Want to future-proof your career? Adaptability is the number one power skill

"nothing endures but change" on scrabble tiles - adaptability future proof your career

Charles Darwin’s words still very much ring true.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, it is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

If 2020 has shown us anything, it’s that the environment in which we now work is incredibly unpredictable; things change fast. So, employees and organisations need to focus on adaptability. We need to embrace new technologies and face down fresh challenges.

Let’s start by looking at what adaptability is.

What is Adaptability?

Adaptability is a soft skill that means being able to change your actions, course or approach to doing things to suit a new situation. That may rely on learning new skills and behaviours to respond to the changing circumstances.

In a recent webinar, I asked participants what image they would use to represent adaptability? I received some great answers. My favourites were:

  1. Chameleon – a distinctive and highly specialised lizard. It varies its colour action and pattern in response to the environment, temperature and other conditions
  2. Sunflower – a flowering plant that tilts its head during the day to track the sun
  3. Water – rivers, streams and springs that change direction and depth as they flow around and over different

What does adaptability mean to you? What image would you choose?

Being adaptable at work means you can respond quickly to changing ideas, responsibilities and expectations. It means you can adapt to trends and adopt new strategies and processes, and you can change course when things don’t go as planned. It means trusting your judgement when making difficult decisions, while you recognise that what worked before is not necessarily the answer. Also, it means you accept the fact that you may succeed or fail along the way.

Adaptability in Modern Times

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the importance of workplace adaptability to the forefront. Many people are already having to test their adaptability. They’re working remotely. They have swapped in-person meetings for video calls. And their paper-based processes have been replaced by cloud-based technologies. But, adaptability does not just relate to short-term changes to your work environment.

Change is a constant, even without global emergencies.

Coworkers come and go, management styles differ, and corporate goals shift over time. You’ll often face roadblocks and problems that need innovative solutions. Being adaptable in response to change is crucial to being a valuable member of the team.

And adaptability is necessary for everyone, at every level. A recent McKinsey article gives this job-specific example: “A cashier in a supermarket will need adaptability and resilience when their job becomes automated. They will no longer be a cashier. They will be a customer service representative.”

Why is Adaptability Important?

Clearly, we all have some experience of adapting to changing circumstances. But, pandemic aside, why is it important? Let’s look at that now.

Research by McKinsey highlights that adaptability is the secret sauce to thriving amidst uncertainty. Adaptability is one of the top five skills needed to succeed in the future. Why is that?

Most industries are in some state of change

This ability to adapt to changing circumstances is important because most industries today are in some state of change. The most obvious is the pandemic which has changed how we work as well as what organisations offer to the communities they serve. But, the world of work was already undergoing drastic changes before the coronavirus pandemic. Nothing was static. Everything was subject to change, and the workplace was certainly not exempt. Processes were always being improved. Products were constantly modified. And technologies were evolving fast.

The next 10 years will see fundamental changes to our working world. New technologies speed up change. There is also a focus on how Artificial Intelligence is impacting automation. Its use has far exceeded the manufacturing industry. So, employees need to be able to move forward along with this innovation, as well as the next one. And of course, we are also dealing with challenges in the economy.

Employees who adapt will carry the organisation forward

With all these changes it is the employees who can adapt that will carry the company forward through those tough times. They will be the ones cutting costs and thinking differently. Most importantly, they will be looking to the future and seeing a way forward. Conversely, the employees who cling to the standard way of doing business, in the end, drag the company down.

Employees who are adaptable show other skills too. They can reprioritise quickly when changes occur. And they can suggest changes when something’s not working. They can also regroup when a setback occurs, adapting to the new situation confidently and without overreacting.

Six Benefits of Adaptability

Being adaptable is not only beneficial to the organisation. There are benefits for you too:

1. You’ll Increase your Employability

The ability of an organisation to adapt has been called the new competitive advantage. The same is true for individuals: employers want workers who can adapt to an ever-changing workplace.

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 expect changes and don’t panic when things don’t go according to plan.

If you want to stand out in your organisation, it is important for you to prove your adaptability. Doing so ensures you remain valuable because you’re able to handle new changes and challenges with ease.

2. You’ll be a Better Leader

People who are adaptable excel as leaders. They earn the respect of their peers. They inspire those around them to embrace change. And they motivate those they lead to embrace change, making business operation as smooth as possible.

As a leader, you’re bound to face challenges and situations that need you to make quick decisions about whether to change course. If you’re not able to pivot quickly, your actions could hurt your employees and your organisation.

3. You’ll be Better Equipped to Face Challenges

The more adaptable you are, the better you’ll be able to face challenges and handle adversity. Being adaptable means being open to finding diverse and unexpected solutions to problems. Without limitations on your thinking and actions, challenges become something to seize and enjoy working through. You’ll also be willing to engage a variety of people with diverse skills to get the job done. That means you will build broad networks of highly engaged and capable people as you go.

4. You’ll Improve your Enjoyability

Changes in the workplace can sometimes cause stress. The better you’re able to expect change and adapt to it, the happier and more at ease you’ll be. Being adaptable means having a belief in yourself and your ability to change with the times. When you embrace change, you’ve found a reason to be happy no matter the situation.

Being adaptable means not feeling hopeless and helpless in the face of change. It can be very empowering to tell yourself that you have the skills and ability to change yourself, even if you can’t change the situation. That helps you to be happy regardless of your circumstances.

5. You’ll Always be Relevant

The more adaptable you are, the more comfortable you’ll be embracing new ways of doing things. People who are willing to change will remain relevant because they’re comfortable experimenting. That may mean trialling a new system. It might mean changing the way you manage your team. Or it might mean trying different tools, strategies and techniques to achieve the best outcomes. Workplaces are changing faster than ever before, and if you’re not willing to adapt, then you may get left behind.

6. You’ll be More Resilient

Being adaptable means being resilient. Unexpected unpleasant situations happen to all. But if you’re adaptable, you take adversity in your stride, never letting it destroy you. Adaptability expands your capacity to handle change, no matter how serious it might be. You adjust your thoughts and expectations to suit your new reality, rather than dwelling on what could have been.

In my next blog post, I’ll share some ideas on how you can develop your adaptability. But in the meantime, why not reflect on the past 14 months. Without exception, we have all demonstrated adaptability in response to the pandemic. What changes have you made personally and professionally to adapt to circumstances? What or who helped you make those changes? Those are your personal adaptability strategies.

You may also like our Career Compass Workbook designed to help you think positively and proactively about your career development. Helping you prepare effectively for career conversations with your managers, mentors or coaches. Giving you all the tools and templates needed to reflect on the past and think about the future.

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