Employers usually have a long wish list when hiring and understandably, there is a focus on the core skills such as communication, problem solving and leadership. But in an ever changing world with organisations continually needing to pivot; adaptability skills are becoming hot on the hiring list.  

Recruiters are looking deeper than the surface level skills and experiences to determine if an applicant has the adaptability required for success. It is now deemed as part of the emotional intelligence toolkit and has become the secret ingredient for workers to fit into the culture of the business, and positively respond to the many challenges of the modern workplace. 

Whilst qualifications and broad ranges of experiences will open doors for candidates, it is their ability to adapt with positivity and agility that is proving to be the winning combination. In recent times, it has become increasingly apparent to employers that skills can be acquired; however adaptability is a ‘soft skill’ that is non-negotiable. 

What is adaptability?  

Adaptability is about having the innate skills to change and adapt to the environment around you. It empowers you to accept new challenges, learn new skills and respond to changes. Adaptability is a soft skill and individuals that possess it are able to effectively respond to a changing environment, even when the new circumstances are not favourable. 

It is highly sought after in the workplace as employees who possess it demonstrate the ability to ‘go with the flow’, think creatively, respond quickly to challenges and work collaboratively as part of a team. It is particularly sought after for leaders and workers who operate in high stress environments. 

Whilst adaptability is something that many believe is an ‘in built skill’, it can be improved and developed over time with the right self-awareness and appetite to improve.  

Why is adaptability a critical workplace skill? 

Irrespective of the job, industry or level, adaptability is a valuable asset. Individuals who possess this skill tend to be more positive, adopt growth mindsets and demonstrate problem solving skills. Some of the many benefits of adaptability include:  

  • Employees are more agile and able to respond quickly to change; 
  • An increased resilience level to manage setbacks and disappointments; 
  • The ability to adapt to different workplaces cultures, personalities and leadership styles; 
  • Continuation of productivity and efficiency, even when there is change; 
  • Improved leadership skills and the ability to help team members navigate change; 
  • Increased organisational relevance as employees are able to adapt to the changes in the position, company and evolving customer needs. 

5 Tips to improve adaptability skills in the workplace 

1. Always consider alternative solutions 

There are endless examples at work when employees feel like they have hit a dead end. Perhaps a sales pitch has been unsuccessful, a production machine has broken down or an idea has been silenced in a meeting. Employees that possess adaptability see these scenarios as more of a road bump and are ready with an alternative solution. Practice using a range of questions to find alternatives such as:  

  • “I wonder if we could still meet the deadline if we did X?”; 
  • “What might the benefit be if we did X?” or 
  • “Help me to understand more about your perspective so that I can help”  

2. Adopt a growth mindset  

Employees who possess a growth mindset are constantly trying to learn and grow to better themselves. These employees believe that their intelligence, talents and abilities can be increased through hard work and dedication. Adopting a growth mindset will enhance adaptability as employees will have the willingness to respond to a changing environment and change with the business needs. Workers can use language such as: 

  • “I don’t know the new system yet, but with time I will get there”; 
  •  “I haven’t worked in customer service before, but it will be a good opportunity to broaden my skills”; or 
  • “Tell me more about the change to the business model as I am ready to learn”  

3. Be flexible with change  

Sometimes employees are very resistant to change, however they may not realise that if the business does not change, it may become irrelevant. Organisations are needing to adapt quickly to evolving business needs, restructures, mergers and acquisitions. When this occurs, rather than bunkering down to hold on tight to current responsibilities, employees can ask: 

  • “Where in the business are my skills most useful?”; 
  • “How can I support the business best in this new operating model?”; or  
  • “Are you aware that I have experience in X, as I would be happy to help the team out in this busy time”.  

 4. Be ready to diversify your skillset  

Covid-19 is only one of the reasons that has driven organisations to pivot. Changes in technology, automation and digitalisation have also contributed. Gone are the days where employees could sit in the same role, performing the same function for years. Employers are finding it is not the worker with the deepest experience that is most valuable, but rather it is the employee who is the most adaptable to change. Employees can boost their adaptability by: 

  • Being alert to impending changes and showing initiative to bridge the skill gap; 
  • Mentoring others to share skills and experiences;  
  • Anticipating how impending changes will alter the job position requirements; and 
  • Being open minded and looking for the positives in each change 

5. Keep calm and carry on  

For some people, change evokes fear and a ‘fight or flight’ response. It can make some people feel threatened and that there will only be negative consequences. An employee wishing to build their adaptability capability needs to focus on remaining calm through adversity and embracing it as a challenge to overcome; not the end of the road. Employees should reflect on: 

  • Whether they have a ‘fight or flight’ response to change and if so, what techniques could support a more growth mindset?; 
  • What could be the positives from the impending change?; 
  • What does being adaptable say about their ‘personal brand’?; 
  • How will the team benefit from their adaptability?; and
  • What would it mean if the whole team could demonstrate adaptability? How would that benefit the business? 

Seek feedback on your adaptability  

It can be hard to hold a mirror up and reflect on whether you demonstrate certain skill sets, however it has never been more important to understand if there is an area of potential growth. 

Feedback is a gift and accepting constructive criticism is an opportunity to demonstrate adaptability. Ultimately, being adaptable in an ever changing work environment illustrates your willingness to support the changing business needs and position yourself as a precious commodity.  

Further information

For assistance with your workplace matters, Members of Ai Group can contact us or call our Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77 for further information.

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Georgina Pacor
Georgina is Senior Content Writer and HR Specialist – Publications at Ai Group. She is an accomplished Human Resource professional with over 20 years of generalist and leadership experience in a broad range of industries including financial services, tourism, travel, government and agriculture. She has successfully advised and partnered with senior leaders to implement people and performance initiatives that align to business strategy. Georgina is committed to utilising her experience to create resources that educate and engage and is passionate about supporting members to optimise an inclusive workforce culture that drives performance.