Cultivate Your Adaptability

In my last blog post, I wrote about being and staying learning agile to keep our people’s skills up-to-date. One important factor we look at is the ability to adapt, and do it quickly, also known as the Adaptability Quotient (AQ). At Spotify, we hire for adaptability and do our best to encourage and cultivate it with a strong learning culture.

Why Adaptability?

But why is there so much talk about adaptability nowadays and why is this a need? We have all realized by now that the pace of change will not slow down. Moving into the 4th industrial revolution we can conclude that the pace is increasing more rapidly. Skills learned in formal education or on the job used to last for decades. This was the case as recently as the 1980’s, or even the 90’s. Now we know that the shelf life of a number of skills is decreasing dramatically, and we should expect to be part of a number of paradigm shifts within a lifetime.

This means that to thrive in constant change with big shifts, we need to have the ability to adapt to new situations, to understand how to navigate change, and use it as a catalyst for new ways of thinking and working. ‘New’ is the keyword here. Let me explain more – adjusting a behaviour within a familiar framework is the equivalent to being flexible. However, in a world of new situations continuously being presented, we need to be able to handle the unknown, to learn something new or to unlearn old ways. It’s about adding or subtracting rather than adjusting, coping or stretching current abilities. Essentially, we need to change the underlying assumptions for how things work.

AQ Is Even More Important Than IQ And EQ

To be able to thrive and stay employable there are many workplace researchers arguing that the need for adaptability is super high, along with having other transferable skills such as proactivity, leadership, creativity, problem-solving and communication (to name a few). And what’s really detrimental is that so many people are missing these core employability skills to stay relevant in the future of work.

Even if all core employability skills can’t be learned overnight, at Spotify we think adaptability is a key skill (or group of skills) to focus on. We would even dare to say that it’s more important than having a high IQ (Intelligence Quotient), which used to be the predominant measure of successful people, and a high EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), even if these skills are also topping the list.

Why are we placing AQ at the very top of the list? Because it will help leaders and team-members to adjust to volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous situations. And in Spotify terms – our controlled chaos. When asking a number of C-suite leaders, EY researchers found that adaptability was a critical leadership skill as it will help leaders handle unusual situations without explicit instruction. And, looking at Linkedin Learnings workplace reports, we can see that adaptability has been on the top five list for the past couple of years. In 2021, adaptability took the # 1 position together with resilience as being the most important skills to develop.

Adaptability And Flexibility

This increased focus on the need for adaptability and resilience tells us a lot. As mentioned above it’s important to understand the difference between adaptability and flexibility, as that can make or break someone’s health. 

Having high AQ entails a holistic understanding of a change and why it’s needed. Without the understanding it will not be possible to build the will to adapt as a person might be flexible and seem to adapt on the surface, but not in the long run. It’s not sustainable to play the same game again and again when the rules are changing. 

Increase Adaptability In The Workplace

To be able to increase adaptability in the workplace, it’s helpful to think holistically about the aspects involved in developing adaptability. Developing adaptability is developing one’s mindset. It includes increasing self-awareness to understand your thinking and reasoning for acting in certain ways. It’s not until you are aware of your thoughts and actions, you can actually choose to do something differently. Also, building resilience to quickly recover from set-backs is a crucial component of being adaptable. And another is having an open mind, being open to new possibilities and exploring potential new paths. 

Creativity comes with new impressions and engaging with people that are not necessarily like you, listening to other perspectives and holding that judgment back.

With all this talk about the importance of adaptability, what are we doing at Spotify to stay adaptable? 

In our hiring process we are very explicit about our culture and the reality we live in to make it easier for candidates to understand what type of workplace Spotify is and make an active choice. We understand, embrace and are transparent about the fact that our environment may not attract everyone. We also look for adaptability throughout the hiring process with the help of behaviour based interviewing to understand how candidates think and act in situations of change and disruption.

For those Spotifiers already in the band, we offer several tools for working with self-awareness and other critical skills building the foundation for adaptability, such as resilience, problem solving and creativity. And this is all on the foundation of one of our best multi-tools for enabling adaptability – teaching the Growth Mindset (awareness) and supporting our band members to understand how they can cultivate it (action).

As a (HR) leader, challenge your workforce to have an open mind, and be open to new possibilities and exploring potential new paths, and you’ll be taking the first enormous step in keeping your workforce relevant and up-to-date with the skills they need. You will also support them to stay employable in the future by cultivating adaptability. 

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Global Head of GreenHouse - Learning & Development at Spotify