Leaders adapt to change

6 Ways Business Leaders Can Adapt in This Ever-Changing World

  • The world is changing by the day — or by the hour, really — and business leaders must learn to adapt to stay competitive.
  • When it comes to adapting to this change, “you simplify every single time,” says Tom Libelt of Smart Brand Marketing. “Stop thinking about all these other things and the bloat in the company.”
  • It’s essential you learn how to manage your time. Adapting to change isn’t about staying busy — it’s about staying productive and sticking to your vision.


We all face it all the time, but we perhaps haven’t experienced the type of change that’s hit us in the past year.

As a business, how do you deal with such rapid change? How can you stay competitive in a constantly changing market? How do you finally break through a business plateau?

The answer lies in one word: adaptability.

“If you’re not adaptable, long-range, you’re not going to be successful,” says Kathy Atkins, founder and CEO of The Latitude Group, a business strategy and development company.

Atkins, along with Tom Libelt of Smart Brand Marketing and Paul Casey of Growing Forward Services joined the BOLD Business Podcast to talk about all things change and adaptability.

6 Ways to Adapt Amid Rapid Change

When we get hit with rapid change, sometimes our first instinct is to shut down — just shut your eyes and hope it all goes back to “normal” ASAP.

On the other end of the spectrum, some of us react with panic. We switch into overdrive and feel like we suddenly need to cross at least 100 items off our daily to-do lists to be productive.

Neither of these tactics is a useful way to adapt to change. Instead, take advice from our three experts.

1. Take a Deep Breath and Assess the Situation

When you get hit with change, you never want to be a deer in headlights. Panic doesn’t help you make a smart decision, and you’ll find yourself second-guessing everything.

Rather, take a deep breath and give yourself plenty of time to assess the situation.

If you need some structure in this process, Casey outlines six elements necessary to conquering change (S/O to Vista Associates for these):

  • Trust
  • Vision
  • Skills
  • Resources
  • Payoff
  • Action

You need to have all these elements — and pay attention to each — to effectively adapt to change.

For instance, “Sometimes we have a situation where we do have constrained resources — we only have the resources that we have, and we don’t have the ability to get other resources,” Atkins says. “So in that case, we need to use the resources that we have and find a way to leverage those.”

Kathy Atkins - p249 - Rapid Change and Adaptability

The same goes for your skills. Ask yourself: Where are you strong? Where are you weak? How can you take advantage of opportunities and address threats? Those will be the skills that matter most when it comes to adapting to change.

2. Simplify, simplify, simplify

Sometimes, when we get slapped with the change, our natural instinct is to overcomplicate things — conquer a dozen tasks at once. But that’s not the right approach.

“When things hit the fan, you simplify every single time,” Libelt says. “Stop thinking about all these other things and the bloat in the company.”

Tom Libelt - p249 - Rapid Change and Adaptability

Instead, focus on what you need to do and the easiest and fastest way to get that done. This isn’t about crossing an item off your to-do list so you feel like you’re making progress. It’s about choosing the most effective way to address change.

Casey urges his clients to take a break — go take a walk — and clear their heads so they can focus. If not, they’re just busy being busy, and we’re not in the business of being busy. We want to be productive.

3. Get Flexible and Embrace a Growth Mindset

This isn’t the time to dig your heels in and hold your ground. You’ve got to exercise some flexibility and embrace a growth mindset.

“We can’t just bury our heads in the sand like the old ostrich and then say, ‘All right, we’re going to go back to normal when we’re done,’” Casey says. “No, it’s going to be totally different.”

Look around and stretch yourself.

“I really do believe that you can’t grow without some change — you can’t stay where you’re at,” Casey says. “There is this necessity all the time — crisis or not — you have to keep stretching yourself to a new limit in order to get to a better version of yourself or your business.”

Paul D. Casey - p249 - Rapid Change and Adaptability

On the note of stretching and flexibility, it’s worth noting there are three types of flexibility:

  1. Cognitive flexibility: The ability to use different thinking strategies and mental frameworks.
  2. Emotional flexibility: The ability to vary one’s approach to dealing with emotions.
  3. Dispositional flexibility: The ability to remain optimistic and, at the same time, realistic.

So the key to addressing a change: Don’t get stuck. With some flexibility on these three dimensions, you’ll be able to unlock new opportunities.

4. Give Yourself 4 Hours a Week to Visualize

Remember how important it is to take a step back and assess the situation? (See No. 1.) It’s equally important to do this consistently and continually. Give yourself time each week to take stock of where you are and evaluate your opportunities, adjust priorities and make decisions.

Casey likes to plan this out on an annual, monthly and weekly basis. Each year, he sits down and creates an annual plan. Then, each month and each week he checks in on that plan.

Sometimes, checking on his larger annual plan can be a bit alarming. “It’s like, ‘Oh my goodness, everything is just sort of been blown to smithereens — time to recalibrate.”

But the annual plan gives him a larger vision he can refer back to. “I still need to find some firm footing, even when the ground is shaking around me, and so a vision for me is that thing that anchors me and gives me hope for the future.”

He also makes sure to give himself some solitude during these check-ins. If not, he says he’s prone to flying into a reactive mode, where he gets scatterbrained. But being by himself allows him to think calmly and find breakthroughs.

5. Learn How to Effectively Manage Your Time

As a business leader, you’ve got to be good at managing your time, but boy can that be difficult, especially when you’re responding to rapid change. But this is absolutely essential if you want to adapt.

Here’s the thing: Time management isn’t about how many emails you answer or how many clients you call. It’s not about working from an itemized to-do list or planning your day around a packed-full calendar.

Instead, it’s about spending the right amount of time in the right places. To gauge this, Casey suggests managing your time around your values and your vision.

Ask yourself: Does the work I’m doing right now align with my values and vision? If it doesn’t, then set that task to the side.

This is all part of adaptability — we’re shifting in the moment and adapting the way we do our work to fit with our larger vision and goals.

Jess Dewell - p249 - Rapid Change and Adaptability

6. Ask Yourself These 3 Questions to Prep for Long-Term Adaptability

Back in 2011, the Harvard Business Review published an article titled, “Adaptability: The New Competitive Advantage,” and it’s amazing how much of the article still rings true 10 years later.

In the article, authors Martin Reeves and Mike Deimler outline the questions companies should ask in their strategic reviews to address how adaptable they are. Three of these questions stand out:

  1. “How can we apply frameworks that are based on scale or position when we can go from market leader one year to follower the next?”
  2. “When it’s unclear where one industry ends and another begins, how do we even measure position?”
  3. “When the environment is so unpredictable, how can we apply the traditional forecasting and analysis that are at the heart of strategic planning?”

Now, some people will say these long-term plans and concepts are useless these days — things change so fast. That’s true, but like Casey said, it’s all about having an anchor, so providing answers to these questions is essential to preparing for long-term adaptability.

Want to learn more about how to adapt to rapid change? See what other pieces of advice Atkins, Casey and Libelt had on the topic in our podcast episode, “Rapid Change and Adaptability.” Don’t forget to subscribe to The BOLD Business Podcast for more insights on leadership and success.

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

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