Adapt to thrive

In their new column, Korn Ferry’s Guangrong Dai and Signe Spencer offer six principles for building change-ready organizations and leaders.

In today's landscape of constant change and growing uncertainty, the ability to adapt has become a crucial competency for organizational survival and sustainability.

In fact, those companies that sustained high performance during market disruption were ones that rapidly adapted to changing conditions, according to a recent analysis of Korn Ferry data. The same analysis found that the ability to respond effectively to changes has become one of the biggest differentiators that sets high-performing companies apart from industry competitors.

Yet, traditional top-down approaches to organizational change often fall short. Employees tend to see such changes as imposed and autocratic, and the strategies often lack necessary detail for effective execution. Scientific research and empirical evidence both point to the same conclusion: that a workforce’s readiness for change is critical to the success of organizational transformation.

This is where leadership comes in—particularly, middle management. Because middle managers have a better understanding of employee perspectives and needs, they play a key role in promoting change readiness. The challenge, though, is not to achieve a one-time transformation. Instead, it is to embed the capacity for continuous adaptation into the company's DNA.

After all, success breed confidence. The more an organization succeeds, the more its people grow confident in their own abilities and their company’s existing practices. Reinforced by past success, these practices are then normalized and routinized, rarely contested by people in the organization. As a result, once-conscious choices become implicit beliefs—deeply ingrained and reflexive, dictating a company’s behaviors and decisions.

To navigate the new realities introduced by disruption, companies need to challenge their own assumptions. They need to adopt new, more flexible perspectives. And we know from our change readiness research that change-ready organizations operate based on six organizing principles, representing these transformational mindsets:

  1. Anticipate the Unexpected: Dispel workplace complacency and proactively look for early hints of changes to come.
  2. Diversity of Perspectives: Challenge established assumptions and seek alternative interpretations, driving innovation through diverse thinking.
  3. Anchor on Purpose: Assess new situations from the purpose lens, turning disruptions into opportunities.
  4. Progress over Perfection: Adopt an action-oriented approach, learning through doing and acting quickly to seize new opportunities, rather than focusing solely on perfection.
  5. Trust to Partner: Rely on collective intelligence, bringing together knowledge, experience, and intuition from across the organization to respond to unexpected situations.
  6. Sustain the Organization: Demonstrate the ability to maintain operations while adapting to new challenges and changes.

Companies can use these six organizing principles to reassess and redefine their readiness for change. They can implement a framework, based on these principles, to develop collective mindsets throughout the organization. In turn, middle managers can use the framework to apply these principles within their team, enabling sustainable behavioral change through shifting mindsets, thereby cultivating a change-ready environment from within.

By aligning leaders through these shared mindsets, organizations can nurture a culture that embraces change as a catalyst for innovation. Ultimately, in a world defined by disruption, the emphasis should not only be on preparing for change, but also on proactively driving change from within. Companies that can shift their collective mindsets toward these principles will be better equipped to turn the uncertainties of the future into opportunities for growth and transformation.

Modern organizations are not merely the sum of their technologies and products, but the collective mindsets of their people. In a world where the only constant is change, readiness for change is no longer just a competitive edge—it's a requirement for survival and the key to long-term success.

To learn more, click the image to download our full paper.

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