Adaptability: Embracing the new superpower
A lot of activity in the last two years has been about “surviving” in a period of great uncertainty. Yet, we all seem ready to move forward. I hear confidence, even hopefulness, coming back into conversations I have with customers. They navigated chaos, uncertainty, video meetings, and – for some – understanding their kids’ math homework. Having come this far, people seem ready to move forward and they believe they’ve built some skills to do so no matter what the future holds.
The question before individuals and businesses alike is how they will turn “surviving” into “thriving” in 2022 and beyond. And I think the answer for everyone boils down to “adaptability.”
From surviving to embracing adaptability
Think of adaptability as a new superpower we all need to develop. It’s a new way of living in a world of fluid situations and conditions. Adaptability is proactive as well as reactive. You can drive the changes as well as adjust to them.
Companies adopted new technologies since the start of the pandemic in 2020. But, adoption alone is not adaptation. A company that bought extra bandwidth because employees were working from home adopted technology. A company that rethought how it manages people, measures productivity, and supports workers during trying times adapted to the environment. Building that adaptive capacity into corporate culture is key to developing this new superpower.
Likewise, some businesses moved things online in survival mode. Some of those companies survived and some did not. Some managers loosened the reins and trusted their people to find the best ways to support customers. New teams formed and new value-creation chains took shape. And having done that once, the institutional knowledge gained will help those companies navigate the uncertainties ahead. They became more adaptable in their organizational DNA.
Moving forward, technology will help drive this new adaptability into operations. Yet, technology will be a second or third consideration in the process of driving change. The starting points will be built on at least three attributes and each of them have several aspects to consider:
Trust: In a distributed workforce, managers need to trust that employees will get their work done and focus more on measuring outputs (i.e., was the desired output delivered on time and did it meet set expectations), rather than tracking inputs (i.e., how many hours were worked and when). Employees need to trust that the company has their backs when they take risks or when they have a childcare issue to deal with. Customers need to trust that vendors and partners can pivot quickly when their environments change. Organizationally, companies need to be able to trust the connections they have with employees, customers, and their partners. In that context, IT security is not just a defensive mechanism; it becomes a means of establishing trust.
Learning ability: In a fast-changing world, knowledge is a competitive advantage. It drives action. Fortunately, data is everywhere. To be a learning organization, enterprises will need to acquire, analyze, and act on data all the time. Sometimes the data will not be perfect, and it might even contradict conventional wisdom such as when the pandemic did NOT bring on a massive recession. You will need to develop the capacity to read signals from the environment and quickly combine that with what’s already known, or make small changes (e.g., A-B testing) to develop more data. Data becomes a building block of scaling initiatives as the organization learns what works.
Collaboration and innovation: Rules and processes will always have their place in business; yet rigid lines are the exact opposite of adaptability. Senior management should always hold people accountable; yet top-down decision-making and micro-management are also opposed to adaptability. Cross-functional collaboration, fluid organizational structures and diffused power to act will drive competitive advantage, employee engagement and customer satisfaction. Once again, trust and data are key enablers of this type of collaboration and innovation. If something can be reduced to a rule, automate it. Artificial intelligence (AI) can surface insights for experimentation and accelerated decision-making.
Adapting and thriving in rapidly changing times
We’ve all been talking about the accelerating pace of change for a long time. That didn’t necessarily prepare us for a pandemic.
Collectively, we learned a lot in the last two years about how fast we can change and make it work for customers, employees, and stakeholders. At Lumen, our customers weren’t asking us about specific technologies or infrastructure. They needed to learn how to do new things, solve problems and create new opportunities in an unpredictable environment. And they needed to do it fast because everything was at stake. As I said at the beginning, the technology itself was a second or third topic in the discussion.
Enterprises are moving forward with a new technology baseline. Yet, they’ll need to have something more than that. A new appreciation for adaptability.
Are you ready to move forward? Let’s talk.
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