The Adaptability Quotient: How To Thrive in a Fast-Changing Work Environment

Jessamy Amic

Posted: July 24, 2023

Table of Contents

Multiple forces of change — demographics, globalisation, technology, automation — are coming together at an unprecedented pace and scale, forcing businesses and employees to adapt to new working patterns, working locations, and working styles.

For leaders, it means constantly rethinking how their business creates value and stays relevant in an uncertain environment. It’s even more frightening for employees who are not only caught off-guard by disruptions but are seeing the expiration date of their skills being drastically shortened by technological advancements. Research by IBM shows that most skills have a “half-life” of around five years, with more technical skills at just two and a half years. The most durable skills, such as project management, design thinking, effective communication and leadership, have a half-life of less than seven and a half years.

A key skill to remaining employable in ambiguous environments is the ability to adapt — a skill so important that it has become a metric, now called the Adaptability Quotient (AQ). Originally coined by author and career coach Stuart Parkin, it has become an essential measure for evaluating prospective employees’ ability to overcome challenges or adversity.

According to Indeed, being flexible, willing to learn new skills, and adept at taking on new challenges are now highly desired qualities employers seek in candidates. One UK study found 91% of HR decision-makers valued candidates with the ability to “cope with change” above all else.

Let’s look at what AQ is, why you need it, and how to develop it.

What is the Adaptability Quotient?

A person’s AQ is seen as one of four types of intelligence; just as IQ is regarded as a measure of intelligence, EQ is a measure of emotional intelligence, and SQ is social intelligence. It refers to a person’s resilience and ability to adjust in real-time, thrive in dynamic and uncertain situations, adapt in the face of change, have the capacity to learn and unlearn quickly, overcome challenges, and embrace change and disruption as opportunities for growth and innovation. It’s rolling with the punches and working with change instead of against it.

Traits of people with a high AQ:

  • They are open-minded and actively work on managing their unconscious biases to remain open to possibilities.
  • They actively seek to view situations from others’ perspectives.
  • They prioritise developing new skills and continually invest in their own learning to better prepare themselves for an uncertain future.

Why is AQ important?

Having a high AQ benefits individuals and the company they work for. It allows businesses to swiftly change course, leverage advancing technology, prepare for multiple possible outcomes, handle unexpected crises better, and prioritise sustainable business practices.

For individuals, a high AQ means being more adept at solving problems, learning and adopting emerging technologies faster, staying relevant as AI advances, transitioning job roles or careers with greater ease, and fluidly changing course in times of crisis.

How to develop your AQ

From employers to leaders and humble employees, everyone has a role to play in increasing a company and an individual’s AQ. Here are six sure-fire ways:

  1. Employers should encourage workforce adaptability by promoting a collaborative culture, supporting strong communication and teamwork amongst colleagues, welcoming fresh ideas and suggestions, and attracting individuals with a high AQ who can mentor others struggling to adapt.
  2. Businesses can stay ahead of the curve by upskilling and reskilling their employees in the latest methodologies, so creating an adaptive and innovative workforce.
  3. Leaders can create an environment of resiliency to stress and adaptability to change by embracing a pacesetting leadership style and modelling the high-AQ behaviour they want to see in their employees.
  4. As an individual, you should take control of your learning journey and recognise that you need ongoing professional development. This will make you more marketable for years to come.
  5. When facing change, adopt a beginner’s mindset. This makes you receptive to new ideas and possibilities, enables you to see creative solutions to challenges, and you’ll be more likely to ask for help, all of which accelerate your progress.
  6. Embrace the five-hour rule used by Jack Ma, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk. The most adaptable (and successful) people devote five hours per week solely to reading and learning.

Essential soft skills for a high AQ

Your AQ consists of a distinct set of soft (power) skills, all of which can be learnt by enrolling in our Power Skills Essentials course.

Flexibility is the ability to adjust one’s thinking, behaviour, and approach in response to change, remaining productive and effective in the face of uncertainty.

Resilience and mental agility allow you to bounce back from setbacks, find innovative solutions, and maintain productivity in highly ambiguous environments.

Proactivity is being able to take initiative and not wait for permission or instructions to act. It includes taking responsibility for your actions and looking for ways to change your environment.

Emotional intelligence (considered by some as more important than IQ for career success, leadership, and well-being) is the ability to identify, regulate, understand, and express your emotions and recognise those of others.

Analytical and creative thinking are, according to WeForum Future of Jobs Report 2023, the most important skills in terms of workers’ ability to adapt to disrupted workplaces. They are closely followed by resilience, flexibility and agility; motivation and self-awareness; and curiosity and lifelong learning.

Build an adaptable workforce with MasterStart

The future of work depends on our ability to learn and adapt. But adaptability takes practice,, and with practice, a good starting point is to understand how adaptable you or your team currently are. Take our quick adaptability quotient assessment to get a benchmark.

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