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For several years, organizations have focused on becoming more agile. This does not necessarily mean diving into a world characterized by Scrum, sprints, stand-up meetings and other hallmarks of agile project management. Rather, it means shifting from a command-and-control approach to a sense-and-respond approach, in order to more quickly adjust to all manner of change: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the always intriguing “to be determined” variety.

Today, being agile is still vital, and the efforts and investments that organizations have made in this area will continue to pay dividends. However, the enormous and in some ways permanent impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the work landscape has highlighted the need to embrace a new paradigm: adaptability. 

At first glance, agility and adaptability may seem synonymous, and they are often used interchangeably in ordinary conversation. But while there is some overlap in these concepts, they are not identical — and for organizations, the distinction is certainly not academic. Agility is about rapidly and effectively responding to change. Adaptability is about rapidly and effectively capitalizing on change. 

There is no standard manual (or convenient wikiHow page) that organizations can use to become more adaptable. As with becoming more agile, the final authority on what organizations should do and shouldn’t do is rooted in their unique vision and experience: what works for some organizations doesn’t work for others. Yet with this being said, there are five general principles that all organizations can wisely adopt on their journey to adaptability:

1. Focus relentlessly on results.

Adaptable organizations seize the opportunity to constantly improve outcomes, even when faced with unexpected disruptions. They do not use uncertainty as an all-purpose excuse for clinging to the status quo until things fully stabilize (which, of course, never happens). Instead, change — planned, unplanned, upturn or downturn — is viewed as an invitation to improve results.

2. Make everyone an innovator.

Adaptable organizations train, position and empower everyone on the roster — and not just leaders — to provide fresh ideas on developing new business lines, and new ways of working. This flatter structure is not just democratic, but it’s also pragmatic. Everyone functions as a potential change agent, regardless of whether they’re an intern who started last week, or an executive who has been on the team for years. When uncertainty continuously reigns and sometimes rages, everyone is in it together, and it’s all hands on deck.

3. Go beyond transparency and demonstrate honesty.

It goes without saying that organizations need to cultivate and promote transparency, so that employees know where they’ve been, where they are, what they’re doing, and most importantly: why. Indeed, establishing a connection between what people do and why they do it is the cornerstone of employee engagement. A survey by BetterUp Laps found that, provided employees feel that they’re being compensated fairly, greater purpose is significantly more motivating than additional money.   

However, while transparency is crucial, adaptable businesses go a big step further by demonstrating stark honesty.  They tell their employees — and if necessary, their suppliers, vendors, customers, andr marketplace — what is really going on or is likely to happen; not just when things are good, but (especially) when things are bad. Obviously, there is a moral and ethical component to this commitment: telling people the truth is the right thing to do. But frankly, it’s also the shrewd thing to do, because honesty generates confidence amidst chaos. Even if people are worried about the present and/or future, truth empowers them to form opinions and make decisions based on facts — not on spin. And this perception can make the difference between riding the wave of uncertainty vs. getting caught beneath it.

4. Experiment and leverage failure.

Adaptable businesses are constantly looking for smarter and faster ways to achieve results. To that end, they embrace experimentation and, even more importantly, they leverage failure. When things don’t work out as hoped (or if they are just plain disastrous), instead of recoiling and reverting, they keep an open mind, objectively analyze, and generate insights to guide future efforts discovering what to do, and what not to do. They do not fear failure, but exploit it; which in a sense guarantees that they always succeed. 

5. Use the right technologies.

Adaptable businesses understand that change is about people and culture, supported by the right technologies. As such, they implement systems and tools that: expand their line-of-sight across all levels and layers; confirm that they’re doing things better (and not just doing things differently); and support the alignment of tasks, projects and portfolios with priorities, strategies and vision. Yet while they value technology, they do not treat it as an end unto itself. They know that it is a means to a singular, unifying end: better results.

The Bottom Line

It has been said that the only constant in business is change. This remains true, but now this wisdom needs to be updated and include uncertainty — because sometimes the path ahead needs to be forged instead of just travelled. Adaptable organizations accomplish this by embracing uncertainty, rather than dreading it.  

Learn More at our Virtual Summit

In a few short months, things have changed rapidly. Yet in some ways they haven’t changed at all, since we still face a lot of unknowns. What we do know is this: ongoing business success depends on taking an adaptive approach when facing change.

You are invited to attend our EMBRACE UNCERTAINTY virtual seminar, featuring Clarizen’s CEO Matt Zilli and other global business leaders from Forresters, McDonald’s, Siemen, and more. Across three one-hour sessions on July 21, July 22, and July 23, 2020, you’ll discover real-world examples about how adaptive enterprises are tackling change head-on. Click here to register now.  

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