“It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”
— Leon C. Megginson
The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a crash course on adaptability.
Our ability to adapt is a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit as millions sit inside their homes and wait for the storm to pass. Many have had to adapt to working from home and caring for or supervising children while managing logistics that were mandated almost overnight. Others have had no choice but to grapple with the harsh realities and risks of being an essential worker. Many are furloughed or unemployed, trying to figure out their next steps and future options in an uncertain world. And almost everyone was faced with steep and sudden learning curves, whether setting up a home office effectively or serving as teaching assistants for their children’s online learning.
Adaptability is essential for organizations. Companies and enterprises that have not adapted well, or adapted fast enough, have suffered serious consequences. Some have succumbed already, and others will not survive. Many companies that adapted quickly are still viable, but will need to re-invent and reconfigure to sustain that viability over the long term. However, organizations that have adapted in meaningful ways that demonstrate caring are doing more than just surviving.
In the midst of deep uncertainty, a number of companies have already responded to the COVID-19 challenge and distinguished themselves by shifting their services and product lines to meet the highest-priority needs of their consumers, employees, and communities. For example, alcohol distilleries and major beauty and health companies, Sporting apparel companies, such as Fanatics and Bauer Hockey, have been producing gowns, masks, and face shields. Walk-in food outlets like Panera Bread, and even specialty chains, such as Edible Arrangements, have shifted their operation models to grocery delivery services. And to meet the needs of home-bound exercisers, gym chains like Planet Fitness offer livestream workouts that anyone, member or nonmember, can access for free.
These are just a few examples of companies that recognized a need, both internally and externally, and used their ingenuity to adapt in unexpected and creative ways. As a result, these organizations are not only more likely to survive this immediate crisis, but will also bolster their reputations and increase their competitive advantage going forward.
Adaptability is a leadership discipline. The ability to be nimble and adapt effectively during a crisis is essential not only for survival, but for opportunity and growth. Failure to adapt when circumstances change will cost you and your organization greatly.
As the COVID-19 crisis continues to evolve, leaders and organizations need to be on adaptation alert as circumstances change. And when the pandemic finally ends, organizations must be prepared to adapt yet again in a post-COVID-19 world, whatever that will look like.
In studying companies that have adapted both well and poorly during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve identified several questions that can serve as a Logos Best Practice rubric to help guide thinking about how to adapt effectively.
When confronted with changing circumstances, ask:
- What is required for your organization to continue to operate? What level of revenue is required to cover costs? What tools or resources do you or your employees need to continue to function?
- What is your mission? What is your organization’s goal? What are you designed to do? Does your mission need to evolve in the present moment?
- What are your core values? What values are embedded in your mission, culture, and business model?
- Whom do you serve? Who are the stakeholders that matter most to your organization? Are there new or different stakeholders you should be serving?
- What are the urgent or important needs of your stakeholders? In this moment of crisis, what matters most to your stakeholders? What do your internal and external stakeholders need?
- What do those who matter most expect from you? How do your stakeholders expect you to live your mission and values? How have their expectations changed amid the crisis?
- What is your unique competitive advantage? What can your organization uniquely offer? How can you fulfill your mission in a way that provides an essential or important product or service during this crisis?
The answers to these questions will help you think about how to adapt in ways that not only support short-term survival, but also pave the way for long-term success.