Just how important is adaptability to business or career success? According to a 2013 study by DeVry University’s Career Advisory Board, 93 percent of hiring managers say that senior-level job seekers need to demonstrate the ability to adapt in order to cope with the ever-changing workplace. This type of senior leader—one who has learned how to roll with the punches—is essential to guiding 21st century businesses.
Gallup’s famous StrengthsFinder talent assessment tool, which includes adaptability as a key dimension, defines the trait as "the ability to live in the present, freely and willingly able to respond to the demands and changes of the moment." Adaptable people are flexible and don’t view the future as a set plan or a fixed destination.
But most company cultures today, even small-business ones, aren't as adaptable as they need to be—they're often ruled by the status quo and “standard operating procedure.”
If you run your business with that mentality, you may find yourself encountering more problems than necessary and having a difficult time adapting to market changes. Rapid technological advances have also increased the speed with which you must make key decisions, and relevant changes must be integrated into your business culture if you want to survive.
Take 3D printing, for instance. Once 3D printing becomes part of the mainstream, manufacturers and their complex networks of suppliers and distributors must start thinking of their work differently if they're to succeed.
Unfortunately, disruptive technologies like 3D printing are derailing more businesses instead of positively transforming them. Without enough adaptable leaders, businesses are falling behind.
Change Is Critical
There is much you can do to increase your own level of adaptability and, in turn, infuse your business culture with this essential quality. After consulting with Bruna Martinuzzi, author of The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow, I've come up with six strategies that should help you improve your ability to adapt to help your business succeed:
1. Watch your mental scripts. When you catch yourself immediately shooting down an idea, take a moment to consider the pre-existing notions that are influencing your behavior. Mental scripts are often so automatic that you have to decide intentionally that you want to challenge them.
2. Beware of bias. Help your employees distinguish between observation and inference, and between fact and conjecture. Inference and conjecture can be influenced by mental scripts that don’t have much bearing on reality. Be the voice in the room that calls attention to this possibility, and hit pause so your team can analyze inferences and conjectures that may not be valid.
3. Go off book. Processes do exist for a reason, but is it necessary to adhere to established protocol on every issue? What would happen if you applied standard procedures more flexibly or if you tweaked them to better suit a new situation? Would you be able to enhance your employees' productivity?
4. Push past comfort zones. Think about some ways you can put yourself and your staff in foreign situations that require novel actions and responses. Consider what you bring to your business every day. Are you trading on old knowledge? Do you need to update your skills? Set an example for your staff that you're ready and willing to endure some discomfort to change with the times.
5. Lose the hierarchy. Are you relying too much on your title as the sign of authority? In today’s working environment, where we're surrounded by highly intelligent and specialized knowledge workers, this no longer flies. Recognize that a junior-level employee will often have the best idea, and encourage a culture of open communication and contribution.
6. Imagine your successor. After entrepreneurs have been running their businesses for awhile, they may grow complacent and stop any efforts to improve—after all, if it ain't broke, why fix it? But if you left tomorrow, what would your successor do to enhance your employees’ effectiveness? Consider making these changes yourself.
By putting more thought into the tasks and processes you encounter every day, you can learn to adapt to the variety of advances that affect your small business.
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