“That’s not the way we do things.” 

“We’ve always done it this way.”

“We tried that once. It didn’t work.” 

Do you hear these comments around your workplace?

When ideas are shot down, are reasons like these used for justification?

Have you yourself thought (or uttered) these words?

If you answered yes to the questions above, chances are good that you’ll also answer some of these questions in the affirmative:

  • Is it hard to get big internal projects fully completed – including successful adoption?
  • Are the people with the ideas your longest-tenured employees?
  • Do you wish there was more of a bias toward action around the place?
  • Does the company place a higher value on data than it does decisions?

If any of the above ring uncomfortably true, there may be a cultural adaptability problem within your organisation.

Cultural adaptability and what it means

What is cultural adaptability? In short, it’s an organisation’s ability to innovate, experiment and successfully deliver change across all its phases: inception, development, and adoption – across ALL areas of the business.

The hallmarks of an organisation with adaptability embedded within its cultural DNA are easy to spot:

  • A process for innovation exists. Ideas are captured, nurtured, and grown, and they feed the company’s pipelines for business process improvement and product development.
  • A democratic approach to ideas exists. Leaders recognise that some of the best ideas come from people who are on the front lines, serving clients daily.
  • Expertise at all levels is recognised, valued, and cultivated. Leaders don’t hesitate to tap experts within the organisation, even when they’re multiple rungs down the ladder.

Obviously, the pandemic required even the least adaptable organisations to become nimble. As we continue defining our new normal, smart leaders will ensure the newfound ability of their firms to adapt will become a permanent part of their culture and will seek to develop it into an organisational strength.

At this juncture – with 10 months of the pandemic behind us and plenty of challenging weeks and months still ahead, even as recovery is visible on the horizon – leaders also need to assess whether their company cultures are keeping pace with the rate of change.

Cultural adaptability means simply that the company’s culture is able to evolve over time. At a fundamental level, that means leaders are themselves drivers of change, have a clear-eyed view of their organisation, and are willing to allow employees the necessary latitude to try new things.

As we mentioned earlier, cultural adaptability pertains to the whole organisation, ranging from offering innovative benefits to employees (such as mental health days or pet insurance) to readily changing fundamental operational aspects as circumstances of the day demand, such as playing an active role in alleviating monotony for employees who’ve been working from home for months on end.

Let’s take a quick time out. What gut reaction did you just have toward the idea of offering pet insurance as a benefit, or taking action to alleviate your team’s boredom and the monotony of their days?

If you felt something inside constrict, and your toes curled into a ball, keep reading.

A cornerstone of cultural adaptability is driven by a certain degree of humbleness on the part of leaders. Culture starts at the top, and is a reflection of the values leaders define and live, such as:

  • Actively seeking employee feedback, and using it to inform action,
  • Hiring change agents and drawing upon their energy to help lead change,
  • Identifying the experts on the team, and actively drawing upon that expertise to inform decisions,

When employees are entrusted to lead from their positions of strength, leaders create grassroots buy-in and participation. The dynamic is changed from a top-down edict to a bottom-up collaborative and collective effort. The latter is so much more appealing to people and significantly increases the chance change will stick.

Recommended actions to improve cultural adaptability: 

Whether or not your company’s culture is adaptable is an important question for leaders. If you suspect this is an area in which improvement is needed, here’s our recommended course of action:

  • Read our 7 C’s ebook that details the qualities leaders need to succeed post-Covid, and use either the worksheet or our Leadership Perception Gap on-demand survey to assess your leadership team’s readiness for the future. The qualities outlined in this ebook also underpin the nimble, culturally adaptive leadership mindset.
  • Set yourself up for success with this four-step approach to culture change: The Four Stages of Cultural Change for Leaders,
  • Consider other areas where your company’s culture may be in need of shoring up. The pandemic is impacting people in entirely new ways and putting company culture under pressure as a result. As you work toward building a more adaptable culture, be sure you’re also insulating the business from forces that are eroding culture and business performance.

The effort you invest in your company’s cultural health is some of the highest ROI work you can do. Companies with strong cultures recover more quickly from challenging times and have more highly-engaged employees, which in turn drive business performance.

Our founder, Stefan Wissenbach, likes to say “We’re a technology company, but a human business.” In some way, shape, or form, the human element of his saying is true for most businesses.