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Two of the most important skills you can have are adaptability and  flexibility. Some people mistakenly think that the ability to change according to the needs of a situation or a willingness to compromise show weakness of a lack of conviction. In reality, the ability to compromise, change in response to changing situations and changing needs, and thrive  are key to success in the fast-pace workplaces most of us find ourselves in. Change can be scary, but learning to adapt and flex as needed is an investment worth making.

Getting Over the Good Old Days Syndrome

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“But that’s how we’ve always done it.” 

“Things were better back when we…..”

Do you find yourself saying these things? Most of us fall prey to the “good old days” syndrome, where we look back at the past and believe that everything was better. This can pose a serious obstacle to our ability to adapt to change. If we are convinced that the good old days were best, we are unlikely to give a new way of doing things a fair try. When you find yourself thinking back to the good old days, give yourself a reality check. Ask yourself if things were really as good as you think you remember. Most of us romanticize the past. Be honest with yourself. Try to recall obstacles, problems, or difficulties you had with the thing you are remembering as so good. (And remember, there were people in the good old days who were wishing for their own good old days!) 

Changing to Manage Process

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One of the most common situations in which we will need to change, flex, and adapt is when processes change. In order to navigate the new process, and help others to do the same, we need to change not only what we do but how we approach it. New technology, globalizing businesses, and changing needs all lead to changes in our work processes. If we hold on to the old way of doing things, we risk reduced productivity (and revenue), as well as conflict and other challenges. When we adapt to a new process, we are not just learning a new way of doing a specific task – we are demonstrating our ability to adapt to changing circumstances, learn new skills, and work with others.

Changing to Manage People

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Managing people is not a one-size-fit-all ability. People need different things from a manager. Some need lots of feedback and guidance. Others prefer to work independently most of the time and to get feedback only at regularly scheduled intervals. Some people needs a great deal of hands-on training with technology or equipment, while others will come into your organization as experts. Taking the time to learn what your people need, and then changing your management style to meet those needs, is hugely important to workplace success. When you adapt your management style to meet the specific needs of the people you manage, this demonstrates that you care for others – that rather than expecting them to conform to your preferred way of doing things, you want to invest in them and help them grow. Take the time to ask the people you manage what they need from you, what their goals are, and how you can be a better manager, supervisor, and colleague. Then take steps to make the changes that you feel will be most helpful.

Showing You’re Worth Your Weight in Adaptability

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How can you showcase your adaptability at work? Studies show that people who are highly adaptable may be more highly valued at work than those who are highly skilled but less willing to adapt, flex, and change. Take the time to show how adaptable you are, and your workplace is likely to see you as a worthwhile investment. Some ways to demonstrate adaptability on the job are:

  • Be open to alternative solutions when your first suggestion does not go over well or succeed
  • Be willing to take on new roles, even when they are a stretch for your skills
  • Be willing to help others generate alternative solutions or plans
  • Be willing to accept the unexpected
  • Keep your calm, even when things are moving fast or are stressful
  • Demonstrate confidence in your ability to complete the job even when you’ve had to adapt or flex

Case Study

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Martin had been a manager for more than 30 years. He had developed a tough but fair style that he applied impartially to all his direct reports. He thought it was best to treat everyone the same – that way things were fair and everyone knew what to expect. When he started at his new organization, he noticed that many of his new direct reports seemed to need a lot of handholding. This was frustrating for Martin. He didn’t understand why they couldn’t just do the work as assigned. Mistakes were common, too. 

One day when talking with a manager in another division, Martin expressed his frustration. “Sometimes our younger employees need a little more guidance,” she said. “They are newly out of college and aren’t sure what to do. They are used to having a lot of face time with their supervisors. Maybe you could try that and see if it works.” Martin didn’t want to have to change, but he also didn’t want things to continue as they were. He tried spending one on one time with his new direct reports each time he assigned them new work, so that they could discuss goals and expectations. He noticed that work improved.