Learning & Development

Leaders Must Exhibit Adaptive Capacity in 2022

The pandemic forced businesses to cope with unexpected change and create solutions on the fly. This flexibility will be critical to success in 2022. This article will discuss what adaptive capacity is, why it’s important, and how HR can help leaders overcome obstacles as they embrace it.

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It’s safe to say that the pandemic completely upturned the business world. The rate of change was incredible before the pandemic, but the pandemic accelerated that rate beyond normalcy. Not only did leaders have to visualize their teams’ success and make it happen, but they also had to remain flexible to meet the wide variety of emerging issues. This marked a new era for business—one in which adaptive capacity is critical for survival.

Adaptive capacity is how comfortable an individual is dealing with change or challenges to the status quo. It also involves how someone responds to situational variables with appropriate behaviors rather than default behaviors and tendencies. When business leaders understand that the controlling factor is the situation, they can choose behaviors that increase their adaptive capacity. In turn, this creates more flexible leadership.

Because the future is inherently uncertain, an adaptive leadership style is critical to long-term success. COVID-19 separated leaders who could adapt to uncertainty from those who could not. And in 2022, adaptive capacity will continue to determine who comes out on top and who slowly fades away. HR executives can help business leaders assess their default behaviors and embrace adaptive capacity.

The Pandemic’s Impact on Businesses

The pandemic challenged the status quo in business, particularly in terms of what people think about leadership, delegation, performance management, and trust. It also raised questions about remote work productivity, protocols that create obstacles to existing processes, new conditions of employment related to health and safety, and how to capture profits through new production and delivery methods. Businesses’ ability to respond to these challenges is directly related to their leaders’ adaptive capacity.

According to McKinsey & Co., many organizations managed to change their operations model during the pandemic with the rise of remote work. Businesses with a highly successful transformation were more likely to be top-quartile performers among peers. But businesses that didn’t invest in transformation performed the worst. This goes to show that adaptive capacity is the key to success moving forward.

It’s important to note that adaptive capacity falls on a spectrum. Some leaders (and businesses) consider themselves naturally agile, while others have to work hard to increase their adaptive capacity. However, the efforts to overcome any obstacles will be worth it in the long run. HR executives just need to get company leadership on the same page.

Adaptive Capacity Leadership Barriers

For many business leaders, changing behavioral responses to challenging situations doesn’t come naturally. While business leaders tend to be talented and intelligent, learning new behavioral responses can be difficult when the past behaviors suited their organizations’ needs in most cases. Adding new behavior choices is often uncomfortable and can cause leaders to feel vulnerable. People cling to behaviors that served them well in the past, which can hinder adaptive capacity.

Instead of waiting for agility to ripple from the bottom up, HR executives have to encourage leaders to take charge of their transformations and help them self-reflect. These practices can help spark an adaptive leadership style.

First, HR executives must explain how agility and flexibility are critical for success, and leaders must understand the value of adaptive capacity leadership. Then, leaders must be encouraged to consider the company’s operating model. Does it support and connect teams rather than holding them back? Will it pave the way for a bright future? Finally, HR executives should work with company leaders to ensure the transformation is completed in less than 18 months. According to McKinsey & Co., this will preserve momentum and avoid exhausting the company.

Adaptive leadership training requires leaders to evaluate their behaviors and how they can affect their organizations. By successfully transforming and exhibiting adaptive capacity, HR can make sure leaders learn from the past, adapt to the present, and prepare for the future.

Dan Harrison, PhD, is the founder and CEO of Harrison Assessments. The company’s award-winning, cloud-based technology provides secure, job-specific predictive analytics that enhance the candidate and employee experience. Its assessment science and technology saves HR professionals and managers time and money while enabling them to hire and onboard the best candidates, target individual and team development needs, identify high potentials, and analyze engagement/employee satisfaction.

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