Being flexible and adaptable are mindset qualities that employers want worldwide. They are critical in dealing with chance and change whether you are looking for work, in a job or navigating your career direction. The best-laid plans go wrong, unexpected events occur, unforeseen dilemmas arise, and you often have to work with ambiguity and uncertainty. How can you develop being flexible and adaptable for your job and career?
What is being flexible?
Flexibility is about:
- Being open-minded and prepared to compromise about what work you do, when, where and how you do it, and who with.
- Your willingness to contribute and serve even when you didn’t expect to.
- Changing your plans in a flash if the boss needs you to, so get used to prioritising and re-prioritising.
- Your colleagues being able to rely on you stepping in to help in a crisis.
- A ‘give and take’ attitude in work relationships, sometimes outside of your role and responsibilities to meet a deadline or critical business need.
- A way of increasing your breadth of experience, exposing you to a wider range of activities and responsibilities.
- Accepting that it’s okay to zig-zag in your career and to try out new things.
What is being adaptable?
Adaptability is about how you adapt to change, uncertainty, new challenges, unexpected obstacles, changing circumstances, new information, and different settings. For example,
- Returning home after graduating means adapting to home life again and not treating your parent’s home like a student house.
- When you start a new job, everything is new and unfamiliar. The quicker you adapt to the way things are done, the quicker you settle in as part of the team and start being productive.
- Losing your job means adapting to difficult circumstances, where your priorities will change.
No one wants to employ someone who says ‘I can’t or won’t do that’, ‘It’s not my job’, ‘it’s not in my job description’. Nor someone who is too rigid, digs their heels in and puts themselves before others.
- Your boss asks you to drop what you are doing and to stay late to complete an urgent job. Do you change direction when necessary? Or do you stick with your own assumptions?
- A new process is introduced at work. The process you use currently works fine for you. Do you set and re-negotiate priorities when dealing with change? Or do you like to do things the same way time after time?
- You have a presentation tomorrow and you can’t get hold of a critical piece of information in time. Do you decide and act without having the full picture? Or do you prefer things nailed down and sure?
9 ways to develop flexibility and adaptability
- Spot opportunities to compromise and be accommodating. Ask yourself ‘what can I live with?’, ‘what am I prepared to give and give up?’, ‘why not?’ instead of ‘why should I?’
- Be curious. Ask questions to ensure you consider all the options. Test out your understanding of what you’re unexpectedly being asked to do without it coming across as a challenge.
- Practice patience with good humour in response to changes. Pause, give yourself enough breathing and thinking space.
- Seek out diverse views. Explore ideas different from your own to help you think and act differently. Volunteer or work abroad.
- Adapt an existing routine. Put a different behaviour inside an existing routine. For example, you could put your top five most important tasks for the week as a screensaver on your mobile. You’ll prompt yourself every time you look at your phone. Here’s the test: if one of your top 5 tasks suddenly changes, will you adapt or will you be thrown by it?
- Change a deadline. –Got a deadline to meet next week? Set yourself an earlier deadline to test out your flexibility and adaptability.
- Set small goals. Write down a few things each week that you will be more flexible with. Then track your progress throughout the week. Evaluate your results. Where did you succeed? Where did you fail? Why did you fail? What can you do better next time?
- Reward yourself. Give yourself incentives to stick to the goals you’ve set. When you’ve done ‘X’ amount of whatever you’ve chosen, you get to do something you really enjoy doing that you normally wouldn’t have time for.
- See the bigger picture. Learn to adapt to the goals of your organisation and make sense of new directions. Recognize that your growing flexibility is a sure-fire way to increase your breadth of experience and progress.
You thrive if you show how you cope with ambiguity and adapt to change willingly and with agility. Developing a flexible attitude helps you learn to leap more comfortably when change inevitably impacts on your world. Being flexible and adaptable open up options and possibilities, increasing the chance of being in the right place at the right time for you and your ambitions.
Will you seize the day?