Build your adaptability HR Blog

In my last blog post, I wrote about learning and staying agile to keep our people’s skills up-to-date. An important factor we are looking at is the ability to adapt, and accelerate, also known as adaptability quotient (AQ). At Spotify, we hire for adaptability and try 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 it needed? We all now understand that the pace of change will not slow down. As we move towards the 4th Industrial Revolution we can conclude that the pace is increasing even faster. Skills in formal education or employment last for decades. It was like the 1980s or even the 90s. Now we know that the shelf life of several skills is declining dramatically, and we should expect to be part of many examples in our lifetime.

This means that in order to succeed in continuous change with big change, we need to have the ability to adapt to new situations, understand how to navigate change, and use it as a catalyst for new thinking and action. ‘New’ is the key word here. Let me explain further – adjusting a behavior within a familiar structure is equivalent to being flexible. However, in a world of constantly presented new situations, we need to be able to manage the unknown, learn something new, or learn old ways. It is about adding or subtracting rather than adjusting, tackling or expanding current capacity. Basically, we need to change our underlying assumptions about how things work.

AQ is more important than IQ and EQ

Many workplace researchers have argued that the need for adaptability is much greater in order to improve and be able to find employment, as well as other transferable skills such as activism, leadership, creativity, problem solving and communication (to name a few). And what’s really detrimental is that a lot of people have lost these core employment skills in order to stay relevant in the future of work.

Even if not all core performance skills are 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 is more important than having a high IQ (intelligence quotient), which is used as the main measure of successful people and a high EQ (emotional intelligence quotient), even if these skills are at the top of the list.

Why are we putting AQ at the very top of the list? Because it will help leaders and team members to adapt to unstable, uncertain, complex and ambiguous situations. And in Spotify terms – our controlled chaos. When asked by several C-suit leaders, YY researchers have found that adaptability is an important leadership skill because it will help leaders deal with unusual situations without clear instructions. And, looking at LinkedIn Learning Workplace reports, we can see that adaptability has been in the top five list for the past few years. In 2021, adaptability ranked # 1 with resilience as the most important skill of development.

Adaptability and flexibility

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

Having a high AQ entails a change and an overall understanding of why it is needed. Without understanding it will not be possible to create the desire to adapt so that a person can be flexible and adapt to the surface, but not in the long run. Playing the same game over and over again while changing the rules is not sustainable.

Increase adaptability in the workplace

In order to be able to increase adaptability in the workplace, it is helpful to think holistically about the aspects involved in adaptability development. Developing adaptability is developing one’s mindset. This includes raising self-awareness to understand your thoughts and acting in specific ways. Unless you are aware of your thoughts and actions, you can actually choose to do something different. Also, creating elasticity for quick recovery from set-back is an important element of adaptation. And another is to have an open mind, to be open to new possibilities and to explore potential new paths.

Creativity brings new impressions and connects with people who aren’t necessarily like you, listening to other perspectives and holding on to that judgment.

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

In our recruitment process we are very clear about our culture and reality so that it is easy for the candidates to understand what kind of Spotify and make an active choice. We understand, embrace and are transparent about the fact that our environment cannot attract everyone. We look for adaptability throughout the recruitment process with the help of behavioral interviews to understand how candidates think and act in situations of change and disruption.

For spotters already in the band, we provide a variety of tools to work with self-awareness and other critical skills, such as resilience, problem solving, and creativity to build the foundation for adaptability. And one of our best multi-tools to adapt to all of this is to teach Growth Mindset (awareness) and support our band members on how they can cultivate it (verb).

As an (HR) leader, challenge your employees for an open mind, and be open to new possibilities and explore potential new paths, and you will take the first huge step to keep your workforce relevant and up-to-date. The skills they need. You will help them stay employed in the future by cultivating adaptability.

Global Head of Greenhouse – Learning and Development at Spotify

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