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What’s the Adaptability Quotient and Why is it Important?

  • 6 Min Read

The Adaptability Quotient (AQ) will be critical for the future of work. Modern learning can help it thrive.

There is an emerging buzzword in the business world: AQ, or Adaptability Quotient.

Loosely defined as the ability to adapt and thrive in a fast-changing environment, AQ is taking its place alongside established quotients like IQ and EQ when it comes to determining an employee’s value.

What is AQ?

AQ has been identified as “the future of work” by Fast Company magazine, while the Harvard Business Review describes it as the “new competitive advantage.” The business publication Talent Economy, reports it could ultimately become as important as either IQ or EQ when it comes to hiring.

Talent Economy’s report is corroborated by a UK study in which 91% of HR decision-makers said that they expect future employees to be recruited based largely on their ability to cope with change and uncertainty.

AQ’s emergence is the result of trends that are radically reshaping the modern workplace:

  • The shelf life of employee skills is being shortened by technological advancements (a typical business competency now lasts about five years, down from 30 years in 1984), and
  • Employees are switching jobs more than ever before.

According to a LinkedIn study, people who graduated between 2006 and 2010 averaged 2.85 jobs in the five years after graduation, compared to 1.6 for people who graduated between 1986 and 2000.

Also, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor,  the average employee now spends 4.2 years at a job. That means that if they enter the workforce at age 25 and retire at age 65, they will work at nearly nine different jobs (plus any new roles they might assume within a given company).

At the same time, employee skills are becoming out-dated faster than ever before. According to the World Economic Forum, 35% of the skills that employees will require to do their job—regardless of industry—will have changed by 2020.

This puts an increased emphasis on the part of organizations to invest in solutions that are capable of helping employers to bridge the skills gap. Education can no longer be simply regarded as a “one and done” proposition.

“Continuous learning lies at the heart of thriving in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” says the World Economic Forum. “The skills required for most jobs are evolving rapidly, but our adult education and training systems are lagging behind.”

The PwC study Adapt to Survive says that employers will require adaptable employees, many of whom are not currently in the right roles, in order to safeguard against future threats to their business.

 At least a quarter of workers in OECD countries report a “skills mismatch” with what is required by their current job according to the World Economic Forum. “…Enabling and empowering workers to transform and update their skills is a key concern for businesses and societies across the globe,” the organization states.

Check out these skills that new managers need to succeed.

Why Adaptability Matters

Today’s businesses are having to find ways to thrive in a rapid, radically changing business environment, including embracing new and more modern business models and more forward-thinking ways of working. In an age of constant technological innovation, the next Uber, Amazon or Airbnb that reshapes their business sector could be just around the corner.

According to the innovation consulting firm Innosight, the average tenure for companies on the S&P 500 Index is steadily declining—from 33 years in 1964 to just 12 years by 2027. Innosight predicts that about half of the companies currently listed on the S&P 500 will be replaced in the next decade.

While these shrinking S&P lifespans are being driven by a combination of technology and economic shifts, “…frequently, companies miss opportunities to adapt or take advantage of these changes,” says the report.

The bottom line is that, organizations have to be able to quickly adapt to new business realities. Organizational AQ is a natural by-product of individual AQ, and by encouraging and empowering their employees to adapt, companies can increase their own adaptability and ability to compete. Fostering employee adaptability can be transformative at an organizational level.

By investing in their greatest resource, people, companies can unlock trapped potential and created a skilled workforce capable of helping them meet emerging business challenges. To increase workforce adaptability, the focus for organizations shouldn’t just be on hiring for a high AQ, but creating a workplace environment that encourages and facilitates the ability to acquire new skills through continuous learning.

How Modern Learning Can Help Adaptability to Thrive 

Adaptability is a skill innate in all employees and the good news is it can be cultivated to reap significant rewards for both them and the business.

Employee adaptability has broad implications for employers, with PwC stating that misaligned talent creates a cost burden of US$19.8 billion across the 11 countries included in its study, while adaptability may be capable of unlocking US$130 billion in additional productivity.

“Employers shouldn’t overlook existing employees, as there are benefits attached to promoting internally,” says PwC. “These promotions are less costly and take less time to complete than external recruitment, but only if the candidates are the best fit for the job.”

Making the move to modern workplace learning is one of the paths employers can take to ensure that employees are enabled to quickly and effectively adapt their skillsets so they are better aligned with evolving business needs. It’s about anticipating the present and future transferable skills needs and keeping them updated via training and development.

Learn more about why your organization should move to modern learning

Bite-sized learning enabled by a mobile-optimized modern learning platform, for example, is an effective modern learning tool that employers can use to help employees quickly and effectively adapt. There are many reasons why bite-sized learning would work well for helping employees adapt, but importantly, it has the ability to offer them on-demand access to the kind of “just in time” knowledge and learning content that can help them adapt their skills with agility.

With an eye towards emerging technologies and skills, bite-sized learning is an effective technology-enabled tool that employers can leverage today to train the workforce of tomorrow while learning in the flow of work.

Coaching and mentoring is another critical tool that employers can use to help employees iteratively develop new skills and competencies over time, especially when it’s coupled with technology. Using modern video and virtual collaboration tools, employers can leverage Social Assessment™, a modern framework for feedback, to enable regular, asynchronous coaching, mentoring and constructive feedback at scale to help employees develop and improve new skills and competencies iteratively over time. Here’s a video on how you can use video for Social Assessment in the workplace.

Find out more about Social Assessment™ and how to use it in the workplace

Workplace learning is a proven tactic for helping companies promote adaptability. According to a 2017 study by CareerBuilder, nearly half (49%) of employers had trained new hires for a higher-skill job in their organization within the past two years, with the vast majority (83%) saying that the worker is performing well in the enhanced role. And, according to Bersin by Deloitte, organizations with a strong learning culture are 56% more likely to be first-to-market with their products and services.

The impact of modern learning tools, which are key components of a strong modern learning culture, can be transformative when it comes to cultivating AQ. Watch this video to find out how Epworth Healthcare used modern learning to transform its work practices and promote digital literacy.


Read the case study to learn more about Epworth’s story

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Table of Contents

  1. What is AQ?
  2. Why Adaptability Matters
  3. How Modern Learning Can Help Adaptability to Thrive