The Roadmap to Adaptability

Most of my seminars revolve around a central theme of adaptability. It doesn’t take long for the question to arise: How do we get there?

Adaptability, whether organizational or individual, is the ability to respond to change – change that comes in the form of problems and opportunities. Developing adaptive traits in your people (or yourself) is not a step-by-step checklist. Nor is it an elusive organic metamorphosis. Organizations committed to learning surely have a head start. Here are some of the waypoints I’ve plotted on my map:

VALUES. People in your team who share a common set of values will rely upon those principles when all else fails. The philosophic or abstract theories that bind your organization cannot be overlooked.

GUIDELINES. Strict rules are for kindergartners, not problem-solvers. Adaptive thinkers need flexible guidelines, built upon a solid set of concepts. Few issues in your industry fit nicely into pigeon-holed responses, especially during times of crisis.

PRIORITIES. When multiple opportunities or problems arise, they must be triaged. Your best employees are the ones who figure out how to rank them according to the overriding mission or purpose of your organization.

DECISIONS. Decisiveness is a critical component to adaptability. Those decisions can be evaluated on two separate criteria: accuracy and timeliness. The situation at hand determines which of these two factors should be more heavily weighted.

STABILIZATION. Sometimes a definitive solution is required now! At other times, the issue can wait until more able resources are available. At the minimum, your people need the authority to act to keep problems from getting worse.

GENERALISM. Team members who understand the technical intricacies of the other divisions in your business will be more adaptive (understanding) than those who stay specialized. Decentralized generalists see the big picture and how everything works together.

SUPERVISION. Management and leadership overlap at strategy. Sometimes a boss will have to exert as much control as a chess player over the pieces on the board. At other times, she will have only the influence of a sidelines sports coach over her players on the field of play. It’s the strategic thinking that must always be included in supervision at every level.

SYSTEMS-THINKING. People who understand non-linear processes and systems are more adept at diagnosing, troubleshooting, and problem-solving. They internalize cause-and-effect and the relationships between various parts or functions.

These are just a few of the traits of adaptive organizations and individuals I’ve identified over the years. Many of them overlap with each other…into a system of sorts. When we stress these qualities and evaluate our teams based on these criteria, it encourages a culture of learning and adaptability. You’ll be giving your people the skills and understanding to navigate the unknown and unknowable future.

What are we missing?  Tell us what roads you’ve taken towards adaptability.


Originally posted on


Lou Hayes, Jr. is a police training unit supervisor in suburban Chicago. He studies human performance & decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. Follow Lou on Twitter at @LouHayesJr


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