Posted by Adaptable Leadership - Building Leaders for Changing Times on 10/08/2008

I just read an article titled, “Carrollton’s oldest business closing its doors.”  The owners go on to say, “The current economic times, changing customer buying trends and suppliers’ business conditions, all were factored into this decision to close.”   It’s a sad story but it is far from the only one.  With the unbelievable instability of our economy we all know too well that businesses come and go.  Technology advancements, market volatility, new business models, globalization and the speed of business create an environment of rapid change and challenge that can cause your head to spin.

If you are reading this article your business has about a 30% chance of being around in 2010.  Those odds aren’t very good.  It reminds me of the movie The Patriot starring Mel Gibson.  The British Army came to fight the war of Independence as they had always fought wars.  They lined up their soldiers facing the enemy hoping that they had more men prepared to take a bullet than the Americans did.  Mel Gibson had a different strategy. He and his band of misfits attacked the British using guerilla warfare.  The British failed to adapt to the change in warfare resulting is severe casualties.  The small band of guerillas did more damage to those British soldiers than was imaginable at the time. 

The same will happen to today’s businesses if they don’t adapt.  If you fight your wars in business the way you have always done it you may be attacked and blindsided by some guerilla warriors.  Or you can choose to be the guerilla warrior yourself.  When you learn to adapt you can survive the onslaught of competitive forces that will come at you in the future.  The strategies that brought you success in the past may be the last plans to implement in the future.  If you plan on surviving in today’s competitive environment you better change strategies.  Adapt or Die!  It’s the mantra for the leaders of the future. 

The ability to adapt to changing circumstances on a daily basis will allow your company to survive and even thrive on the battlefield of business.  A recent study by IBM Global Business Services said that an “adaptable workforce is a critical capability.”  Warren Bennis, a noted author in the field of leadership says, “Adaptive capacity… is the essential competence of leaders.”

Crawford International conducted a study of the relationship between adaptable organizations and financial performance.  Leaders in more than two-hundred Fortune 500 companies were interviewed.   The businesses with an adaptive corporate culture experienced a net income growth of 989% over ten years.  The businesses with a non-adaptive corporate culture saw a net income decline of 47% over the same ten year period.

The real business challenge is that only 14% of companies say their workforce is very capable of adapting to change.  It is no wonder so many businesses go into extinction every year.  Of the Forbes 100 companies of 1917, only 13 have survived independently today.  Of those 13 companies that have survived, all but one has been mediocre to poor performers. 

Every day new challenges are coming your way.  Ensure success for the future by being confident that your company is prepared for the unknown challenges of tomorrow.  As the complexity of your operating environment increases so will your need for adaptable leaders.  Karl Weick said, “Leaders who are highly adaptive are able to thrive in uncertainty, quickly make sense of complex environments, provide creative solutions in ambiguous situations, and help others do the same.”  Does this describe the leaders in you company?  If not, it’s time to change.

Adapt or Die…  The decision is yours!