Surviving a changing workplace: Why adaptability is key


The world is changing. That’s nothing new. Change is a necessary evil. However, it’s one that’s becoming far more prevalent every day.

New jobs are being created to suit new technology. Digital transformations are forcing people to develop new skills. The business world is turning to fluidity and flexibility to keep up with rapid industry changes. The only option is to adapt, or get left behind.

A constantly-moving environment means adapting is also a necessity. But it’s not a bad one. Yes, changing gears is never an easy process. However, it’s something that can become a fluid, thought-out process with practice. First things first - let’s start with the ‘what’ and the ‘why’.

What even is adaptability?

Adaptability can be defined as “an effective change in response to an altered situation.” This basically means that an adaptive individual will see that they need to change because of something happening or something about to happen, and act upon it. This is a super broad statement so here are some examples of when you’d need this skill.


Handling Emergencies or Crisis Situations
In theory: Making quick decisions when faced with an emergency.
Real-world: Your team leader has been fired but you need sign-off on a final project.

Handling Work Stress
In theory: Keeping composed and focused on task at hand when dealing with high demand tasks.
Real-world: Four projects are due tomorrow and you also dropped your laptop in a puddle but you’re able to keep your cool and think it through.

Solving Problems Creatively
In theory: Thinking outside the boundary limits, and innovatively to solve a problem.
Real-world: Having the same problem come up every time you work on a particular program until you look outside the box and think innovatively.

Dealing Effectively with Unpredictable or Changing Work Situations
In theory: Able to become productive despite the occurrence of unknown situations.
Real-world: New year, new team, new everything but using old habits and experiences to set you up.

Learning Work Tasks, Technologies, and Procedures
In theory: Approach new methods and technological constructs in order to accomplish a work task.
Real-world: Learning a new system at work.

Demonstrating Interpersonal Adaptability
In theory: Being considerate of other people's points of view when working in a team to accomplish a certain goal.
Real-world: Talking to different people and finding common ground with them.

Displaying Cultural Adaptability
In theory: Being respectful and considerate of different cultural backgrounds.
Real-world: Understanding the differences in barriers and boundaries when interacting with workmates, old friends, family, international visitors, and strangers on the street.

Demonstrating Physically Oriented Adaptability
In theory: Physically adjusting one's self to better fit the surrounding environment.
Real-world: Being able to run in heels. 

This example combines a few of the above theories regarding adaptability.

This example combines a few of the above theories regarding adaptability.

Adaptive Performance

Those eight dimensions are based on this one guy, Pulakos, and his colleagues’ theory about adaptive performance. It refers to adjusting to and understanding change in the workplace as an individual. They believe that someone able to adjust their thoughts and behaviour in response to intricate situations shows adaptability and will help them make the right decision. Which makes a lot of sense.


Adaptability to Lead

Someone who can make those decisions and be super adaptable will help their team when it comes to productivity, obviously. You might know that one colleague who can just adapt to anything thrown at them, and in turn take anything from outside and adapt it to better fit your organisation. They’re going to go far. Why? Because it’s a necessary leadership quality. You need someone who has awareness of new situations and the ability to transfer their skills to anything heading your team.

It’s a great skill for leaders to have, because you aren’t really a leader if you can’t help your team in new situations. Now, some people say that you need certain characteristics to begin with including personality traits, cognitive skills, and the extent of one’s basic knowledge and experience to be good at adapting, but that’s not really true. Everyone has the innate potential to adapt.


Adapting = Surviving

All organizations value adaptive decision-making as a characteristic in employees and clients because it shows how they’ll understand and react to difficult situations, should they arise. If you can get everyone on your team practicing adaptability, you’ll end up creating a really sustainable business/project/group of people. Learning adaptability will teach you to be like a weed; no one can uproot you. And if no one can uproot you, then you'd better believe you're ready to face any change the world can throw at you. 


Like it or not, you need to keep up with everything that's moving around you. Sticking only to what you know might be enough to survive on for now, but it won't work forever. Thrive in a changing world by learning to adapt. You know the 'what' and the 'why', but how about the 'how'? Check out the next post on "Surviving A Changing Workplace".


Imogen Hanrahan