Soft Skills Spotlight: Adaptability

By Robert Half May 14, 2014 at 7:00am

Charles Darwin may not have been an accountant, but he knew something about adaptability. He learned that the species fittest for survival are the ones most adaptable to change. For us humans, adaptability is a key soft skill that’s needed to thrive ­– not just survive ­– in today’s business environment.

The rapid advancement of technology means you’re likely to see widespread changes during your accounting career. Today, it’s cloud-based accounting. Tomorrow, who knows? Whatever comes next, the fittest accountants will be the ones who are flexible, positive and open to change.

The best way to learn is through experience, so here are some ideas to help flex your adaptability muscles:

See the big picture.

First reactions can be very personal. They’re based on what we know best: ourselves. If your gut reaction to an idea or comment is negative, take a step back and look again. Challenge yourself to see things from another point of view. Asking questions can channel your uncertainty into something productive.

Don’t be afraid to improvise.

One thing is certain in accounting and the wider world: you can’t control what will happen next. Most of what we do in business is improv. We react to the changing circumstances around us. If you’re ready for the unexpected, you’ll never be caught off-guard. Keep calm and improvise wisely.

Question the status quo.

If you left tomorrow, how would your replacement do your job? Are there things you could do differently, but you don’t want to rock the boat? Identify something you could improve if you stirred things up a little. In this case, even if it ain’t broke, do explore ways to fix it.

There’s no “I” in adaptability.

Well, actually, there are two of them. But there is no place for selfishness if your goal is to be adaptable. It’s easy to get caught up in your own concerns and priorities. Look for ways you can change what you do to make your colleagues’ lives easier. What goes around comes around.

Change up your routines.

We all fall into routines at home and in the office. They make life quicker and easier. Still, sometimes you need to break the cycle to change your perspective. So, practice doing things differently. It could be as simple as your morning routine. Take a different route to work or set aside a few minutes to plan the day ahead. Changing up your morning could set a new tone for the whole day. 

Once you’ve exercised your adaptability, you can demonstrate it to your bosses by accepting new challenges outside your comfort zone:

  • Offer to fill in where help is needed.
  • If you’re less-than-comfortable with public speaking, lead a training session on something you know well.
  • If writing isn’t your thing, submit an article for the company newsletter.

You can adapt to the time of year, too. Plan ahead and take advantage of slower periods to achieve what you don’t have time for in busier periods like tax season or year-end close.

Have you shown on-the-job adaptability lately? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Related post: Soft Skills Spotlight: Written Communication Skills

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