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Talent Management

Achieving the impossible? Things every company is (or should be) doing to be adaptable.

Living in ever-changing times, we, as individuals, need to be as adaptable as possible to deal with uncertainty. Similarly, organizations endeavor to develop mechanisms that could favor their capability to adapt to a fluctuating business environment. 

It is crystal clear that selecting adaptable candidates at the outset positively affects the degree of agility in an organization (see here and here). That is why 91% of HR decision-makers in the UK expect future employees to be recruited based largely on their ability to cope with change and uncertainty. Along the same lines, the IBM executives survey report shows that the willingness to be flexible, agile, and adaptable to change has moved from 4th to the 1st position among the most valued behavioral skills from 2016 to 2018.

Adaptability is the capacity to adapt one’s behavior to be successful in any scenario. The basic underlying forces that allow people to be adaptable have to do with knowledge: about the environment/context and the self. These are the main antecedents of adaptability. There is no room for adaptation if one does not know what environment one needs to fit in. And other people are the basic component of the environment that needs to be accounted for since most changes are driven by human factors. But fitting is typically about two elements, and hence it also requires knowing what needs to be fitted into the environment, that is, oneself. 

Adaptability, whereupon, requires both “strategic reasoning” and “self-awareness” capability. 

Strategic reasoning refers to the ability to understand how people think so that the individual can anticipate others’ behavior to make contextually-appropriate decisions that maximize welfare (Behave4, 2019). This is a repeated process, which has been practiced since we were little through learning.

Playing Hide-and-Seek, for instance, we always try to outsmart another with a classic strategy: If s/he thinks I’ll stay here, then better I choose another place. In a more complex game, such as chess, we will try to recognize patterns of the opponent, pre-calculate what move they will make, and proact to that accordingly. But one needs to consider that other players are also strategic and will try to adjust their behavior accordingly. This thinking process is called “backward induction” in game theory. The better strategic thinking we have got, the more likely we will win (De Groot, 1978). It’s easy to see that chess Masters have to practice for the umpteenth time. 

Daily life is also a “game”, in a wider sense, with multiple players and sophisticated thinking processes. By interacting repeatedly in the same type of strategic setting, we learn many features of their environment and others’ behavior so that, eventually, we are able to come up with the best response. That is how we can level up our strategic reasoning ability.

Self-awareness refers to the capacity to know one’s strengths and limitations, that is, to be neither under- nor overconfident (Behave4, 2019). Someone who is adaptive without self-awareness changes irrationally for change’s sake and misunderstands the relationship between abilities, duties, and the environment. Therefore, being conscious of all the components in one’s identity is essential not only for oneself but also for the organization we are part of. Self-awareness is especially important for leadership roles because only after leaders know their companies’ capability, will they be able to decide which tactic is the most suitable for them and where they should improve.

From an individual’s viewpoint, we sometimes find it difficult to overcome a new situation. The good news is that the more adaptability we have, the faster our problem is solved. There’s a trend in favor of measuring not only Intellectual and Emotional Quotient but also “Adaptability Quotient“. You might wonder how AQ plays out. For instance, the skillset employees are required to display is constantly evolving. Note that according to Gartner’s reports, 64% of managers don’t think their employees are able to keep pace with future skill needs. Furthermore, 70% of employees say they haven’t even mastered the skills they need for their jobs today. That is why high IQ and EQ might help you excel at your current job but might not be enough to adapt quickly to new market needs. 

By being aware of what is missing, you can create a strategic plan of continuous learning to attain proper skills in priority order (as we bear in mind that the scarcity of time and effort may not allow us to pursue many skills at a time). If you are able to catch up with the changing pace, your job performance will grow steadily. This is when adaptability shows up and that’s why HR leaders and recruiters are increasingly looking for highly adaptable employees.

What is adaptability promising?

The accelerated globalization and the constant arrival of new technologies have led us to a terrifically volatile market. And the pandemic has amplified this trend further. The unique remedy for this conundrum is to manage a dynamic business operated with strategic flexibility and incorporating adaptable employees. Let’s take a look at the famous Moderna case, a great example of extreme adaptation in vaccine-making. By developing multiple trial programs simultaneously without knowing which one will be finally adopted by the market, their scientists are able to abandon non-promising projects promptly and undertake another venture very quickly. Such a culture conducive to adaptation yields immense competitive advantage and can hence generate tremendous profits for stakeholders.

What is helpful to be adaptable? 

Adaptable new hires 

Simply put, adaptable employees are easier to train, have the will of learning, and are not resistant to change. According to the 2021 Training Industry Report, U.S companies spent more than $722 per employee on average last year on training costs regardless of their size. Imagine the potential reduction in training costs if all your people were highly adaptable! 

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Adaptability evaluation

There are several frameworks to measure employees’ adaptability. For example, Ployhart and Bliese (2006) introduced a pretty comprehensive framework to conceptualize Individual adaptability and Career adaptability. However, being a hectic HR manager, it might be the case that you do not have enough time to apply such a complex conceptualization to evaluate all your staff. The question is whether there is an instrument that is objective, handy, and, of course, economical, to enable you to carry out this task.

The answer is yes! Let Kodo People do the hard work for you with our compact TA module. Our solution will help you gain key insights into your candidates’ adaptability potential through advanced economic games and fulfill any hiring process in three simple steps. Check out Kodo People’s solution here

What to avoid?

Adaptability without strategy

Up to a point, adaptability is a strength because of the associated ability to keep companies’ operations without disruption (Harford, 2012). Nevertheless, adaptability without a strategy can lead firms astray and lose profit. Here is where the managing board should practice their key orienting role. They should develop an adapting strategy concerning their core values. This means that over the company development, no matter what scenario employees are in, they know that there is a firm framework to follow, so they can be flexible without losing commitment to the long-term, strategic goals of the company. 

Depending on the company’s situation, managers can design an adapting strategy to manage uncertainties that either minimize uncertainties or cope with them, or that combines both mechanisms.

The minimizing uncertainties approach is especially prevalent in organizations where malfunctioning not only endangers business success but also human life and environmental integrity. However, the article of Burns & Stalker, 1961 pointed out that this approach will be optimal only in low-uncertainty contexts. With higher levels of uncertainty, any attempt to remove the uncertainties from the system will fail and therefore organizations will also need to cope with them using their own resources and capabilities (Emery, 1959). From this perspective, coping with uncertainty is the core objective in humanistic approaches to system design, empowering departments’ autonomy to choose goals and rules for goal achievement that consider their effectiveness for the organization. But what if your subordinate is not ready to be autonomous?

Kodo People can support you in knowing the way your people manage uncertainty by assessing their decision-making in economic games, both in the domain of gains and losses. In particular, our TA module considers two key elements of uncertainty management: “risk neutrality” and “loss aversion”. Candidates with optimal scores on the risk neutrality and loss aversion scales meet the basic needs to deal well with uncertainty and the best thing is that this test does not really depend on the specific position or sector/industry considered.

Adaptability without candor

Within an organization, adaptation should never be misled as a concession of commitment, regardless of the position of all relevant parties. It is straightforward that all inappropriate behaviors in the workplace must be criticized and eradicated. Hence, employees suffering from unfair treatment should not stand for it, but instead, raise their voices for objections regardless of the role of the person who is responsible for that. Since leaders expect their employees to be able to adapt, they must also support the staff demanding that their boss adapts to them. Indeed, leaders should guarantee that their people feel psychologically safe demanding that.   


In a landscape where changes are frenetic-pace, fostering internal capability can keep companies safe during the process of struggle, selection, and survival. In line with that, developing adaptive organizations is challenging, requiring both art and process. But it isn’t impossible. One way to consolidate this capability is to bring adaptable people into the business, which has several direct advantages: saving costs and time in human development, and a positive long-term impact on the level of adaptability of the company as a whole. If you are still deliberating the answer to “How?”, Kodo People is always here to help. 

Contact us today to not miss out on the path to becoming an adaptable org with adaptable people!

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