Everyone with a career understands the value of keeping their skills sharp to meet the evolving needs of their industries and their particular field of expertise. We all know that change is constant, and you have to embrace it.
Given that the status quo never remains in place, I think one of the most important skills to possess today is mental agility. That is true for both individuals and organizations.
Don’t Fret Over Who Moved Your Cheese
In 1998, Dr. Spencer Johnson published the book “Who Moved My Cheese?” with a simple parable about how characters responded to the cheese in their maze being moved. It became a popular way to coach people on how to handle change. Of course, it is human nature to be upset by and resist change, but you can’t waste too much time complaining about it — or “hemming and hawing” as two characters in the parable did. Ultimately, you have to accept the change, adapt to it, and keep anticipating the additional changes that will inevitably come.
On an individual basis that means keeping up with, and even ahead of, the changes that will affect your organization and your career. You have to take advantages of training to develop new skills your profession will require.
It does us no good to bemoan the fact that changes seem to come so fast today, it seems impossible to keep up with them.
As any frequent reader of my blogs knows, I think it’s always wrong to assume that the times we live in are radically different from the periods that preceded us. Alvin Toffler wrote “Future Shock,” about how people were becoming overwhelmed by the accelerated pace of change, in 1970.
Well the pace of change has accelerated considerably over the past five decades, and it will keep accelerating in the decades ahead. The ever-increasing pace of change is as inevitable as change itself.
Having the flexibility to adapt and develop new talents in response to change will help your career. My first positions in the investment industry were as a credit analyst and a portfolio manager. I was quite comfortable analyzing spreadsheets and market data at my computer. But as I began managing teams, the ability to communicate with, motivate and inspire people became much more critical.
It’s unreasonable to think you should be immediately ready to handle every change that comes your way. Life will deliver setbacks. When we interview candidates, one way we try to gauge their mental agility is by asking how they handled a failure or setback. People who overcame a difficult challenge and learned from it clearly have the skill to adapt to an ever-changing world. In my own reading, I am continually impressed with stories of how perseverance enabled people to overcome seemingly insurmountable setbacks. The electric car company Tesla was on the verge of going bankrupt in 2008, but entrepreneur Elon Musk refused to give up on his dreams for the company, and today it has a market capitalization of nearly $30 billion.
For Organizations, Diversity Is Key to Agility
As I said, keeping agile is as important for organizations as it is for individuals. The best way for organizations to remain agile is to have a diverse workforce. You need a company filled with both young people, who bring enthusiasm and new ideas, and seasoned veterans, who deliver the insights that come from experience.
You need people from a variety of cultural backgrounds for the broader perspective they bring. You have to smash any glass ceiling that prevents women from advancing to leadership positions, and you need to create an environment where everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, feels comfortable and supported.
While fostering an inclusive environment makes intuitive sense, there is also plenty of evidence that proves companies with diverse workforces do better. One study by the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company found that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform on a financial basis, and ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform.
I know when I look at the members of our firm today, we are far more diverse than we were when I joined the firm 30 years ago, and I know we are better off because of it.
Maintaining a diverse workforce doesn’t begin and end with hiring practices. Many firms have recognized, as we did, the importance of having a comprehensive diversity strategy that informs how you engage with employees, both existing and prospective clients, and the community.
We want to ensure that we are inclusive, and that everyone on our staff feels confident they can speak up and present their ideas and opinions.
Staying agile and keeping pace with change can happen only when everyone has a voice.
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