Adaptability. The ability to change (or be changed) to fit changed circumstances.

Otherwise known as the key to success at work!

Being adaptable is a timelessly important skill, yet my college professors never emphasized its importance. Things are always changing at work – the economy is up and down, new competitors are popping up out of nowhere, coworkers come and go, and priorities shift. If you can whether the storm of changes and manage to continue producing solid work, you will prove your worth 10 times over as an employee.

Changing to Manage Processes

In my first job, the company changed processes quite often. Growing pains, employee turnover, and a host of other factors caused the changes in processes, but at the end of the day, I had to manage myself through the changes rather than preventing them. Changing systems can be incredibly frustrating. Just when you get in the swing of doing things one way, your manager asks you to do it differently.

If your company, too, changes processes often, try keeping a log of how management is asking for a certain task to be done. It will keep you on track to make sure you’re doing it right. Also, (after giving it due time!) if you notice a particular change makes things less efficient, document a specific example of how, and find an appropriate time to inform management. Your boss will almost always be glad to listen to your input if you bring a solution to the table with you that is low effort and that you (not your manager) can lead. Be careful not to complain, but instead focus on increasing productivity.

One thing I didn’t realize until working at my first job out of college is that no company ever has the perfect system. Most companies (even the established ones!) figure things out by trial and error. Instead of getting frustrated about yet another company change, however big or small, think of it as a learning experience and as an opportunity for your voice to be heard by presenting solutions. For example, when I was in charge of our company email blasts to clients, I found that our new process was overly time consuming and there were several formatting issues using the suggested template. Rather than get frustrated about the process, I did a little research and presented a solution to my boss to have customizable company branded templates created. Although there was a production charge for the templates, I was able to show that the reduction in time for each email blast, in addition to having a more professional-looking template, offset the cost to have them created.

Changing to Manage People

Above and beyond being adaptable to company changes, it’s also important to be able to do things a little differently depending on who you’re working with. Taking the time to learn how people like to work, and modifying your work style to accommodate them, makes a world of difference. Some people are auditory learners and prefer discussions while others are very visual and need powerpoint. Some managers are hands-off as long as you get your work done while others are hands on and want a daily report. You will find some colleagues respond better when you speak to them face-to-face while others prefer email communication.

Whether it’s using a table in word instead of a spreadsheet in excel, small changes make a big difference. I had one manager who hated opening attachments on her phone and could never figure out how. This made it tough for her to get to information quickly and she became frustrated with me whenever I sent an email, regardless of the content of what I sent. Just the small change of pasting the text of a document into the body of an email rather than including it as an attachment for her when she was working from the road made all the difference.

Knowing how your colleagues operate can save you a lot of time and frustration. Bringing a positive attitude to work and learning to change to others (vs. expecting them to change to your needs) is a surefire way to make yourself into a good team player. Know what your end goal is, and be ready to work with your peers to get there in the way that works best for everyone.

Think of each adaption – big or small – as practice to become a great manager yourself someday. Things come up, and your ability to conquer the day and nail your presentation, no matter how difficult your team seemed at the beginning, will always put you on top.

Photo courtesy of Time Inc.