both IQ and EQ!”

What are adaptability skills?

Adaptability is “the ability to adjust”. Of course, in a work context, we are talking about the ability to adjust quickly and easily to changing circumstances or changing organisational need. Adaptability as a competence has an expectation of someone being open and willing to learn or change.

Also, adaptability should not be selective i.e. a consultant says they love working with lots of different clients and demonstrates an ability to adapt their style as they move from one to another, but then within their own organisation (internally) their approach is one of rigidity, inflexibility and refusal to change.

Adaptability is not an action or set of proven actions, instead, it is a mindset and attitude.

The importance of adaptability in the workplace

In the workplace, most of us have limited time and energy. To operate in a high performing team, a profitable business, a successful organisation in our very fast-paced and fast-changing world we need to ensure that our limited energy and time is put into the right things at the right time.

Having adaptable team members enables us to do this, quickly switching energy and resources into what is needed in order to respond to changing needs. Whether a new tender requires us to rethink our sustainability approach, an employee challenges our D&I thinking, a competitor challenges our market position with their new tech innovation, the government who introduces new compliance requirements, a new member of the team who creates new opportunities by bringing in a new skill set etc. Adaptability is critical in today’s workplaces. Things change so fast and if we are to keep up and remain in business then we need to be permanently looking ahead to see what is coming and then keep changing and adapting – fast.

From a personal point of view, the benefits of adaptability are not just for the organisation, but its people too. Adaptable employees learn more, feel less frustrated, enjoy their work more, and benefit from being part of a dynamic organisation that invariably creates far more opportunities for career development and learning than an organisation that is stagnant and unresponsive to change.

Employees that choose to dig their heels in over change (technology, staffing, culture, organisational, policies, services etc.) invariably suffer in numerous ways, from the gentle mocking of others labelling them as dinosaurs or a stick in the mud to the daily exhausting battle against change and the consequent predictable slowdown in their career progression or salary. It takes energy and effort to resist moving with the tide and eventually the employees who choose not to adapt, or who kick and scream against the need to adapt every inch of the way, lose out both professionally and in respect of job satisfaction.

How adaptability fits into other critical leadership and management competences

Having read numerous research papers and reports across the past decade about changing skill sets, the set of competencies we at Jaluch believe most organisations might consider to remain current for today’s workplace include:

  • Accountability (adult behaviours, independent working)
  • Effective Communication. Successful Collaboration
  • Creative/transformational thinking and awareness
  • Social intelligence. Emotional intelligence.
  • Agility and of course, given the topic of today’s HR Blast, Adaptability

We don’t have time to explore these other topics in this article, but we can deliver 90/120 minute sessions on these for your management teams by way of introducing the topic and prompting some thinking about behaviours if that would be of value. Longer courses also available. Contact us to talk through the options.

How can we assess someone’s adaptability?

Actions, not words (or casual reassurances that ‘yes’ they are adaptable) … that is our starter for ten. Never ask someone if they are adaptable as the answer will invariably be ‘yes’ if that is the answer they think you are looking for. Instead, explore mindsets and look at behaviours.

  1. Who in your team can confirm that you regularly talk about the value of adapting/learning/adjusting during one-to-ones and team meetings? Would they also confirm that you practise what you preach?
  2. What have you learnt in the past year in respect of soft skills that has resulted in a deliberate change in your approach or behaviour that others will be able to confirm? What changed, and why did it change?
  3. New gadget, new equipment, new software? What have you learnt from a technology point of view in the past 6 months and what is the next bit of tech learning on your to-do list?
  4. If the organisation removed the training budget entirely for one year for your team, what would you do differently to ensure their careers continue to be developed and their skills kept up to date?
  5. What have you identified as 3 things that might arise in the next 12 months that will impact the work your team is doing and how they do it? What are your plans, including timescale, to adapt?

Interesting fact: 85% of jobs that will be open for people in the year 2030 haven’t even been invented yet. From the very top of an organisation to its most junior ranks, adaptability as a skill set has never been so valuable.

Can we train someone to be adaptable if they show no inclination to change?

If you agree that adaptability is a mindset then becoming more adaptable is a choice. Of course, some people will find it easy to continually adapt whilst others might find it harder as a result of endlessly ‘fighting’ their head talk. Finding it hard though does not mean it is impossible or provide an excuse for not even trying.

Any of this ‘head talk’ sound familiar ….  ‘this may not work’, ‘what if it goes wrong’, ‘what if there is a better way’, ‘I need more time to evaluate’, ‘who are they to tell me what I need to do differently’, ‘I do not believe this new software will be of that much benefit’, ‘I like doing things the way they are’, ‘no one has proven to me that this will work’…

There are lots of books and videos on how to rewire your brain, reducing negative head talk might be a great place to start if someone wants to experience first hand how to rewire their brain. We can all adapt, but we have to want to and some of us have to put in lots of effort to ensure we feel comfortable doing that. As we said above, adaptability is a choice for most of us.

Interesting fact: research suggests around 44% of employees do not recognise adaptability as a skill they possess, and just 15% list adaptability skills on their CV despite it fast becoming one of the most sought after competencies.

What next?

What can the lovely team at Jaluch support you with? All of our courses can be delivered in-person or online:

  • Adapting your leadership style to deliver results and lead great teams – 3 or 6 hours
  • Adaptability in team working – a fun session for team members – 3 or 6 hours
  • Accountability in the workplace – 3 or 6 hours
  • Social intelligence. Emotional intelligence. An introduction – 2 hours
  • Effective networking and collaboration skills – 2 hours
  • Respect in the workplace – including respectful conversations, unconscious bias and microaggression (also available as eLearning)
  • Managing performance, discipline and difficult people! – 3 or 6 hours


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