Adaptability – a key issue in 2022

Annika Willers · Interview · Last updated on December 16th, 2021

With yet another challenging year ahead, you must realize that there is one trait that is inextricably linked to the success of your business: the ability to constantly adapt to the changing environment in which you operate. As the pandemic continues, it’s high time to look at the current situation.

Greg Verdino Open Up Digitals As part of our Open up Digitals series, we had already talked to 15 thought leaders about the transformation of the digital workplace. One of them is American Greg Verdino, who has been advising top companies on marketing, change, and transformation for 25 years. Greg is best known as the co-author of the Adapt Manifesto, and can predict trends like no other. In September 2020, Greg told us that we will never return to our ‘old normal’. And that the talk is of ‘never normal’. How does he see the world now, over a year later?

In retrospect, it is easy to see how we could have better prepared our workplaces and cultures for the COVID years:

  • Our digital infrastructures turned out to be less strong and dynamic than we had hoped,
  • skills were not yet ready for new ways of working, and
  • our digital applications were designed for a different era and needs.

But a retrospective only offers perspective on what could have been better. It does not necessarily create a map for the future to anticipate twists and turns. Especially in today’s disruptive times.

Now that we have broken the stigma of remote working, organizations are building hybrid working models. That tends to have a hands-on approach, where technology is central. But how do you ensure work-life balance? How can you build new leadership in a time of constant disruption? And how do you reboot that important employee experience topic? Make sure that you are not just putting out fires, but that you are structurally working on a future-proof organization.

There are many mistakes in our old way of working

Can we go back to how we have worked before COVID? Greg Verdino doesn’t think so. He feels that leaders used to think that way. That we would go back to the old patterns within our lives and work. But he believes that’s actually not going to happen anytime soon.

Greg: “It’s becoming more and more obvious that the old way was flawed in so many ways. I think the past year – really, the past two years – will be seen as Day Zero in a new era for business, as more organizations are forced to reimagine nearly everything in the face of a rising emphasis on issues like purpose, sustainability, inclusion, accessibility, experience, and more.”

Succeeding together

In that new beginning, adaptability is perhaps the most important competency. Greg: “We have to constantly adapt as wave after wave of change comes over us.”

In doing so, we must not only rethink who the customer is and how they behave. Above all, companies need to take a fresh look at who the employee is, how leaders behave, and how companies are dealing with key challenges such as purpose, sustainability, diversity, and inclusion.

Attention to mental health

With the pandemic, we have no choice but to work in a different way. We need to rethink our assumptions of how work is structured and what our workplace should look like.

Greg: “Many of the changes are sticking, as more organizations admit that knowledge work, at least, can be done effectively and successfully in a remote (or at least hybrid) model. But I’d like to see organizations doing more to proactively reconfigure for the digital age; focus more heavily on supporting, upskilling, and reskilling their teams to make more and more effective use of the digital tools at their disposal; and (perhaps most importantly) be aware of and take action on the challenges many workers are facing related to mental health, isolation, difficulties in finding balance, and so on.”

In any case, we’re not going back to normal, Greg shares. “Remote and hybrid work models, at both the personal and corporate levels – is quite new. I think we’re already seeing that companies will set policy one week, then change it the next. This is actually *good* – because it means they are remaining flexible in the face of change and responding to marketplace conditions and employee expectations as they evolve.”

“At the same time, we’re hearing a lot about the “great resignation*” – employee experience is becoming more important, the war for talent has become fiercer than the war for customers, and more people are choosing to live and work differently than they did before COVID. In a lot of places and industries, more people are starting businesses, gig work is on the rise, and so forth. To me, this is the broader context in which companies need to think about things like remote and hybrid work policies – but more than that, how they create a better workplace overall.”

*The great resignation: continuing trend of workers voluntarily quitting their jobs, from spring 2021 to present, primarily in the United States. As a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. government’s refusal to provide needed worker protections, and wage stagnation despite rising costs of living. (Lisa Curtis, Forbes)

Adaptation can be learned

So, when you look at the focus for 2022, it should be on the ability to adapt. This belongs in the DNA of your organization.

Greg: “Every person, team, organization, and industry needs to be ready, willing, and able to meet always-on change with an always-on change readiness. This sounds “soft” but is actually “hard” to do, essential for thriving in the future.”

And, adaptability can be learned. You can also start measuring adaptability, and then create a personal development and coaching program. For example, the AQai psychometric assessments measures 15 different dimensions in adaptability, within 3 focus areas:

  • Character (why we adapt)
  • Ability (how we adapt)
  • Environment (when we adapt)

Greg: “Abilities can certainly be learned and improved; Character is a bit more fixed but can change over time with the right interventions, and Environment (factors related to the nature of your company or team, its culture, what your leadership team does or doesn’t support, etc.) is relatively fixed unless you’re the leader creating that environment or as an employee, you choose to change jobs…”

“Then, once you understand which dimensions might be standing in the way of improving your personal adaptability, you can pursue behavior or mindset change in a focused way”. While there are many different approaches and coaching models, Verdino refers to the Adapt Manifesto as an interesting model for taking action.

You might then ask, what happens if you can’t adapt? Then you really do get left behind. Greg: “The best thing anyone can do today is to honestly assess your own degree of adaptability, understand the best ways to develop the competencies that will engage your adaptability, and do the work necessary to position yourself to thrive in the face of change”.

An important role for both employee and employer

Greg rightly notes that it’s not just about the adaptability of the individual. I therefore see an important role for employers. They must realize that in the changing world, the employee experience is critical. Managers and leaders need to take an honest look in the mirror: are we putting our employees first? What do we need to change to take that employee experience seriously? How do we do that?

Verdino’s approach is at once simple and thought-provoking: change is a constant factor. Because it is so pervasive, we must all be able to embrace it and respond to it quickly and deftly. Jobs will change and change, skills will change and then change again, entire companies and industries will face disruption and transformation, resulting in entirely new markets, business models, and ways of working.

Companies and brands should also experiment with Web 3.0: metaverse, NFTs, blockchain. It’s going to take years for this to become mainstream, but the shift is profound and will bring about a lot of change.

Greg: “Web 3.0 is distributed, democratized, owned by creators not companies – and will likely usher in entirely new models for how brands interact with audiences. The brands that start learning what this might mean sooner will be the brands best positioned to thrive in the future.”

But, says Greg, also keep an eye on the hype. Don’t be seduced by solid but misleading moves, like Facebook appropriating something (Meta) that isn’t about corporate ownership at all.

Open up Digitals

Open up Digitals is a series of video interviews with thought leaders from the world of digital transformation and the digital workplace. About how they experience the world today, what changes they see, and what the future of our work and life will be like.

Read the 15 interviews