What is adaptability?
It seems that change is the only constant at the minute. If you’re finding yourself taking stock at regular intervals (perhaps unwittingly staring into space all the while), you’re definitely not alone. Every day seems to bring some new shock to the social, financial or physical system.
As uncertainty and change leave people grasping, so too does it impact organisations. Aside from the obvious (perhaps where you’re doing your work), what else has changed? Colleagues on furlough? Hiring priorities altered?
But, as we discovered in our previous post on the ideal WFH behaviours to nurture, businesses can help themselves by helping their people. With that in mind, we want to look at adaptability. Consistently in the top five desired workplace skills, according to LinkedIn, let’s break down five specific behaviours you can monitor in your employees to help them (and your organisation!) adapt and thrive amid the clamour:
Key adaptability traits:
When taking on new responsibilities or projects (perhaps those sitting outside what you’d call your typical expertise), it helps to believe in yourself. For managers, who are in many cases requiring their people to wear different hats by the day, instilling such confidence is crucial.
Those lower in self-belief have a greater need for positive affirmation, and can also experience a more marked response to stress. Things are pretty stressful right now for, well, everyone really, so it’s important for managers to monitor and nurture self-belief where possible to support organisational and personal adaptability.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, those high in self-belief can be overconfident in their ability to complete new tasks. As furloughing persists and gaps need filling, consider checking in on everyone – even those who look like they’ve got it all under control. There’s a chance they might not.
Similar to Self-belief, those low in Emotional Stability can find themselves especially affected by periods of stress. They’re more likely to fluctuate between moods, making it harder to ensure both wellbeing and productivity. One’s emotional stability could well be key to adaptability – change can induce stress, as we’re all no doubt finding, and the ability to deal with such stress is key to adapting.
Crucially, it’s important to remember that these are entirely natural behaviours for many. Rather than looking to necessarily change these behaviours, you might enjoy better results by helping your people develop coping mechanisms in times of change.
For example, you could implement a regular check-in meeting to establish key short-term priorities, even in times of change. This way, those most susceptible to stress can maintain motivation and focus on what’s key for the business.
Resilience, or the ability to ‘bounce back’ from negative outcomes, is a key part of adaptability. Ultimately, very few of us get it right first time round when everything looks new and confusing. It’s a matter of learning from your mistakes.
This is a tough one to balance. Too high in resilience, and your people may not take the time to adequately review any setbacks and consider opportunities to learn. Too low, however, and you may find employees focusing solely on those setbacks, to the detriment of your wider objectives.
Establishing a framework of retrospectives can help here. As seen in the Agile methodology, frequent review is key to taking new learnings forward, and this type of approach can help those operating at both ends of the resilience scale. Take a look at our run-down of Agile HR’s pros and cons here.
Learning agility (and ‘unlearning’)
Much like resilience, which encompasses learning from one’s mistakes, Learning Agility relates to how well your people acquire knowledge and then, subsequently, apply it to novel situations. It seems like there are novel situations around every corner at the minute, so this is definitely one to nurture when looking to improve the adaptability of your teams.
One challenge to note here can be the process of ‘unlearning’. As certain tools, skills or habits become central to your way of working, others can quickly become redundant. One’s ability to ‘unlearn’ these obsolete bits of knowledge – rather than clinging to them – can determine the success of any transition or adaptation.
When everything’s changing rapidly, it’s no use making decisions based on what you used to do or know. Instead, curious people are keen to discuss multiple perspectives, challenge assumptions and surpass convention. This naturally lends itself to what we commonly call adaptability.
One way to encourage curiosity is firstly to tap into the existing diversity of your teams. Seek out these perspectives, and encourage your people to reach out to those they may not have historically worked alongside. Find ways to go beyond the same day-to-day questions. Of course, the breadth and depth of viewpoints available in diverse teams should be a core driver for your D&I initiatives.
However, it’s worth noting that those measuring extremely high in curiosity can actually struggle to retain focus on work within existing structures or frameworks. While this is useful when frameworks are being redefined, it may be less so when the music stops and a period of near-normality resumes.
Face the strange
Ultimately, the skills your business needed yesterday may not be so vital today. The tools you once set your stall by? They could be obsolete tomorrow.
Writer and scholar Max McKeown contends that “all failure is failure to adapt”, while “all success is successful adaptation”. Monitor and nurture the behaviours above to navigate towards the latter, and let the former be a thing of the past.
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