Business leader working on his tablet to achieve business goals in a time of constant change.

Adaptability in the Workplace: How to Navigate Change at Work

Table of Contents

The business world is constantly in flux. From personnel changes and organizational restructuring to shifting work policies, sudden changes—big or small—can make business leaders and their teams feel like they’re losing their footing.

As a business leader, how should you stand up to the change? Practice.

Adaptability is a soft skill that shows the ability to handle change without losing track of your goals or leading your workforce astray.

To help you learn more about coping with changes in your business, we’ve created a guide to building your adaptability in the workplace.

What is adaptability?

Adaptability is the quality of being able to adjust to different conditions

Adaptability is the ability to adjust to different situations and conditions. In the business world, this can mean anything from adjusting to staff changes, navigating a new remote work policy, or working with new employees after a merger or acquisition.

In these situations, adaptability means staying calm and collected so these changes don’t impact the workflow or wellness of your team.

What are adaptability skills?

Adaptability is a soft skill that leaders can improve over time. Adaptability skills can be internal, such as changing your mindset and thoughts about certain processes or objectives, and external, which focuses more on changing your actions.

For example, let’s say your organization is about to outsource a department that once operated in-house. An internal adaptation would be to adopt a growth mindset and consider how you might improve business outcomes with the new structure. An external adaptation would be to proactively communicate with your new global team to establish new systems and workflows.

Within the adaptability umbrella, there is a pool of traits and skills that leaders can work on to improve workforce agility.

Some adaptability skills include the following:

  • Empathy
  • Respect
  • Creativity
  • Positivity
  • Innovation
  • Critical thinking
  • Flexibility
  • Mindfulness
  • Honesty
  • Confidence
  • Dependability
  • Communication

Adaptability examples in the workplace

Leaders and talent have become far better at adapting to changes in the workplace since the onset of the pandemic. The global workforce experienced a monumental change in the work environment, and its effects are still felt today. 

Let’s look at some ways the workplace has adapted since the pandemic:

  • Adopting remote work. When the pandemic started, businesses around the world adopted remote work policies to keep people safe. After reaping the benefits of remote work, many companies maintained remote or hybrid work to continue enjoying the benefits that a flexible work policy gave to both leaders and talent.
  • Adopting asynchronous work. With remote work policies in place, businesses subsequently adopted asynchronous work. This policy gives talent the flexibility to choose a work schedule that best suits their life and time zone.
  • Adopting new technologies. Remote, asynchronous work ushered in the widespread adoption of web-based communication and productivity technologies, like Zoom, Slack, and Asana, so that distributed teams could collaborate and work efficiently no matter their location.
  • Adopting a global workforce. Remote, asynchronous work policies and new technologies helped businesses reap the benefits of hiring and managing a distributed global workforce. Engaging talent beyond borders allows hiring teams to find the right candidate with the right skills while maximizing their hiring budget.

Why is adaptability important in the workplace?

The ability to adapt can help leaders better manage their teams and cultivate a positive environment for employees. Adaptability soft skills focus on empathy, communication, and mindfulness, all of which can make for better leaders.

Being open to and accepting of change can help improve your company culture and growth, even during economic uncertainty. As workflow fluctuations are common in the business world, proving your ability to lead and thrive with empathy amidst these changes instills confidence and trust in your team.

Why adaptability is a critical leadership skill

Leadership requires flexibility amidst change—a key tenet of adaptability. Those who adapt are inherently confident and resourceful, which are important traits for managers and business leaders.

Adaptability also shows a sense of optimism in the face of adversity. When a leader shows dependability and can communicate their plans for the future, teams look up to and likely adopt the leader’s creative and innovative energy.

Ultimately, an adaptable leader is one who fully adopts a growth mindset when changes arise, and that mindset motivates their teams to join them.

5 tips for improving adaptability at work

Adaptability is now a requirement for leadership roles: A Harvard Business School survey found that 71% of 1,500 executives from more than 90 countries said adaptability was the most important leadership quality. Here’s how you can foster adaptability in your workplace.

71% of global executives say adaptability is the most important leadership quality

1. Promote psychological safety in the workplace

Leaders should foster a work environment that makes employees feel safe to publicly or privately raise concerns. Whether it be about a conflict, disagreement, new idea, or accomplishment, employees should have an open channel of communication at work and feel safe to use it without hesitation.

When a leader promotes psychological safety, they encourage employees to speak openly, suggest ideas, resolve problems, and innovate without fear of rebuke. 

Example: A leader announces that the company’s work policy is changing from fully remote to hybrid but acknowledges this may be challenging for some employees. The leader invites staff to speak with them privately to discuss other arrangements that support that employee’s needs.

Adaptability soft skills: Empathy, communication, mindfulness

2. Practice truthfulness and transparency

Leaders can practice transparency by proactively discussing any business or industry developments that impact their employees. Rather than shielding staff from news, leaders should instead respect their team’s desire to know, regardless of whether the news is good or bad. 

Improving trust between employees and leaders helps employees feel more open and accepting of changes. Employees in the know are likely to adapt more quickly than if they didn’t understand or trust the decisions their leaders made.

Example: A company decides to merge its business with another to improve its financial outlook. Its leaders communicate this to staff as soon as the decision is made, provide data and context behind the decision, detail if and how it will impact their jobs and compensation, and provide a timeline of what to expect before, during, and after the merger.

Adaptability soft skills: Respect, communication, honesty

3. Praise effort in addition to accomplishments

Innovation is an exciting part of any business, but it’s up to leaders to encourage out-of-the-box thinking within their teams.

Praising employees for showing genuine effort when they try new things to further the business’ success—even if it fails—is crucial for encouraging innovation. Leaders should support failure as a learning opportunity and encourage their employees to try again rather than reprimand them for not succeeding the first time.

Praising effort is part of a growth mindset for both leaders and employees. When leaders praise effort, they instill confidence in employees’ abilities to think creatively. Employees are more likely to try again with continued enthusiasm and velocity, making them far more likely to produce superior results.

Example: An employee suggests a new software tool that would expedite production at work but fails to provide a cost-benefit analysis. Rather than dismissing the idea, their manager praises them for thinking innovatively and asks them to go back and put together a cost-benefit analysis to justify purchasing the new software. This language encourages the employee to learn from their mistake and keep thinking outside the box.

Adaptability soft skills: Empathy, respect, innovation

4. Prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion

Promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace is important for empowering creativity and innovation. A successful DEI program not only honors all individuals with support and respect but also spurs adaptability in the workplace.

A Harvard Business Review study found that companies that adopt DEI correlate with better “change power,” which is linked not only to the company’s overall performance but also to leadership roles and employee engagement.

Companies that commit to building a diverse, inclusive, and equitable workforce create a culture status quo of innovation and adaptability.

Example: A company leader implements a mentorship program to ensure all employees have access to improving their career path.

Adaptability soft skills: Innovation, empathy, critical thinking

5. Look for adaptability skills in new hires

Leaders form powerful teams when they hire talent that has adaptability skills. When interviewing new employees, hiring managers should ask questions that help identify whether their interviewee exhibits adaptability skills. In other words, they should aim to measure their adversity quotient (AQ)

AQ gauges how well a person can navigate challenges. Hiring managers should look for signs of resilience in new hires—that they can be flexible, persistent, and resourceful in the face of change.

To determine a person’s AQ, look for the following traits:

  • Creative problem-solver
  • Takes responsibility for mistakes
  • Confident decision-maker
  • Open to feedback
  • Active learner

Example: In an interview, a hiring manager asks the following question: “Tell me about a time when you made an error at work and how you handled it.”

Adaptability soft skills: Honesty, flexibility, communication

Final thoughts on adaptability in the workplace

Adaptability is a leader’s superpower and a critical skill to have in today’s ever-changing economic climate. By embracing change and adopting a growth mindset, leaders and managers can spur innovation and develop a powerful team of critical thinkers.

Velocity Global supports adaptability in the workplace by offering scalable global workforce management solutions. Whether your business is adapting to remote work, global hiring, or expansion into new markets, Velocity Global simplifies every step of the process.

Contact Velocity Global today to learn more about our global workforce management solutions.

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