Adaptive Employees: Your Company’s Secret to Success

By Maria Forbes
December 24, 2020

How adaptive is your team? Change is inevitable regardless of industry or market and your company should always be evolving.  Adaptive employees foster a more successful company.  Learn more about adaptive employees and how they can help your company succeed.

What Is Adaptability?

Also known as adaptive performance, adaptability refers to an employee’s ability to respond to change in his or her work environment.  Typical changes include assignment of different responsibilities, an updated reporting relationship, or transition to a different team.  When changes occur, employees must adjust their performance to meet the demands of the new role, new leadership, or new business environment.

Why Is Adaptability Important

Employee adaptability is important for several reasons.  With the right tools and processes for adapting to change, employees can excel under pressure.  Job stress can manifest in the form of decreased productivity and performance even under the right circumstances.  However, framing your team’s response to change encourages adaptability and can shift their response from frantic to measured and timely.  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four employees say their job is the leading cause of stress in their life.  Fortunately, adaptive employees are better protected against stress than their non-adaptive counterparts.  They can remain calm and productive while managing change.
Adaptive employees can be reassigned to different roles.  For open positions, look internally first, to maintain productivity since onboarding for a new role will not require time for company orientation.  Adaptive employees have the skills necessary to perform new tasks while retaining or improving their productivity and overall performance.
Adaptive employees can handle emergencies better than non-adaptive employees.  The business landscape can change overnight, as it has in 2020.  As we have learned, crisis can strike when you’re least expecting it, making change imperative.  During emergencies, adaptive employees will step up to the plate, to help your company recover.
Creative thinking is a common characteristic among adaptive employees. When faced with a change in their job or work environment,  your teams must think outside of the box.  This creative thinking can enhance the timing of new protocols and innovation.  A study conducted by Adobe found that over nine in ten hiring managers consider creativity when recruiting new employees.  Most adaptive employees have excellent creative thinking skills.  They think about ways to work smarter and faster.

How to Recruit Adaptive Employees

To recruit adaptive employees, you need to search for candidates who exhibit the ability to accept and navigate change.  Adaptability isn’t considered a technical or hard skill.  It is a soft skill that can be identified as a quality or trait.  Adaptability is validated as a talent, as well as a specific execution method, as we look at candidate’s natural strengths.  In this way adaptability is quantifiable.  There are a few ways to explore whether a candidate has adaptive qualities.
You may notice signs of adaptability by looking at a resume.  Pay attention to the candidate’s work history.  The candidate has had a variety of roles within a company that indicate different responsibilities. Job hopping is an opposite sign, while there may be circumstances that call for change of companies, this can also be a clue to lack of commitment to roles.  The reason for change should be explored.
When interviewing candidates, you can create mock scenarios to determine whether he or she is adaptive.  For example, consider asking the candidate what he or she would do if an emergency occurred.  Open-ended questions require candidates to think creatively, which can reveal their level of adaptability.

Tips for Retaining Adaptive Employees

Know the difference between learned skills and a natural approach to challenge that is highly adaptive.  Since change management can be a learned skill set or a naturally occurring trait, the way to utilize these adaptive abilities will be different.
Learned adaptive skills can be applied as a process to help manage change.  Naturally occurring adaptability can be applied to disrupt status quo, manage an evolving workload, and rally peers toward workplace changes, and they are typically less linear and structured.  Naturally adaptive employees may get bored if their need to manage change is not nurtured.  Naturally adaptive employees can be helpful to peers that need to adjust personal responsibilities by demonstrating adaptive strategies.  Research shows that the median tenure for employees in the United States is between three and four years.  Ongoing attention to alignment of personal strengths with expectations for adaptive success are key to long term associations.

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