Why and how you need to adapt to prevent stagnation

by | Jun 17, 2019 | Blog | 0 comments

Adapt. This verb is absent from the various “power verb” lists of ideal action words for strengthening your messages.

Yet, adapt is a potent and popular word to convey the adjustments we need to make as individuals and organizations. If we’re to survive and especially thrive in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment, we can’t stand still and stick with the status quo.

We must adjust, alter, transform, modify, and yes adapt, just as nature does. Otherwise, we can become stagnant.

Adapt has become so trendy in business circles that two global professional services firms, Korn Ferry and PwC, have turned “adapt” into an acronym.

As shown in this table, Korn Ferry is using ADAPT to define leadership competencies needed to respond to this disruptive business environment, while PwC’s version of ADAPT delineates the challenges facing organizations today. As PwC points out, ADAPT “evokes the inherent change in our time and the need for institutions to respond with new attitudes and behaviors.”


Korn Ferry: Individual leadership competencies

PwC: 5 basic challenges facing organizations
·    Anticipate

·    Drive

·    Accelerate

·    Partner

·    Trust

·  Asymmetry

·  Disruption

·  Age

·  Populism

·  Trust

As Humpty Dumpty explained, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” Here’s a brief synopsis of how Korn Ferry and PwC define their five words that form ADAPT.

From Korn Ferry:

  • Anticipate: Provide clear direction and context to make quick judgments and create opportunities.
  • Drive: Energize people by providing a sense of purpose and nurturing a positive environment to keep people hopeful, optimistic, and intrinsically motivated.
  • Accelerate: Produce constant innovation and desired business outcomes using agile processes, quick prototyping, and iterative approaches to rapidly implement and commercialize ideas.
  • Partner: Connect and form partnerships inside and outside the organization to improve idea exchanges and combine complementary capabilities to enable high performance.
  • Trust: Form a new relationship between the organization and the individual that centers on mutual growth, integrates diverse perspectives and values, and helps individuals to uncover their sense of purpose so they can make their maximum contribution.

You can read more here.

From PwC, the words that make up ADAPT capture the essence of the five basic challenges that organizations everywhere face due to a “global crisis of legitimacy.” PwC explains that the prominent businesses, governments, and multilateral institutions that created prosperity and contributed to higher living standards after World War II have now failed to keep their implicit promises to individuals and society. Individuals across the globe are now questioning the “influence” and “even the right of these organizations and institutions to exist.”

The five defined challenges are:

  • Asymmetry: Wealth disparity and the erosion of the middle class.
  • Disruption: Abrupt technological changes and their destructive effects.
  • Age: Demographic pressures as the average life span of human beings increases and the birth rate falls.
  • Populism: Growing populism and rejection of the status quo, with associated nationalism and global fracturing.
  • Trust: Declining confidence in the prevailing institutions that make our systems work.

You can read more here.

To the credit of both of these global organizations, they also suggest steps for organizations to take.

The actions require leaders to rethink their role, act with greater humility, and restore stakeholders’ trust in them and their institutions, which is similar to what others are saying.

We need to reinvent what leadership looks and acts like for today’s times. If you’re interested in delving into subject, three of my favorite resources are books I’ve recently read with college seniors for their College of Charleston organizational change class: The New Science of Radical Innovation: The Six Competencies Leaders Need to Win in a Complex World; Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age; and An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization. Another recommendation which I read through the Next Big Idea Book Club is New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World—and How to Make It Work for You.)

Determining what to do and then getting agreement and alignment internally is just the first step though. You’ve also got to figure out how to adapt and when to make further adjustments.

Unlike decades ago when stability was the norm in business, there are no roadmaps or scripts for leaders to follow now. Instead, you have to adapt continuously to the current environment. And at the same time, you also need to keep your eyes and ears open and seek out future opportunities and be curious about future changes. Ensuring you have one foot in the present and another in the future makes “adapt” such a powerful world.

Because you may need to modify quickly, it helps to set aside your old familiar scripts and instead embrace improv as a technique. For suggestions on what this entails, check out my blog post How to improve your leadership skills by doing more improv.

As to what specific behavior changes you and others make, think small and crisp, rather than big and slushy. In other words, rather than consider all the things you can do, ask yourself: What habits do you and other leaders need to adopt to provide your team with greater clarity? This may be committing to spending time at the end of your leadership meetings to agree on what to share with team members and what to ask them about to ensure you’re keeping a pulse on what they’re doing and discovering. Come up with a cadence and stick with it.

Being an adaptive leader means you’re always learning and connecting with others in your ecosystem. Like a healthy body of water in nature, you’re always moving, never stagnating.


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