Adaptability

There is a new species at large on the corporate landscape these days. This hardy and resilient lifeform has arisen in response to the downsizing, rightsizing, reengineering, consolidating, outsourcing, and offshoring that has been all the rage in C-level boardrooms. Called “transitionists,” a term borrowed from extreme snow-boarding (I kid you not), this creature is extraordinarily adept at performing the transitions (i.e., tricky maneuvers) required in managing change.

The transitionists have a sunny disposition and are quite elastic, making them very hard to kill. Where did this robust thing come from? For an answer, let’s revisit the theory of Natural Selection.

For Charles Darwin, the father of the theory of evolution of the species, the essential key to his concept of “survival of the fittest” was adaptability. In his theory, since all living things struggle unceasingly to survive, an organism’s survival response to changes in its environment makes all the difference.

Darwin reasoned that, over the course of millennia, plants and animals live and die in ever-changing environmental conditions. As an environment changes, say from warm to cold, the plants and animals that can best adapt are more likely to survive and persist into future generations.

This natural ability of living things to adjust and reconfigure as surrounding conditions change is the sine qua non of being a transitionist . . . and a useful concept in human organizations today. In fact, change management expert William Bridges has taught us about transitions, the inner journey we make when changes occur that affect us.

In Fast Company (Issue 53, December 2001), author Paul C. Judge wrote: “In times of crisis, companies tend to fall back on their habitual patterns of behavior.” Unfortunately, what worked in the past may be of no survival value in the new environment.

So what can we learn from transitionists about adaptability that we can apply in change management? Here are three concepts worth considering.

Prepare to adapt – Psychological adaptability is a leadership competency. The military, for example, defines it as the ability to recognize and assess changes in an environment. It’s an alertness to change that leads to awareness. And, once aware, the adaptable person takes logical action to determine what has changed and what has not. Based on this size-up of the environment, the adaptable person has a decision to make.

Decide to adapt – Because people have “free will,” we have the ability to choose a course of action, including the choice that says, “I refuse to change.” Trouble is, however, that that choice is not the adaptive one. The adaptable person, on the other hand, will decide to do things differently based on her assessment of the changes in the environment.

Keep on adapting – Adapting to change is not a one-time event. In fact, we do it throughout our entire lifetime, though we usually don’t recognize it. We keep on adapting every time we learn some thing new. Every time we try something new. Every time we expose ourselves to a new place, a new person, a new idea. In a word, the adapting person is continuously learning.

In today’s tumultuous business world, we need to be transitionists, that is resilient adepts skilled at the extreme sport of managing change.

Comments

Roland sullivan said…
love comment.. that change management is an extreme sport.. Never thought of it that way but you are right.

The leaders that have a successful way to transform their organizations will win the game.

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