Adaptability: The Skill to Thrive in Changing Times

Adaptability: The Skill to Thrive in Changing Times

/ Strategy, People, Development
Adaptability: The Skill to Thrive in Changing Times

First in a three-part series on adaptability and adaptive leadership. (Part 1 of 3)

The world is changing at a very rapid pace. Societal demands, and workplace and family demands are also evolving. With all these changes, we also must evolve and adapt to thrive!

“THE FUTURE IS HUMAN”! I read this quote in several articles and it stuck out to me as being so powerful.

With a commitment to continue to help workplaces create meaningful human experiences, my studies of emotional intelligence led me down the path to studying adaptability as that is one of the key traits that emotionally intelligent leaders possess.

With all the advances in technology, including and notably artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, and with rapid changes going on at work and homelife, the time to analyze, anticipate, and most importantly, to adapt is NOW.

When reflecting on the last two years I have had the opportunity to work with various leaders, observing different responses and the reactions to the changes required of us.

Those who showed to be adaptable were able to manage the daily challenges put upon them. I realized that the most adaptable leaders have several common traits and behaviors. These include a positive outlook, hope, a growth mindset, empathy, and that they view the world and situations with the desire to understand.

We will examine and explore the key concepts, traits, and the importance and the impact of adaptability and adaptive leadership over the course of three articles.

Adaptability in Demand

In this article, “Most in Demand Hard and Soft Skills,” LinkedIn shared the skills companies needed the most in 2020. Considering that it was posted just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit full force the article was quite prescient. Although we are in 2022, these skills are required now more than ever!

Given all that has happened in our world, everyone has had to be adaptable over the last two years to thrive and not just survive. In a recent EY article, author Mark Wheatley stated “150 C-suite leaders found that adaptability was one of the top five skills they felt they needed to succeed in the future.”

With the acceleration of change that has taken place we know the future is now. Therefore, to be adaptable is not a choice!

Let’s begin this journey. So, let’s be intentional in our desired outcomes. What are three of your intentions?

1. ________________________

2. ________________________

3. ________________________

Through this series, we will examine:

  • What is adaptability?
  • Different insights into adaptability.
  • Why adaptability is so important now and in the future workplace.
  • Skills and traits supporting adaptability.
  • Various skills/behaviors/sub-dimensions that support overall adaptability.
  • Creating a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) with adaptive leadership.

What is Adaptability?

To make sure we all have a clear understanding, let’s start with a clear definition of what adaptability is.

An article by Indeed described adaptability as the following:

“The ability to be adaptable means changing your actions, approach, or direction to manage a new situation in a receptive and timely manner. Adaptability also means being open to learning new concepts, trying new ways of doing things, and taking on new challenges. Adaptability is not just a skill but also an attitude and way of working.”

Here is another relevant description of adaptability. “Adaptability is the capacity to adjust one’s thoughts and behaviors in order to effectively respond to uncertainty, new information, or changed circumstances.” (Martin, Nejad, Colmar, & Liem, 2013).

Adaptability is a vital component of being an emotionally intelligent leader. In that context, adaptability is also defined as: “Measuring the abilities, characteristics, and environmental factors which impact the successful behaviors and actions of people, and organisations to effectively respond to uncertainty, new information, or changed circumstances.” (“Decoding AQ,” 2020).

So, let’s reflect:

1. How did you adapt to the changes over the last two years?

2. How did you support your teams to adapt?

What does adaptability mean to you? I had the privilege to ask insights of industry leader, mentor, and amazing human being, Ron Duke, Principal, Ron Duke Consultancy, about his insights around adaptability.

“Before adaptability became a popular term in the past 10 years or so, I used to consider myself a bit of a chameleon in that I adapted well into new surroundings such as settling into new jobs at companies with different ways of doing business, different cultures, new bosses.

“I have always been a keen listener and am open minded to new ideas and ways of doing things—this has allowed me to learn and grow and seldom having difficulty in new environments. I am a lifelong learner to this day. An adaptable mindset enables curiosity, questioning the status quo, seeing opportunities (my emphasis).”

Ron also shared the connection between mindset and adaptability.

“Adaptability is a mindset, allowing for resilience and continuous learning. It is a mindset that helps turn stress into positive stress, embrace uncertainty, opportunity, creativity, inquisitiveness. Adaptability is a mindset worth striving for.”

Why Is Adaptability Important?

According to Ross Thornley, Co-Founder & CEO of AQai, “The ability to be able to adapt to adverse circumstances, to un-learn old skills and learn new ones, is perhaps the most important soft skill you can possess.

“Adaptability has always been core to human nature; it is what drives evolution. {But] now, in a world changing with greater rapidity than ever before, we need to develop the ability to change and adapt ourselves to new challenges now more than ever.”

When we look closely at the contact center/customer experience industry, each call, each interaction, and each day is different.

Someone working on the frontlines and those supporting them needs to be able to adapt to the fast-moving changes.

Customer expectations, technology, and the complexity of calls have all changed. The need to be adaptable has increased so much because with AI taking over the basic transactions, humans are left with the more complex tasks that require an adaptable mindset.

There are some great points in this article by Salesforce.com:

“When you work directly with the public, your days are never exactly the same. People aren’t the same. Did you know that 60% of customers change how they contact you depending on where they are and what they’re doing? That means you’ll have inquiries coming in via phone, email, social media, and maybe even in person—sometimes all from the very same customers.

“Customer service reps need that same mental flexibility to respond to a variety of situations in whichever way your customers prefer at the moment.”

Employee expectations and the support required to be engaged has also changed very rapidly. The competition for great talent has become tight.

Those companies and contact centers with an adaptable leadership culture will thrive! They are the ones that provide an environment where employees feel that their team and company support them, provide encouragement, and tap the power of hope with which they will absolutely thrive.

In the next article we will examine the power of hope on adaptability.

Leadership Insights

When thinking of skills required in the future workplace, how important is adaptability? Ron Duke states “with the current and accelerating pace of change, adaptability of skills is essential. Retraining and reskilling the workforce in a time of AI impact, driverless delivery vehicles, etc. Adapt or be left behind!”

In total agreement with Ron, we will continue the discussion over this series on adaptability so that we can empower everyone, ensuring that no one is left behind.

Working in talent acquisition and retention, I see those individuals who have adaptable mindsets have thrived over the last two years.

Despite stresses of pivoting how they ran their contact centers, including suddenly having to work from home and use new tools like Zoom, they were able to train staff, recruit and onboard new personnel, solve problems, and find innovative solutions.

In writing this article, I knew I had to tap on D. John Jackson, speaker and author of best-selling book “What About Me: Walking the Tightrope as a Black Man in America”. He is vice president, global strategic planning and engineering, innovation at a Fortune 50 corporation.

John was a recent speaker at the Greater Toronto Area Contact Centre Association’s (GTACC) Leadership CX/EX Conference where he shared his insights on several topics.

I asked, “John, when thinking of skills required in the future workplace, how important is adaptability?”

“The world is changing rapidly,” he replied. “We are in the midst of an exploding technological revolution in conjunction with a surging consumer revolution where customers’ expectations are soaring. Global markets and businesses are moving at incredible speeds to keep up with a dynamic marketplace.

“Therefore, it is absolutely imperative that all players in the workplace recognize that adaptability is essential. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) skills are in great demand and on an exponential growth trajectory that won’t slow anytime soon. Extreme shortages in these areas have placed a premium on individuals with these skills sets.

“Additionally, artificial intelligence and machine learning, along with data science have become the 21st century catalysts to fuel, control, and execute many of the amazing new technologies that are becoming ubiquitous in all industries.

“The work environment of the future will require creativity, flexibility, empathy, innovative thinking, a high emotional quotient, understanding of the global marketplace, a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and leadership skills with vision and foresight.”

Self-Reflection Activity 1

To gain the most out of the points in this article, it is important that we self-reflect.

Where did you have to adapt over the last two years?

1. Where and when you and your team members work?

2. Technology and the many challenges that can occur

3. Family duties

4. Hiring and onboarding, coaching,

5. Employee engagement: maintaining and building relationships

6. Innovation and development, problem solving

7. Rewards and recognition

8. DE&I

9. Physical and mental health for you and your team members

In D. John Jackson’s book, “What About Me: Walking the Tightrope as a Black Man in America”, there was a quote: “Don’t let your baggage block your blessings.”

This quote resonated with me for several reasons. Jackson reflected and shared that “life teaches us many things from our past and up to our current existence. Additionally, our journey through this world can be filled with unexpected circumstances that we have to face. Therefore, our cumulative experiences and teachings, whether good or bad, tend to shape our behavior and actions.

“However, we must remain flexible and evaluate new situations and facts. If we cling to some prejudice we were taught in our upbringing and refuse to assess new ideas, that bias may literally prevent you from some great encounter or opportunity in life.

“Hence, the baggage of your prejudice blocked your blessing. So, adaptability, an open mind, and a willingness to explore new concepts and thinking are key to living your best life.”

Self-Reflection Activity 2

How did you develop yourself?

1. ________________________

2. ________________________

3. ________________________

How did you encourage your team-members to adapt?

1. ________________________

2. ________________________

3. ________________________

Self-Reflection Activity 3

How important do you think adaptability will be in the future?

Final Thoughts: Something to Think About

We regularly share that “kindness matters.” How does being adaptable enable you to be more kind?

I am sure you have experienced that the more empathetic someone is, the more adaptable they are to various situations that can happen (especially when working from home).

Ron Duke shares that “We have all been on a Zoom meeting when the dog barks or the kids run into the room. We have all learned to accept this as normal and to call out Hi to the kid.

“We need to be fundamentally more tolerant to accept and thrive in this environment and display kindness to others. It goes far in developing relationships. It even goes so far as to be kind and appreciative of all the retail workers serving you in this fearful environment.”

I end this article just as I started it. “THE FUTURE IS HUMAN.”

Just as we ended our series last year on striving to be emotionally intelligent leaders, we can dig deeper to develop our adaptability for our personal lives and within our leadership style.

Leaders with high adaptability put people first, create an environment of support, and provide hope to our team members through encouragement, empathy, and kindness.

Coming Up Next!

  • Skills and traits that support adaptability
  • Various skills/behaviors/sub-dimensions that support overall adaptability
  • Case studies
  • Application and impact

Feel free to share your thoughts with me at [email protected] and we can continue with the discussion. I would love to hear your stories and insights!

Sangeeta Bhatnagar

Sangeeta Bhatnagar

Sangeeta Bhatnagar is Founder of the boutique Human Capital firm SB Global, which focuses on talent acquisition and training (live and virtually) for top-tiered Contact Center & CX professionals. With an emphasis on Human Behavior, Sangeeta helps companies to attract, retain and develop top talent using behavior models, strategies and Emotional Intelligence principles. Sangeeta was selected as one of ICMI’s “Top 50 Customer Service Thought Leaders on Twitter.” She co-authored the Amazon #1 best-selling anthology, “Called to Action,” and she is Chair of the Greater Toronto Area Contact Centre Association.
Twitter: @sbhatnagar212

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