Being able to adapt and take change head-on is an essential skill in the workplace, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the face of new technology making its way into workplaces.
However, the situations in which it is the most important to adapt are often some of the most stressful – prompting people to default to familiar routines and solutions instead of adapting.
This resistance to change is known as the adaptability paradox, and while it may be difficult, it’s possible to overcome it.
Setting yourself up to adapt
According to The University of Western Australia School of Business Management and Organisations Lecturer Joseph Carpini, there are two main things that influence whether we adapt – our willingness to make changes and our ability to do so.
“If we’re not motivated, then it doesn’t matter how much knowledge, skills or ability we have to adapt, we won’t do it,” he said.
“Similarly if we’re highly motivated but we don’t have the knowledge, skills or ability to adapt, then that also results in a poor adaptation.”
It’s difficult to change your behaviour when you’re not entirely sure what you need to do or you are going it alone.
Having support and a clear goal can help to provide the motivation people need to overcome the adaptability paradox.
“If you don’t have clear leader support and you don’t have a clear vision, then it’s understandable people would fall back into their old and familiar routines because they’re not sufficiently motivated to put the effort in.”
“The research shows that in terms of enhancing our motivation factor, things like having supportive leadership and a clear vision during change is extremely important," Dr Carpini said.
“So, when we talk about leading change, the most consistent research findings is that it’s really around leadership support.”
The other half – developing one’s skills and knowledge – is also essential.
In some organisations, this development can involve training programs.
This can mean learning about the thing you need to adapt to or learning how to adapt by first attempting small changes before attempting larger changes, which can trigger the stress of an adaptability paradox.
“When we’re talking about increasing people’s ability to adapt to change, we know that the more people have experienced change, the better they’re equipped for future change,” Dr Carpini said.
“So giving people these experiences, which don’t need to be huge, is very important.
“This can include engaging in training that actually requires people to practise problem-solving and working as a team to create adaptation processes and plans.”
Adapting to technology
One of the factors currently causing the changes that require big, stressful adaptions is new technology.
Leap Consulting Technology Strategist, Managing Director and Co-Owner Zaun Bhana helps businesses adapt to the latest technology, digital trends and disruptions.
He helps to create adaption goals and provides support based on where the business wants to go, providing essential motivation and the ability to adapt.
“Not being adaptable for any organisation is akin to a slow death by a thousand cuts,” Mr Bhana said.
“It doesn’t occur in one fell swoop – it is a combination of impediments that weigh the business down.”
Integrating new technology, however, can be a long and difficult process, and a lot of thought needs to be put into how the technology is implemented, adopted and maximised in the workplace’s unique environment.
It can also be incredibly stressful, with many individuals concerned that if they don’t adapt, they will be left behind by the march of technology – sometimes leading to them falling foul of the adaptability paradox.
In the tech field, Mr Bhana has found that the human element is essential to overcoming it.
“Too often, we see workplace technology initiatives stumble, overrun or fail because the internal human mindset factors haven’t been addressed,” Mr Bhana said.
“After all, technology doesn’t build organisations – people do. Hence, the workplace has to be enabled for any of this adoption to be successful.”
According to Mr Bhana, overcoming the adaptability paradox can be difficult but looking to, and connecting with, others in the same situation can be a great way to start.
“Finding other examples of workplaces, teams or people that have successfully adapted to the change can be powerful,” he said.
“Knowing others have gone before you is a helpful reframe to make it easier to grow and develop.
“But so is finding others who are going through the journey at the same time.
“Your example is then a good case study for others less willing to adapt to learn from.
“Be the change you seek to see is an old saying, but its applicability in workplaces is as relevant today as ever.”