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Posted on Aug 2, 2011

What are the benefits of adaptability?

Change is not something most people enjoy – unless they’re initiating the change. Yet, we are all born with the ability to adapt – just consider what children live through in the early years. Why then does it seem so hard for people to adapt to organizational change? We don’t like it when our employer announces a change, when our churches and community groups change, or even when change affects our families through a birth, death, marriage or kids going off to college.

According to Wikipedia, adaptability in organizational management is the ability to change something or oneself to fit to occurring changes. It is also described as the ability to cope with unexpected disturbances in the environment.

Unexpected and disturbances are two important words to consider here. People generally do not enjoy either of these. Neither do organizations.

And yet all organizations must manage through a sea of unexpected issues and disturbances. One would think that organizations would be prepared to respond to and manage through all of the unexpected and various disturbances it might ever encounter. It’s called planning. But it is impossible to plan for everything.

No matter how much planning is done, there are always new elements, circumstances and situations for which one can never plan.  So how do we prepare for the unknown?

Organizations that have built adaptability into their DNA are better at responding to the unknown and have generally fared well over the long term. They understand its benefits. Adding adaptability as a core Value, either explicitly or implicitly, is a key ingredient to long term sustainability.

Consider a well established college that includes adaptability as one of their core Values. The Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences was founded in 1823 and is the oldest institution of higher education in the city of Boston.  They recognize that their students must live and thrive in an ever-changing environment, and the college has accepted the responsibility to help arm their students with the tools to succeed. Maybe this is why they can claim to have prepared more people for a career in pharmacy than any other academic institution in the world.

Some have even built adaptability into their brands. LiquidSpoke, a Philadelphia-based managed service provider and IT systems integrator, includes adaptability as one of their core Values. They use the term to promote innovation, imaginative solutions, and flexibility. As part of their recent rebranding efforts, along with a new company name, they choose the word ‘liquid’ to reflect how processes and complex IT-based solutions are always changing. Thus they added adaptability as a core value to create a focus for everyone in the organization to proactively prepare for change.

Continuous learning is also a key ingredient to adapting to change. An article on about the Future of General Internal Medicine highlights that adaptability has been a hallmark core Value of general internal medicine. An example provided of this value in action is how general internists willingly to take on newer realms of clinical medicine, such as refuge care and HIV care. The authors suggest a key driver here is the value placed on education and lifelong learning.

And finally, UK-based education resource UCAS suggests one has achieved the competency of adaptability when they can “maintain effectiveness in a changing environment.” This is an intriguing model for measuring  organizational adaptability – if it can continue to fulfill its Mission in spite of the changes going on around it.

These examples advocate the benefits of adaptability as ensuring longevity, promoting innovation, and encouraging lifelong learning. And unlike some other values, adaptability is clearly measurable. If these benefits resonate with you and your organization then you should consider adding adaptability to your list of core Values.

Note: This post originally published for Idea Exchange.