Organizational adaptability is the ability of an organization to adjust and revise business practices in order to achieve their goals! It can be a matter of improvisation or analysis within an organization that promotes the resolving of issues and preparation for the future.

As of writing this, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is sweeping the nation, forcing people to stay at home and self-quarantine with the hopes of cutting off the channels of contagion. This has had considerable impact on our economy, political sphere, and business operations (thus inspiring this post).

Today, I hope to talk about the best ways to adapt to quick change within a business environment. I will provide the specific steps, action points, and exercises that you can use to mold your organization into an adaptable and risk-tolerant powerhouse both now and in the future.

Let’s begin by sharing some common traits of adaptable organizations, then we can begin to focus on building these characteristics.

Traits of Adaptable Organizations

When you think of the word adapt, what comes to mind? For me, I remember my time in high school as a JROTC leader and how I had to lead 150 people through a change in our senior leadership. For you, it could be anything you imagine, remember, or experience that deals with great amounts of change.

Adaptable organizations contain many of the same characteristics which naturally allow them the freedom and insight to change quickly or on the fly. Let’s discover some below.

Well Defined Goals:
Organizations that define their goals also have a habit of defining their culture. With that kind of common vision, it is no wonder they can adapt quickly and effectively with the end in mind. I often make the point regarding the importance of communicating the bigger picture behind every task or behavior that is required in the workplace. Communicating the bigger picture aligns all management and operational processes with the strategic vision of the organization. Doing so institutes autonomy, risk tolerance, and the ability for teams to operate on their own accord (or in this case, decentralized). Adaptability then becomes part of the culture of the organization.

Reinforcement of Innovation:
Organizations that reinforce innovation are those that promote the internal ability of employees to take risks. Doing so is similar to breeding trust and creativity among the entire workforce. This occurs because employees recognize that, when they operate with the bigger picture in mind, they can adjust and mold their duties into best practices that raise their overall efficiency. This is apparent in the difference between compliance and commitment. Employees who comply only do it because a superior told them to. But employees who are committed to success perform well and adapt despite the authority or presence of management.

Forward-Thinking:
Organizations that are forward-thinking develop the ability to solve a problem before the problem arises. These organizations project and analyze what could go wrong before anything actually does. This kind of preparation is detrimental to the longevity of an organization, especially in times of significant external factors that are pressing change upon these businesses (i.e. COVID-19). Being forward-thinking is a necessary part of leadership as well, merely due to the nature of strategic planning.

Ultimately, the combination of these points can have a significant impact within your organization. Consider what occurs when you grow a culture around well defined goals and visions and the reinforcement of innovation. You will then have a culture defined by your employees ability to operate with a common goal and in an autonomous fashion. Is that not exactly what is needed for COVID-19?

Here are my 5 top tips for developing these factors within your own organization.

With these 5 tips, you will surely be able to adapt in the present, prepare for the future, and, ultimately, take the world by storm!
With these 5 tips, you will surely be able to adapt in the present, prepare for the future, and, ultimately, take the world by storm!

Tip 1: Develop and implement more effective knowledge management systems.

Knowledge management was the hot business term of the 1990’s. In essence, knowledge management is the process of creating, sharing, utilizing, and managing the knowledge and information that is available throughout the organization. Usually this has been done to some degree already.

The really important thing about knowledge management is making the best use of people knowledge. People knowledge is the experience, education, and ideas that are not readily available as actual resources until somebody discusses them and makes them apparent.

Almost every business has a dedicated system of managing files. Whether those files contain contingency plans, performance data, ERP systems, etc. But NOT every organization has an effective method of gaining insights from other people efficiently.

Consider Mckinsey and Co., one of the leading consulting firms. Their employee’s knowledge base is so diverse and expansive that they couldn’t afford to not manage it effectively. Therefore, it is an unspoken rule at Mckinsey to personally answer a phone call with a request for experience or insight/knowledge within only 24 hours.

Maybe this doesn’t seem all that impressive until I mention that this occurs despite the organizational hierarchy. New employees can direct call senior management for info, and get a response with a personal call within 24 hours.

Knowledge management only has to act as efficient and open communication channels that go BOTH ways, top-down and bottom-up. Doing so promotes more open communication among your teams, and therefore, an increase in the common understanding of goals and vision.

Tip 2: Pursue Learning Opportunities.

It’s entirely possible that the day-to-day work and responsibilities of your organization don’t provide ample opportunities for learning or development. Every day tasks can sometimes appear as barriers to anything new, merely due to the routine.

However, providing and prioritizing learning among your organization can be an invaluable method for delegating resources and encouraging the company to maintain growth.

There is a wide variety of ways in which to encourage L&D (learning and development) among your organization. I’ll pose a list just below.

L&D:
1. Coaching
To develop internal skills programs and encourage personal and professional development. Coaches can often tailor various aspects of their programs to meet the needs of your organization, and they can provide one-on-one skill assessments, workshops, or other group activities, making them a fundamental and adaptable resource for organizational change.
2. Training
If there is one thing that separates the effective and ineffective, it is the ability to develop the mindset of continuous learning. Remember, the most expensive seven words in business are, “We have always done it that way.” Providing the most up to date training and education is not only necessary during trying times, but also in times of growth and success. It is the nature of business that what worked five, ten, or twenty years ago may not work today. For example, long gone are the days of the hard sell, the soft sell is now more effective.
3. Breakout Sessions
Providing in-house organizational break-out sessions is a great way to monitor employee performance, diagnose issues, and employ knowledge management techniques into one fell swoop! The best part of it is that these breakout sessions can be both internally manage or given to the duties of a coach or consultant. This gives you either the ability to both save costs or your own time, depending on what the situation calls for.

Tip 3: Be Flexible as a Leader

Leadership flexibility can be translated in many ways. Ultimately, what I mean by becoming flexible leader is in both your time, and your attitude towards leadership and management.

In changing times, leaders must become involved in various ways that weren’t traditionally the norm. Especially today, with the emergence of efficient communication technology, traditionally steep hierarchical organizations are flattening. This is important because it poses the idea that senior leadership will have to adapt to organizational needs in much the same way the organization must adapt to market needs or changing times.

Providing more of your time to only the most vital tasks and responsibilities is a balance that every good leader needs to make. Therefore, flexibility becomes a requirement.

Flexibility also occurs in terms of the style of your management ability. That begs the question, do you micromanage? Or do you leave processes out in terms of getting results?

This question is interesting in the way it navigates the dichotomy of process management and results-oriented management.

Ultimately, for the sake of adaptability, you will want to focus on results-oriented management styles. Why? Because focusing too heavily on processes will result in micromanaging tendencies. Those tendencies have a way of seeping out the ability of employees to act with a bigger picture in mind, and instead, reinforce the importance of simply doing what they’re told.

This does not build commitment, it builds compliance. A team will never be autonomous or able to perform with a common vision, especially in decentralized circumstances, when they are accustomed to compliance rather than commitment.

Essentially, developing a flexible and results-oriented style of management is beneficial to improving organizational adaptability due to the inherent nature of flexible leaders to promote innovation within the minds and actions of employees.

Tip 4: Focus on Building Intuitive Processes

Intuition is the minds ability to perform a task or operate a procedure without much cognitive awareness or conscious reasoning. Building intuitive processes can be vital to the functionality of teams that are separated or inundated with change.

The benefits of intuitive processes are many. Specifically, intuitive processes promote a team’s ability to focus on problem-solving as opposed to basic operational duties. It also promotes the ability for quick change adoption and simple, yet effective, systems of operation.

The qualities of quick change adoption and simple systems of operation are amazingly effective in creating autonomy within your teams, which is extremely important in terms of unprepared decentralization. Decentralized teams are notoriously hard to train, enforce, and track. providing intuitive systems makes the process a natural part of their performance ability.

Consider Apple Computers. Their operating systems are notoriously intuitive and, as a result, they maintain one of the largest demographics of technology-based consumers. In fact, part of their (successful) strategy was to make their systems SO intuitive, that considering any other brand would be a major switching cost to consumers!

If the benefit of proper intuition among processes can be found among consumers, it can surely be found within your organization as well.

Intuition is commonly related to emotions, and almost to a fault, I might add. Most people believe that making decisions based on emotions is entirely the wrong way to go, and in many cases they are correct.

However, intuition can be used in a way that is entirely beneficial to businesses and other organizations looking to build easily adoptable and adaptable systems. There will be no hoops to jump through, or at least not as many as you would in altering a complex process or system.

Tip 5: Avoid “Analysis Paralysis”

Those who are afflicted with a mindset of success or failure, and no in-between, will benefit from viewing the business world through a lens devoid of right or wrong. That is to say, those people must realize that there is no “right answer” and there are only answers and better answers.

In fact, I wrote an entire article solely on the factors behind analysis paralysis which you can read HERE. Ultimately, the article sums up the various factors that analysis paralysis has on our ability to be effective and functioning organization members.

Analysis paralysis is a function of fear. More specifically, the fear of change. Whether that change brings about good or bad things does not matter. It is the nature of the human mind to dislike ambiguity more than the potential for success.

This is why people are the leading reason behind ineffective change and change resistance. They are trying to keep the “same-old same-old” in tact.

It is important to recognize when you are analyzing for preparation, and when your are procrastinating a change. Jen Sincero states, “There is a fine line between preparation and procrastination.”

Here are some useful tips to help you avoid analysis paralysis.

Include others in the process.
1. It implements a “sanity check” over all your work. Ensuring that you have thought out likely and probable issues to take into account.
2. It provides the ability to implement more experience, information that you may not be aware of, and whether or not somebody else feels prepared to take action.
3. You develop commitment from the team by allowing other people’s thoughts and concerns to weigh in on the decision-making process.

Don’t wait for the stars to align.
People who wait for the stars to align before they can make a decision are going to be waiting for the rest of their lives. We often think, “I’m just waiting for the right moment.” When, in reality, there is no “right moment.”

Prioritize.
Prioritize your activities into ones that directly affect the desired outcome. Which are most important to your success? and are you doing them now or are you doing something else? Use the 80/20 rule (Pareto Principle, Law of relevant few, etc) to make your prioritizations.

Chunk the issue.
Breaking down the big issues or decisions that must be made into small bite-sized steps over time helps make them more manageable, and less menacing in light of the minimal impact they have on our lives. Change becomes easier when it feels like we don’t have to!

Conclusion

It is commonly said that adaptability is the new competitive advantage, and although your need and use of adaptability within your organization may very well depend on your industry, it can be beneficial to any organization that wishes to prepare for the unexpected.

Hopefully, I was able to help prepare you for the future and the present. Remember:

Tip 1: Effective Knowledge Management
Tip 2: Pursue Learning Opportunities
Tip 3: Be a Flexible Leader
Tip 4: Intuitive Processes
Tip 5: Avoid “Analysis Paralysis”

Thank you for reading!

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