Posted: 26 Jun. 2020 5 min. read

Navigating through unchartered waters

How building an adaptable mindset is critical for the transition to an adaptable organization

Posted by Aparupa BhattacharyaJoshua AkmanCameron WilkKatherine Curran, and Kathi Enderes on June 26, 2020.

In these unprecedented times, we are seeing clients taking stock of the short and long term effects of the “new normal.” We know that this new normal will be defined by more virtual work, more flexible work arrangements, and call for increased agility on the part of the organization and the individual. This is truly a fundamental shift. It means moving away from the tried and true hierarchical structure, profit-driven, and siloed organization to one that is designed to enable agile, purpose-driven, network-based teams. We refer to this as an adaptable organization.

Even prior to the defining events caused by COVID-19, we had observed organizations considering transitioning to a more adaptable organization (AO). Nine out of ten companies were exploring organizational redesign, often breaking down functional silos and replacing them with cross-functional collaboration models to drive innovation, speed, customer value, and operational efficiency. We expect the impacts of COVID-19 to make this transition more urgent. The “new normal” will further compel organizations to consider the transition to an adaptable organization

We project that workforce-related challenges will continue to put pressure on traditional organizational structures and constructs. Organizations must be able to efficiently and effectively ideate, operate, and innovate in a manner that continues to deliver on their strategy and customer expectations, all while managing a distributed workforce. Transitioning to an adaptable organization will assist organizations in thriving in this time of disruption.

An adaptable organization can truly thrive when leaders embrace an evolved mindset and new behaviors.

As we help our clients transition to an adaptable organization, we are seeing a need to define the “adaptable mindset.” As leaders focus on mechanically engineering the organization to be adaptable, they should also be nurturing adaptable behaviors within their people. For organizations to effectively navigate the “unchartered waters” in the transition to an adaptable organization, they should be targeted and intentional about fostering this adaptable mindset.

An adaptable mindset is a foundation for this evolution; it is the boat that will safely carry an organization through the unchartered waters of this disruptive time. While there is no “right” set of behaviors, leading organizations are finding that there are common sets of behavioral attributes at the foundation of the adaptability mindset.

Our experience has shown that successfully transitioning to, sustaining, and thriving within an adaptable organization relies on the below attributes:

  • Purpose and meaning: The individual can see a purpose within his/her work, beyond profits.
  • Human-centered: The individual feels trusted and has definable ownership within the organization.
  • Simplified architecture: The individual can focus on his or her work without the distraction of organizational complexity, unhelpful layers of management, or confusing duplication.
  • Connected networks: The individual can tap into the multiplier effect of partners or resources in the ecosystem that may not necessarily live with the organization’s four walls (e.g., crowdsource).

These behaviors vary in how they look and feel at different organizations. So, how can organizations understand whether (and where) these behaviors appear today? How can they measure their “adaptable quotient?” 

Typically, we start with a pulse survey, probing on traits that lead to adaptability in organizations. The survey measures adaptability through gauging comfort with decisiveness, experimenting, challenging, and risk-taking. Organizations can use the survey data to understand how specific functions/teams might transition to an adaptable org model. 

Effectively analyzing the adaptable quotient can help assist in the transition to an adaptable organization by:

  • Driving results without having to rely on command and control
  • Engaging employees, especially amid our current unprecedented times
  • Drive understanding of how to act to drive sustainable performance in line with the strategy
  • Build a maximally flexible system, knowing that organizational values and high levels of trust will help the ship adjust itself as new challenges arise

In these uncertain and disruptive times, it is critical to building resiliency and flexibility. Organizations that intentionally assess their adaptability quotients to build upon their adaptability mindset can be more successful and better positioned to thrive in the new normal. 


Aparupa Bhattacharya, Human Capital Consulting managing director, the leader in the health care sector

Joshua Akman, Human Capital Consulting manager, focused on health care

Cameron Wilk, Human Capital consultant, specializing in organizational design

Katherine Curran, Human Capital Consultant, focused on health care

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