What bosses want: adaptability

In today’s fast-paced, ever-changing world, professional adaptability has risen to the top of the list of the soft skills bosses value most.

Posted Monday, May 2nd 2022
What bosses want: adaptability

A recent study by management consultants McKinsey revealed that an ability to adapt to the needs of a given situation was rated highest among the World Economic Forum’s list of the top 15 most useful skills for the workplace of tomorrow.

And more than just hoping a staff member demonstrates this ability in the course of their work, a growing number of CEOs are incorporating the concept into the strategic development plans of their companies. 

Learning to unlearn
Carly Abramowitz, the CEO of CA Consulting, offers this definition of adaptability: “A transformation of the relationship that people and organizations have with change. It’s a question of resilience, perseverance and an ability to unlearn.”

With the pandemic, and its attendant normalization of remote work and digitalization of workplaces, staff are being called upon to adapt like never before. In addition, some occupations are being created while others are in the process of disappearing. New ways of working, and tools for doing it, are also appearing.

For the worker, coping with constant change is the new normal and flexibility is an essential quality

Yet this shift is no one-off. Coping with constant change is the new normal and so flexibility is no longer just an optional added-extra, it is an essential quality, according to the boss of CA Consulting, who added that several CEOs took part in the survey and every one of them put adaptability at the top of their list of the soft skills they look for in a recruit. This skill is linked to others, such as openness of spirit, curiosity, self-confidence and an ability to unlearn outdated ways of operating and relearn new ones.

Old dogs, new tricks
The working environment is evolving without end, and an ability to adapt ─ often on the fly ─ allows an employee to respond to challenges in a serene manner, take considered decisions in a short space of time and seamlessly switch from one team to another, as the situation requires.

If the prospect of having to do this is making you break out in a cold sweat, never fear: according to Abramowitz, you can absolutely learn to be more adaptable. “Like a muscle, you can work on it,” she stresses, adding that there are three qualities, namely capacity to adapt, emotional intelligence and traditional intellectual ability, which are absolutely indispensable in today’s sophisticated professional environment.

“Sweeping changes are currently taking place in the world of work and you ignore them at your own risk. Professionally speaking, for the worker it really is a case of adapt or die,” remarks Abramowitz, adding, “We need to showcase our abilities and stay ahead of the curve skills-wise. Also we shouldn’t just view requests in a binary way. The way we communicate and manage our response to tasks has to transform. One of the main reasons why this should be, is that the organization of companies is less pyramidal than ever and so the modern worker should expect to be involved in various projects at the same time.”

Adaptability is a quality that the higher-ups in a company need to have as well, insists Abramowitz, since the manager sets the tone for the entire company. But at the end of the day they are the one's calling the shots. “Beyond a CV listing technical skills, what bosses look for these days is some indication that a prospective hire can adapt and grow with the changing demands of their profession.”