There is a popular saying among many leaders, and it goes something like this: “The last words of any great organization are ‘We’ve always done it this way.’”

Yes, it is a little trite, but it is also very true--and research seems to back up that assertion. According to a 2012 study out of the University of California at Berkley, businesses that have a company culture of rigidity and inflexibility tend to perform worse than those with adaptability.

Adaptability, in this context, does not mean that the company has a weak culture, but rather a culture that can withstand—or even transcend—change.

“Our research shows that strong cultures are not necessarily a disadvantage in dynamic environments,” the study authors write. “In fact, we learned that firms with strong cultures actually perform better financially, growing more over time, in economically turbulent periods but only if they intensely hold a cultural norm of adaptability.”

Adaptability Needs to Permeate

We know that adaptability in the marketplace allows a company to pivot and move and take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves, which will contribute to the company’s financial success. But researchers found that the idea of adaptability goes beyond just reacting to market trends: it is a concept that permeates the culture of an organization.

“By ‘adaptability,’ we mean a firm’s support of risk-taking, willingness to experiment, initiative-taking, along with the ability to be fast-moving and quick to take advantage of opportunities. Firms that successfully cultivate adaptability tend to permit their people to express themselves in wide-ranging behaviors, and this freedom of expression helps employees to fully explore divergent solutions to a problem.”

Adaptability Should Include Employee Mobility

Not only does adaptability make for better financial results, but it can also make for happier employees. In this case we are talking about the flexibility that comes from encouraging internal mobility.

According to a recent study by LinkedIn, about 75% of professionals identify themselves as willing to entertain an offer from another company if one is made, even if they are happy in their current role. Why so many passive candidates?

Often, employees see too few possibilities for advancement within their current company, and managers and HR professionals are not asking their direct reports what their visions are for their careers. Those employees often do not have mentors who can help guide them. Instead, companies spend time crossing their fingers that employees won’t leave, while turning a blind eye to the one tool that could help retention: internal mobility.

Internal mobility is a direct result of a willingness to be adaptable. Instead of trying to keep employees stuck in the roles that they were hired to perform, companies should encourage their employees to explore their career options—within the company.

Companies should let employees from accounting who might have an interest in engineering shadow an employee from that department to get a feel for what that position does every day, for example. They can encourage employees to help on projects in other departments or that may be outside of the scope of their day-to-day duties. They can also look to employees as a resource to be tapped when there are openings in other departments to which they may be well suited.

Adaptability is often approached a market perspective, but it can be an element of corporate culture that has a wide reach. Promoting a mentality of adaptability and internal mobility can mean that your best employees remain just that — yours.

14 August 2014

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