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Maybe it has been so incremental that you haven’t really noticed,
but it’s likely that your business isn’t
the same as it was just a few short
years ago. Technology, which has
played a huge role in shaping the world
of work, is just one factor contributing
to this change. The dynamic nature of
21st century organizations is another:
They acquire other companies, expand
to other parts of the world, shrink
product offerings, outsource projects
and so on. Through it all, though, the
demand on the employees remains the
same: They must adapt.
Adaptability involves an individual’s
ability and willingness to respond to
change. The U. S. Army and other organizations have been studying adaptive
performance for at least a decade because
of the high value—and increasing importance—of the practice.
How can HR professionals select
employees who will perform well in an environment that requires continuous learning?
For one thing, they can focus more on
a job candidate’s interpersonal skills and
character traits, like integrity and reliability, and less on his or her technical abilities, since the demand for those is likely to
change over time. For example, consider
an entry-level incumbent who may not
have all the skills required for a project
but who demonstrates a strong desire to
learn and is deeply motivated by the organization’s mission. You can likely fill that
skills gaps with technical training.
But even when you accept as a given
that you’ll need to provide training, how
can you make sure it is effective?
Start with the hiring process. While
you probably won’t eliminate the need
for technical experience altogether,
identify candidates who are adap-
tive—and likely to respond well to
training—and factor that information
into your decision-making process.
Research has identified the following three characteristics that can help
predict whether an individual will effectively respond to change:
High cognitive ability. People with
elevated cognitive capacity tend to be
better equipped to deal with mentally
demanding situations, in part due to
their ability to learn new tasks or technologies more quickly. (The 2016 Future
of Jobs report from the World Economic
Forum concluded that aspects of cognitive ability, such as complex problem-solving and critical thinking, will make
up half of the top 10 skills workers will
need in 2020.)
Conscientiousness. When things
get tough, the tough keep going. Highly
conscientious employees are more likely
to struggle through uncertainty to complete a task.
Openness to experience. People
who score favorably on personality tests
for this trait are more willing to revise
their initial approaches based on new
experiences and information.
You can measure each of these three
characteristics in multiple ways, including through off-the-shelf assessments.
If your organization or the position
you’re hiring for is dynamic, keep these
attributes in mind during the selection
process. In addition to predicting adapt-
ability, this information will help you
to better predict a person’s work per-
formance across jobs and industries. As
exponential changes continue to shape
the new world of work, you’ll need
employees who will adapt
along with it.
Shonna Waters is vice
president of research at
By Shonna Waters
Adapt or Die
Your business will suffer if your employees aren’t flexible.