How Adaptability and Agility Are Valuable Skills for Successful HR Leaders

Please enjoy this special guest blog post about adaptability and agility for HR leaders written by Larry Ott, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer of Cooper Standard Automotive. Thank you, Larry!

In 2020, the working world changed forever. Businesses were forced to shut their doors overnight and, in many industries, work ground to a halt. Hybrid and remote work went from a luxury to a necessity. HR leaders faced a challenge: How could they keep the company working together in a time of necessary separation?

In such times of crisis—particularly those that so dramatically change the business landscape—two critical skills emerge in strong leaders: adaptability and agility. The terms might sound similar but, as you’ll see, they are distinct and equally important.

Employees need adaptable and agile leaders

If there is one thing we’ve all learned these past few years, it’s that crises are inevitable and change is constant. COVID-19, superconductor chip shortages, and war have caused disruptions in lives all over the world. People have had to adjust from working in an office to working in their living rooms.

Business leaders were called to support their employees during these sudden changes. Many rose to the occasion and their companies came out of the crisis stronger than ever for it. Others, however, fumbled the ball, leading to mass resignations, business closures, and millions of dollars lost in productivity.

In other words, some leaders were agile and able to adapt to the new normal quickly, while others were inflexible and, ultimately, paid for it.

Adaptability is your ability to adjust to changes

Remember when we said change is constant? That statement is more true than ever in the Information Age, where the world can change on a dime. It’s unrealistic to think you can prepare for every possible disaster. And, even if you could, there are some disasters you just can’t prepare for. 

That’s why adaptability is important. Being able to adjust to changes without friction is a priceless skill in an ever-changing world. Not only does it help the company as a whole stay steady on its feet, but your calm presence will also keep others calm, too.

Adaptable leaders don’t shy away from learning new systems or helping implement new technologies. As COVID raged on, adaptable leaders jumped at the chance to build remote-friendly working environments for their employees to keep the transition as smooth as possible.

Agility is about thinking—and acting—quickly

Where adaptability is your capacity to adjust to changes, agility is the speed at which you react to things. It’s precisely where the agile workflow, which is designed to be fast and flexible, gets its name.

Being able to react quickly when disaster strikes can be the difference between life and death in certain industries. You certainly wouldn’t want a sluggish firefighter or emergency room doctor! But even when the stakes aren’t so high, agility is a valuable skill. While other leaders are busy waffling, agile leaders are jumping onto trends, cutting losses early, and pivoting gracefully in the face of setbacks. 

When COVID-19 was first discovered, agile leaders immediately began preparing for the worst. They started designing and implementing systems like remote work options before it became necessary to give their companies more time to learn and adjust. By the time global lockdowns were becoming the norm—and other companies were scrambling to catch up—there was no need to panic.

How to master adaptability and agility

If you’ve read this far and you’re starting to worry that maybe you aren’t so adaptable and agile, there is hope. Like anything, adaptability and agility are skills. That is, with enough time and dedication, they can be learned, practiced, and mastered.

Finding ways to test your adaptability and agility in your everyday life is easier than you think, too. If you want to flex your adaptability and agility muscles…

Listen more than you talk

There’s a reason we are born with two ears and one mouth. The more information you can gather about a situation, the better equipped you’ll be in the face of challenges. Seek out your employees and listen to them. Find out what they’re struggling with, what they think is working, and what they need from you. Don’t wait for problems to come to you.

Always keep the business strategy in mind

It might not seem like it but human resource managers are also business managers. While their focus is on the employees of a company, their ultimate goal and guiding principle are the same: to help the business succeed.

Being familiar with the overarching business strategy of your company will give you a target to always aim for, no matter what is happening around you. If you find yourself lost, go back to the essentials. You’ll find solid ground there.

Whatever happens, don’t panic

Trust me when I say that plenty of other people will already be panicking. Do yourself a favor and don’t add to the frenzy. Take a beat to breathe and clear your head before jumping in. You’ll solve problems better when you’re not frazzled. Being a source of calm will help keep others calm, too.

How to make adaptability and agility a daily habit

Every day, you show up for your company however you can and do what’s best for your employees. It only makes sense that you would show up for yourself in the same way.

It won’t always be comfortable, but making a habit of practicing your adaptability and agility is a more than worthy endeavor. They’re two skills that, like a lot of other HR skills, are versatile and highly transferable. 

Lean into the discomfort. Challenge yourself to think and act more quickly. Embrace change instead of running away from it. And give the people you manage the attention and care they need to thrive. Do these things every single day. And when disaster strikes—and it will strike sooner or later—you’ll be ready to tackle it head-on.