From survival to success: Why HR and L&D teams should focus on upskilling senior leaders for adaptability

To succeed in today’s rapidly evolving business environment, organisations must be committed to investing in the learning and development of their workforce. For senior leaders, the ability to adapt is a fundamental skill that needs to be embraced and developed to ensure they are equipped to navigate change effectively and stay ahead of the curve.

The challenges present in today’s economic conditions have the potential to significantly impact business operations and alter the way they function.  The cost-of-living crisis and the ‘great resignation’ has made it imperative to offer more flexible and competitive packages to retain top talent. Senior leaders need to possess an adaptable mindset and the relevant skills to succeed in this rapidly changing environment.

The need for adaptability

In today’s business world, it is essential to have leaders who can adapt to change and uncertainty. They must possess a dynamic and resilient mindset to be able to navigate any level of change and disruption. As Imperial College Business School assert: “In today’s complex and rapidly changing business environment, it is more important than ever for leaders to be courageous, flexible and able to thrive in ambiguity. Those who are able to adapt and learn quickly will be best positioned to navigate the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow.”

Business leaders may have their tried-and-tested approach to management but being rigid and inflexible is not in keeping with the requirements of today’s business landscape. A leader who cannot adapt to change is likely to quickly be left behind and the leader of the future must be willing to take measured risks, explore new ideas and quickly pivot if a particular pathway is not working. Adaptability helped many businesses through the pandemic and while this challenge is no longer threatening most organisations, the same adaptable nature is a vital element of a successful leader’s toolkit.

BooHoo and ASOS are two retailers who have successfully implemented an easily adaptable model to meet the changing needs of their consumers. The “test and repeat” model allows the retailers to produce a small run of clothing quickly and “test” it out on the market, then decide whether to scale up production or scrap the new line. Stock obsolescence does not become a problem for these brands, and they can also match their stock to the weather, current styles and consumer buying trends. The company’s leadership approach is dynamic, recognising the differing needs of the digital retail space in comparison to bricks-and-mortar stores, with a mixture of individuals with experience in both areas.

Auto Trader: A Case Study in Business Adaptation

Adaptability can manifest itself in various ways, but the core principle is recognising that change can be used positively for your business development and should be embraced and built upon, not feared and avoided.

Auto Trader is the UK’s leading source for buying and selling new and used cars and their business model is a great example of adapting throughout the years. They began life in 1977 as a print product to search for your next vehicle. The print edition ceased in 2013 but the company continues to attract thousands of visitors and consistent growth through their website. Their model focuses on persuading car retailers to take out subscriptions to its hugely extensive inventory. Changing from print to online and consistently offering something of value to their customers means profit before tax was up 91% to £301m in the 12-month period to March 30, 2022, and the company continues.

Driving adaptability through empathy and resilience

Empathetic leadership is crucial during tough economic times when employees’ personal lives are affected, and financial incentives may be limited. As Ileana Stigliani, Associate Professor of Design and Innovation at Imperial College Business School says: “Empathy is a gateway to compassion, and, in today’s volatile world, we need that more than ever. That’s the difference between humans and machines: human intelligence has feelings, and being human is sometimes a messy business. The future workforce is one that can tolerate uncertainty and make space for messiness and mistakes. Design thinking can boost both wellbeing and the bottom line, helping companies to thrive. Together, we can imagine and create a better future world. And it may start with getting a little messy.”

Empathy in action can be an integral part of someone’s leadership style and it should be encouraged. As a good leader, demonstrating empathy includes everything from considering others’ perspectives to avoiding quick judgements and being demonstrably compassionate. The right empathetic approach in any work environment will be dependent on individual factors but a good and empathetic leader will know how to meet their people’s needs.

Resilience is also integral to successful modern leadership and a key component of an adaptable approach to management. Resilient leaders have the skills and ability to maintain operational efficiency despite difficult circumstances, whilst under pressure or during periods of disruptive change. They can adapt and change to suit the situation and bounce back from difficult setbacks. High-performing leaders need resilience to adapt effectively and lead their teams through the most challenging times.

The role of leadership training

Some businesses do not recognise the need to further train and develop their senior leadership team and this is a serious mistake. Continued professional development and the chance to always develop and enhance their innate skills ensure your business leaders are the best they can possibly be. Training for senior leaders allows your best prospects to further push their skills and learn new and effective ways lead more effectively.

Leadership apprenticeships give your business the opportunity to upskill and develop your best talent. Apprenticeship programmes provide opportunities for your existing leaders or potential leaders to advance their careers and make the move towards their next role. Investing in your talent is vital for ensuring they remain with your business, and high-quality leadership training helps equip your people with the necessary skills to succeed in the current economic climate.

Inadequate training and development of senior leadership can be detrimental to a business. By providing opportunities for continued professional development, leaders can enhance their innate skills and reach their full potential. . Training for senior leaders allows your top prospects to  sharpen existing skills and acquire new ones, enabling them to lead more effectively.

Investing in leadership apprenticeships can provide your business with the opportunity to upskill and develop its top talent. Apprenticeship programmes offer existing and potential leaders the chance to advance their careers and  prepare for their next roles. Investing in your talent is vital for ensuring they remain within your business, and high-quality leadership training equips  them with the skills needed to succeed in today’s economic climate.

The Imperial College and Corndel Executive Development Programme is designed to support senior leaders in developing the necessary skills to tackle strategic business challenges. By providing training in key areas such as adaptability, resilience, uncertainty, complexity, and innovation, the programme can help leaders drive growth and innovation within their organisations and stay competitive and drive a positive company culture, leading to a high performing team in today’s rapidly changing business landscape.

Adaptability is critical for all future leaders

The complex and rapidly changing nature of our business world means we need leaders who can embrace change and see it as a positive challenge. Adaptability is essential for senior business leaders to thrive and succeed in the current business landscape. Investing in high-quality leadership training is one of the most effective ways to ensure your team develop the skills they need to succeed and stay agile in the face of continuous change and transformation.