Management A to Z: A is for Adapt

adapt vb.  1. (often followed by to) adjust (something or someone) to different conditions.  2. (tr.) to fit, change or modify to suit a new or different purpose.  –a’daptable adj.a,dapta’bility n.                 –a’daptive adj. (The Collins Dictionary and Thesaurus)

There are a number of circumstances where adapting is important for a manager. I’ve picked three to focus on which are:

1. New managers

You’ve made the step up in to your first management position. And you might feel a bit like a rabbit in headlights.

You now need to adapt to your new circumstances. For some new managers I’ve coached, failing to adapt to their new role is the thing that’s undermined them as they have continued to act in the way they did before.

This can be particularly tough for those of you have gone from being a team member to managing that very same team.

So, what can you do?

  • Find out what’s expected from you from your boss – what are the absolute priorities? What do they expect from the managers that work to them?
  • Set out what you need from your boss – yes, this is okay to do and in my experience, not enough new managers have the confidence to do this.
  • Find out what your team want from their manager (that’s you, by the way) – what’s important to them? How do they expect a manager to behave to get the best out of them?
  • Carry out a SWOT analysis on you as a manager – what strengths do you bring to the role, what are your weaknesses, what are the opportunities for you, and the threats to you and your role?
  • Get a management coach to help you in your first six months – this can make such a massive difference to your performance as a manager. Past clients have likened a coaching session to an oxygen chamber where they can breathe and clear their mind.


2. Organisational change

This can hit at any point.

Remember the phrase, “Survival of the fittest”?


Doesn’t matter if you’re a new manager or an experienced one – how you respond to changes can make the difference to you and your team’s survival.

Those managers who survive and thrive during organisational change tend to:


  • Contribute ideas to help improve the changes that are proposed – with the intent of helping to make them work;
  • Create adequate time and space for their team to think about and discuss changes, recognising that their role is to facilitate the various emotional reactions in a constructive way;
  • Consider how they might implement any changes ahead of time, being proactive and working through risks, issues and weaknesses so that they are ready to respond quickly;
  • Challenge where its needed, not just the changes that are proposed but also challenge of themselves in terms of how they are responding to the situation; and
  • Collaborate with others to share ideas to help improve the organisation, role modelling this so that their team does the same and sees collaboration and sharing as the norm.


3. People issues

When I’ve been called in to help a manager who is experiencing conflict with their team, the number one root cause I find is that the manager hasn’t respected individual differences. In other words, they haven’t adapted their style to meet their team members’ needs.

Whilst I believe the success (or failure) of every relationship is a 50/50 responsibility, I also believe it’s incumbent on the manager to make that bit more effort in understanding each individual person.

There are a couple of helpful models which I’ve found can help managers with this:

Situational leadership – first developed by Dr Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, this model helps managers diagnose the needs of an individual or team and then use the appropriate style to respond to those particular needs. There are four styles – ‘telling’, ‘coaching’, ‘participating’ and ‘delegating’. Adaptability is at its core. Blanchard Learning even have a little quiz you can take to check your ‘situational fitness’.

Goleman’s golf clubs – I first came across this model when I was the programme director for a large-scale public sector leadership programme. I’m not a golfer (so forgive me if you are) but for the sake of example, just as you wouldn’t use an iron for a tee shot, you probably shouldn’t use a directive style when it’s coaching that’s needed. The Goleman model has six ‘clubs’ to choose from. Check out this great blog post by Martin Webster which details the golf clubs. 

What situations have you faced, as a manager, where you’ve had to adapt? What did you do? Share in the comments section so that other managers can benefit from your experience.

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