Most organizations don’t even start talking about their team members’ ability to embrace change until there is a major change such as organizational restructuring, a merger or acquisition, or significant leadership changes. This is a common mistake shared by many, in times where frequent change has become the norm. Embracing change is synonymous with building a culture of adaptability and neither can be inherently expected of team members. Without the wider organization-wide understanding that embracing change and thriving through it is an essential part of the company’s DNA and what gives it its competitive edge.
On an individual level, being adaptable also has a direct impact on your personal sense of happiness. Being adaptable means not feeling hopeless and helpless in the face of change. If you can tell yourself that you have the skills and ability to change yourself, even if you can’t change the situation, you have figured out the key to being happy regardless of your circumstances.
What is Adaptability in the Workplace?
Adaptability in the workplace can be defined as one’s ability to have flexibility in the environment of their job and more broadly their career. Adaptability is a soft skill that is an important gauge of how an individual can work in teams and handle varying opinions. To be able to successfully manage change and thrive in new environments, adaptability is a key skill for the workforce. Adaptability can also be defined as one’s ability to navigate through ambiguity.
What Defines An Adaptable Employee?
Someone who is adaptable is open to new ideas, and doesn’t need to do things just because “that’s how they’ve always been done.” They’re able to anticipate changes and don’t panic when things don’t go according to plan. If you are adaptable, you will also bounce back from adversity more quickly. This is because you would change yourself to accommodate your circumstances. This means less time trying to change your circumstances, which may or may not work, and more time adjusting your own attitude and expectations.
Managers NEED TO BE ADAPTABLE TOO
To stay relevant as an organization you need to think and act in an adaptable manner. As a leader or senior manager, you play an important role in leading your team through periods of change, whether that be new workplace procedures, new goals or new technology. An adaptable mindset empowers you to support your team more effectively and better manage the impact of new challenges.
ORGANIZATIONS NEED TO BE ConFident IN a Changing World
Holistically a company must be adaptable. It must have policies and procedures that promote flexibility. The onus cannot be solely on employees and managers. Adaptability also tends to improve your organization’s level of resilience, meaning that periods of uncertainty are less likely to impact on your overall business. Adaptable organizations tend to function at a higher level with employees benefitting from an overall higher level of happiness as they’re not struggling against the tide or trying to resist when things change.
ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGES FOR CREATING A CULTURE OF ADAPTABILITY AS A LEADER
If you are a company that currently goes through organizational changes- take a wider approach to change implementation and embrace it as part of your culture and part of your organizational identity. If you are not experiencing large scale changes as a company (rare to find these days, but possible) you still need to work on creating a culture of adaptability as a leader as part of your proactive planning for remaining competitive and being prepared to be able to adapt quickly and effectively.
Here are the six most important Tips for creating a culture of adaptability as a leader.
These are essential for leaders to follow because organizational culture always carries its impact from the top to the bottom, from leadership to team members. When leaders embrace an adaptable approach, team members will follow.
1. Utilize Surveys for Creating a Culture of Adaptability as a Leader:
Surveys provide valuable information at any time, but much more so through a change process. A good survey will prevent guessing and assuming how team members are doing and what their thoughts are, and can be extremely valuable in channeling of focus, time and effort while implementing change. On top of that, surveys are also an opportunity to show team members that they are heard, validated, and valued. Once you have the survey’s results, make sure to take action accordingly, and communicate to the team exactly what was heard and what was done. This will serve as a wonderful tool for increasing engagement and commitment.
2. Clarify the Narrative of WHY Adaptability is So Essential:
When the skeptics doubt the process of implementing change and becoming more adaptable to it, leaders and team members alike need to be clear on the why: why is this change necessary and what exactly is happening. Too often leaders are unclear about the narrative of change and when asked ‘why’ questions from team members that express doubts and concern, answer in vague and unproductive answers that essentially communicate ‘I don’t know, it came from the top’. Every change process has a ‘why’ narrative. Leaders need to make sure that they can define the change narrative very clearly, in one or two sentences. If they cannot do that, they need to turn to their leaders and make sure that they get the answers for those below them.
3. Be Clear When Addressing Your Team’s Performance
Clarity is a leader’s best way to lead his or her team through change successfully. The greatest challenge when it comes to change implementation is that change creates anxiety too many. When team members are anxious (about the future or their own status or performance- mostly from the unknown), it is hard for them to work effectively. Anxiety literally hurts performance. The best thing for leaders to do to mitigate anxiety through change is to be as clear as they possibly can about expectations, deadlines, roles, rules, and procedures.
When the leader is clear, the team can perform better and quite quickly regain a sense of control and accomplishment. Leaders, ask yourself this- am I clear in my communications? Does my team get clear and spelled out guidelines as far as what exactly I expect, by when and how? Do not leave any room for interpretation. It is your role as the leader to help your team members thrive through change rather than judge them for struggling to do so. The best thing you can do in order to be helpful to your team is to be as clear as you possibly can.
4. Be Accessible as a Leader
Creating a culture of adaptability as a leader requires additional support efforts from leaders. Support from leaders in a culture of adaptability comes into play in three major aspects:
- Listening attentively
- Communicating openly
- Guiding actively
We are all busy, and leaders oftentimes get busier on multiple levels through times of pending or active organizational change. For that reason, leaders should strategically and purposefully ensure their accessibility to team members so that they can actively and immediately provide the necessary support through a change process. Leaders should always make it a point to be accessible. But creating a culture of adaptability as a leader means additional and strategic efforts in the accessibility front. Make it a point to hear what team members are communicating, formally (surveys) or informally (talk to them and hear them out.). An accessible and trusted leader is a leader whose team will thrive through change.
5. Be Non-Judgmental When Communicating With Different Personalities
It is beyond frustrating for leaders to deal with those team members that resist change and dig their heels in the ground. Nothing is more frustrating to leaders who lead changes that will benefit the organization than to hear the all dreaded ‘but we’ve been doing it that way for the past 30 years and it worked just fine”. Frustration aside, let’s realize that leaders’ role through a change process is to be helpful to team members to adapt and succeed in implementing changes and adjusting quickly and effectively, rather than judging those that are having a hard time. In creating a culture of adaptability as a leader means, leaders must keep in mind that they are dealing with a diversity of personalities, age groups, cultures, and levels of change agility.
Many people also feel overwhelmed because they have a lot going on in their personal lives with family members, health or finances. Many also deal with anxiety, depression and other mental health struggles. Get out of judgment and frustration with people’s mode. Your role as a leader is first and foremost to help everyone around you perform at their best. Every day presents opportunities to help your team members thrive. Do not miss any of them.
6. Strategically Recognize Effort and Reward Performance Based On Merit
Adapting to change takes a lot of energy and demands team members to spend more energy in the workplace than they already are. Many will feel the burn out the impact of the additional effort and one of the most common mistakes that leaders make through a change process. Which is focusing on the difficulty, frustration, and burn out that they feel themselves and failing to recognize their team’s efforts. When creating a culture of adaptability as a leader, it is critical for leaders to pay attention: to pay attention to the effort, to pay attention to great things that are happening, and to take the time and make the effort to recognize great things that are happening.
Too often I ask leadership teams to give me examples of genuine compliments that they have given their team members this past week. For work that they have done, just to get a room full of people scratching their heads. The mind tends to focus on the negative, be aware of it and strategically and intentionally refocus yourself to recognize good things that are happening. The more you recognize them, the more good you are going to see for Creating a Culture of Adaptability as a Leader.
The need for adaptability has never been greater than it is now.
The ability for people, teams, and organizations to adapt to changes in their environments, has been called the new competitive edge. The same is true for individuals: employers increasingly want workers who can adapt to an ever-changing workplace.
So, are you adaptable? Here’s what to ask yourself and your team in order to find out:
ARE YOU ADAPTABLE? ASK YOURSELF THESE FIVE QUESTIONS TO FIND OUT
To adapt means to grow and change what you consider to be right to something new (sort of- the new right) in your life and career. If you are not able to do that, you stagnate. This is something that individuals and organizations alike struggle with- habits that have led to success in the past are now being questioned or need to be replaced. This is confusing at times and creates much anxiety for many. Can they actually implement those new habits? Will those new habits actually lead to success? With new habits comes the unknown, with trials, errors and a high potential for things not working out the way we hope they will. Our old formulas for success can no longer be applied.
Coming up with new ones does not guarantee that we hot it right. We all have different levels of tolerance to the idea of potential failure. If you cannot stomach the idea of potential failure, your anxiety will cause you (or your team, or your organization) to cling back to the old, seemingly (yet not so much anymore) ‘safe’ way of doing things. Ask yourself this: can I, actually, stomach a potential failure?
Adaptable people and organizations tend to be proactive. This means that when problems arise (and problems always arise), instead of blaming, accusing, or freezing- they are forward-looking in their approach to resolving situations. This means that the underlying question is always: how do I/we make sure that THIS doesn’t happen again? What can I/ improve as a result? The benefits of a proactive approach are that it creates improvement rather than despair, and growth rather than anxiety and negativity.
Accountability is the mother of all change. When we hold ourselves accountable for our share and responsibility in every situation rather than blaming and accusing others, we have the power to create real change. I oftentimes find that people who feel stuck, and as a result very frustrated, are actually people who refuse to see their share in the situation, and as a result, cannot see their potential to change things on their end. Think of it this way: if you have potential responsibility of 50% to every situation that you are struggling with, specifically if it involves other people, you also have a 50% change capability.
A positive self-attitude relies on our inner belief in our own power, or in the power of the team or the organization, to succeed and grow. Without positivity and optimism, there is no wind in the person, the team or the organization’s sails. Optimistic people tend to be much more adaptable compared with people who are negative and pessimistic. Most people are somewhat in the middle. Caught yourself talking negatively to yourself in your own head? Noticed that you are being negative when you talk to others? Catch yourself and change your language. Replace phrases of doubt with phrases of optimism, words of negativity with words of positive encouragement. It is a conscious choice that you can make every day, every minute.
Resistance to change is often borne out of a lack of understanding of why it’s necessary or the potential benefits it will bring. An awareness of the wider context and an understanding of how things work and connect empowers you to see beyond potential challenges to the wider goal and motivates you to find solutions. If you are a leader, make sure to communicate the big picture to your team, and make sure that it is clear to you first. If this involves your personal life, make sure the big picture is clear. Why is change needed? What impact will it have? Read the articles. Get the tools. Gain knowledge. Understanding the bigger picture will answer your ‘why’ and give you a sense of purpose and determination.
Whether you are more or less adaptable, it is a skill to work on. Adaptability is one of the most sought-after traits for leaders. It is also one of the most important parameters for success in every dimension of life- both personally and professionally.
As Tracy Chapman sings in her song ‘The Times They Are-a- changin’:
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’
Yes, the times are changing. Work on your own tolerance to change. Improve your adaptability. As a leader, work on creating a culture of adaptability. Tracy Chapman is right. Times are a-changin’.