Responsiveness to Change

Responsiveness to Change

From my experience the topic covered in the below article is something that is on everyone’s agenda today, even though not always prioritized the way it should be.

Digital tools are introduced in the business environment affecting significant changes in the way we communicate, work and do business. This has given rise to new opportunities and challenges, and has triggered the Digital Transformation of enterprises.

Important elements for successful digitization are innovation, excellent change management and digital maturity. I have been involved in numerous transformations in my operative career as well in my role as Consultant and seen both successes and failures. Key factors, critical for success, have always been how we manage the change management process and how we prepare, educate and set up the organisation for the new situation. Questions you need to ask yourself and assess before you move in to a transformation process are: How adaptable is the organisation, and the people, to the new business model? Will the organisation adapt to the new reworked processes? And will this organisation live up to the future demand of continuous improvement?

If you want to discuss this text or related tasks please do not hesitate to contact me by phone, skype or mail. I am always curious to hear your opinion and understand more about the situation in your organisation.


Charles Darwin once said “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent that survive. It is the ones that are most adaptable to change”.

History has proved this time and time again – n evolution, in civilization and also in the world of business. Berkshire Hathaway, controlled by Warren Buffett, has been able to survive multiple financial crises and is today one of the world’s largest companies whilst others like Eastman Kodak failed to anticipate how fast digital technology were going to change their business.

Google changes it product lines and algorithms multiple time per year. Successfully growing International Food and Coffee chains continuously manage to change their menus and flavours in response to consumer preferences and different global consumer tastes.

Every business will have problems, and the only way to overcome a problem is to change and try a different approach. On top of this add a rapidly changing modern world – digitization, globalization and increased competition.

Dealing with problems and change requires a key skill. Adaptability.

Yet adaptability is dying. In fact a survey carried out by PwC (1) actually found that 63% of CEO’s worldwide are unable to recruit employees that can adapt to the requirements of their business.

But like many unwanted epidemics, the decline in adaptability is actually often something created by the hiring managers themselves.

The curse of specialization

We live in era of specialization. Nowadays there is a specialist for everything. Specialization is useful but like anything has its limits.

As hiring managers, we have become too focused on relevant experience. Finding “ideal fits”, overlooking the fact that the real world is more blurred and sometimes common sense prevails. If our workers are too focused on one particular thing, they will begin to lack everyday essential skills and they certainly won’t be able to deal with unexpected problems.

A fascinating article in Time Magazine called “One Patient, Too Many Doctors” (2) during 2014 summarizes this perfectly. The study shows that too much specialization in American hospitals is resulting in more costly, mediocre and disorganized health care. One patient admitted for shortness of breath was seen by over fifteen specialists before being sent home without the issue being resolved.

Rather than trying to hire specialists for everything, we also need people who can adapt easily to solve problems.

The curse of industry experience

As hiring managers, we are obviously inclined to go with previous relevant experience. It’s human nature to go with something that “seems” more certain.

But by hiring the same people from the same sector, we are hiring less adaptable employees. Those who do the same thing over and over again, eventually get used to doing nothing else.

As many studies have shown, hiring people from competitors has limited success. These candidates are much less likely to have worked in a new environment where they have learned to adapt quickly.

Like everything else, adaptability is something that gets better through practice.

When recruiting for adaptability, candidates who have demonstrated the ability to learn different things over and over again are better than those who have been working in a single sector.

Too much specialization is killing adaptability and many leaders don’t value adaptability enough. Perhaps the biggest barrier to looking for more adaptable employees is the fact that most leaders are simply not aware of this.

Studies such as “Adaptability: The New Competitive Advantage” (3) produced by the Harvard Business Review even mentioned that adaptability is the new competitive advantage in the workplace today.

Yet interviews are still focused mainly on experience, qualifications and past achievements. The 90’s and 00’s was the time of specialization – and we were interested in screening hard against very specific requirements.

The current and future circumstances are very different. Things are changing fast and will continue to – only those who can adapt quickly will consistently have an impact.

So, how do you screen for adaptability? How do you measure it? If you don’t know, then you will simply ignore it and eventually get caught and passed by others who are more able to embrace new opportunities.  


Employee adaptability is one of the most essential requirements in business today.

Leaders that recruit must make a conscious effort to ensure that all hires are not simply able to carry out the expected tasks today, but also are able to change quickly to grasp new opportunities, solve problems and react quickly to changing context and competition.

To rap up I chose the following interpretation (4) of what Darwin said “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”  This is so true for the rapidly changing business environment we encounter every day, and most certainly this speed of change will increase even more in the future.

So, remember you’ll have a better chance of survival if you recognise the genuine realities of your internal situation as well as the external changes. Is your organisation responsive to change?

Please contact us if you want to discuss how we can support and prepare your organisation to be more responsive and adaptable to change.  

(1) Adapt to survive – How better alignment between talent and opportunity can drive economic growth. (2) One Patient, Too Many Doctors: The Terrible Expense of Overspecialization, Dr. Sandeep Jauhar Time Magazine, Aug. 19, 2014 (3) Adaptability: The New Competitive Advantage by Martin Reeves and Mike Deimler Harvard Business Review, the July 2011 Issue (4) Dr Leon C. Megginson at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1963.

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