The Adaptable Organization Series

Part 1: The Individual

Posted by Don Miller and Tiffany McDowell on August 7, 2019.

The world around us is moving at an unprecedented pace. Organizations that once benefited from a size‑and‑scale strategy have rapidly disappeared from the S&P 5001 and the original Dow Jones index.2 And today, just 14 percent of CxOs report a high degree of confidence in their ability to make the changes that the digital revolution requires.3 Today’s management systems, structures, and talent strategies tend to be outdated and designed for an era when size and enduring stability defined competitive advantage.

The Adaptable Organization is a fundamental shift in philosophy that enables large-scale organizations to operate with a start-up mindset and respond effectively to shifting customer, environmental, and market needs. In this five-part blog series, we’ll explore each layer of the Adaptable Organization—the Individual, Team, Leader, Organization, and Ecosystem.

Adaptable is not something you do, it is something you become.

The Adaptable Organization is ultimately defined by individuals who can execute against the organization’s goal with resilience and flexibility. The success of the Adaptable Organization depends greatly on an organization’s people being comfortable with the unknown. To foster adaptability, it’s important for leaders to coach individuals to think with a:

  • Global Mindset: Openness to and awareness of diversity across cultures with a propensity to leverage differences and find common ground
  • Growth Mindset: Thriving on challenge and seeing failure as a springboard for growth and stretching existing abilities
  • Design Thinking Mindset: Using logic, imagination, intuition, and systemic reasoning to explore possibilities and design outcomes that benefit customers
  • Diversity of Thinking Mindset: Looking for and leveraging different perspectives and approaches to solve problems and seize opportunities

Talent programs must deliver an integrated employee experience that can build resilience and unlock individual potential.

Traditional talent programs should become more flexible and customized to support individual resilience for collective impact. The figure below highlights the shifts in talent programs necessary to support adaptability.

Source: Deloitte Consulting LLP, 2019

Job Definition, Recruitment, & Onboarding
The Adaptable Organization puts the emphasis back on people, not job titles, thus introducing greater ownership for individuals to strive toward the organization’s mission. Even before an employee joins an organization, it’s necessary to build a foundation that supports team-based environments and adaptable work. Job descriptions should give way to fluid roles based on competency and potential. People craft their responsibilities to align to the outcomes and mission-focus of the organization.

Recruitment shifts from a more traditional skill-matching to measuring purpose and cultural fit, with increased involvement from peers. Onboarding is no longer about completing a checklist of tasks; it’s about getting a rapid understanding of the organization’s culture, purpose, and customer focus.

Performance Management and Compensation
An effective and flexible performance management and compensation system pave the way for the career development and work experience that employees expect. Previously, career development in many organizations involved bureaucratic performance reviews and career trajectories that followed an inflexible set of tracks. Only 6 percent of organizations consider their rewards as innovative, flexible, personalized, and aligned to incentivize certain behaviors, though 42 percent believe rewards are a high priority.4

Several years ago, Deloitte reinvented its performance management to boost worker engagement. The solution was a radical shift that focuses on speed, agility, continuous learning, and transparency across all layers of the organization enabled by data-driven insights collected throughout the year.

Learning and Career Movement
Delivering classroom style learning doesn’t always allow an organization to keep up with the external ecosystem, and the learning activities are often not coordinated around a common purpose. In an Adaptable Organization, individual learners are connected to a social network of others who are learning the same mission. The informal network in an organization helps nudge knowledge and ideas forward.

Shifting to the Adaptable Organization means upending career trajectories and disrupting stability. People shift from fixed individual roles to cross‑functional roles that demand them to navigate latticed career paths and networks across the organization. One client is testing the idea of a “career passport” that tracks an individual’s experiences and capabilities on missions around the organization, focusing careers on learning from missions instead of checking boxes at each level of a hierarchy.

Leaders play a crucial role in understanding work preferences and guiding career development. Real-time feedback and coaching, learning embedded in daily work, and flexible growth opportunities are essential in fast-moving environments. In “Part 2: The Leader,” we will further explore ways leaders can empower and enable strong individuals to thrive in the Adaptable Organization.

Don Miller is a managing director in Human Capital Practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP. He serves as the US Analytics leader for Deloitte’s Human Capital Organization Transformation & Talent practice and also serves on Deloitte’s Global Organization Design and Decision Solutions leadership team.

Tiffany McDowell is an Organization Transformation principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Human Capital practice and leads Deloitte’s Organization Strategies Market Offering. She focuses on delivering operating model, organization design, talent strategies, and global change management solutions for large-scale transformation projects.


1 Salim Ismail, Exponential Organizations (New York: Diversion Books, 2014).
2 Hopkins, Christopher D. “Dow Jones Drops GE, A Member Of The Original Industrial Average In 1896” NPR, Aug. 23, 2018 AD, http://www.npr. org/2018/06/19/621659846/dow-jones-drops-ge-a-member-of-the-original-industrial-average-in-1896
3 “The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here—are you ready?”, Deloitte Insights, January 2018.
4 2018 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends: The Rise of the Social Enterprise, Deloitte.

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