Key takeways:

  • adaptation is a constant process of ‘just enough’ iteration, not perfection​

  • it is the process of rethinking where and how business gets done​

  • it requires a learning mindset that embraces creativity, resilience and cognitive agility​

Change creates a disruptive opportunity to reimagine how our businesses respond.”

Shemara Wikramanayake, CEO, Macquarie Group

No one could have predicted the scale and impact of COVID-19. It is an extreme example of a disruptive change. Businesses are now contemplating the need to charter these complex and ambiguous conditions for the longer term – just as they need to prepare for the next unforeseen event.

This is the art of adaptation. It is not a one-off, full-scale, resource-intensive transformation. It is about testing new ideas and making incremental changes - solving small problems, frequently. It requires a mindset of learning and iterating: what is working, what isn’t and what else can we do differently to shift the dial for our people and our customers?

“When we’re thinking about adapting all the time and learning, it’s always just a series of steps of ‘just enough’ and never perfection,” explains agile consultant Alex Sloley, who supports Macquarie’s human centred design approach to innovation. “It just needs to be enough to get you to the next step.”

The impact of each experiment can build over time, compounding into a major shift – and, potentially, an improvement in financial performance. As the pandemic has demonstrated, time can be compressed by sheer necessity. Universal telehealth was considered years away, but more than 10 million telehealth consultations took place during the first two months of COVID-19 in Australia when Medicare funding was extended1. Adaptation has its own momentum.

The art of being adaptive requires a behaviour shift towards creativity and resilience, and needs to be consciously designed into business operations. The most extraordinary customer and employee experiences are intentional: they must become ritualistic to become part of the workflow. They also need to become embedded into the way employee performance is measured and rewarded.


When we’re thinking about adapting all the time and learning, it’s always just a series of steps of ‘just enough’ and never perfection,”

Alex Sloley, Agile Consultant, Personal Banking, Macquarie Banking and Financial Services

“What we’re really trying to encourage is a cognitive agility in people – how do you solve problems before the problems show up?” explains Dan Gregory, co-founder of The Impossible Institute.

Adaptation may also take the form of self-disruption – of completely reinventing your business model by pivoting into a new business with a robust idea that fulfils an immediate need. 

This starts with leadership. When leaders can view constant change as creating opportunity, when they set a guiding purpose with an expectation that every employee is accountable, and when they both empower and listen to their teams, they are able to realise the full potential of the talent within their organisations.


Adapting to ongoing change and ambiguity

Adaptability is an essential skill in today’s economic environment, but it isn’t straightforward. It requires leaders to continuously scrutinise the behaviours and beliefs that might have made them successful in the past – to assess whether they’re relevant for the future.  


The power of adaptation is going to be the skill that businesses will need in the future,”

Dominic Price, Work Futurist, Atlassian

COVID-19 has created an urgent imperative to shift our mindsets. It’s a rare opportunity to make meaningful and, in some cases, overdue changes to the way we work immediately – to test what happens when we overturn assumptions and try something new. It offers the potential to accelerate digital adoption, empowering customers to self-serve, while better preparing teams for the future of work.

Most of all, it has forced leaders to focus on what matters most: people. By having to reimagine traditional ways of keeping employees engaged and customers satisfied, the best leaders are returning to their purpose and values to encourage a culture of flexibility, diversity of thought and innovation.

The adaptive business framework is built around these core principles of purposeful leadership, employees, customers and innovation. The framework’s strength is in the simplicity of the ripple effect – it can be put to work quickly in organisations of any size and in any sector. The framework is fundamental to the way Macquarie evaluates its own businesses and how business leaders empower their teams to realise opportunity in disruption.

With this framework in place, leaders have a playbook for confronting challenges head on, seeing opportunities where their peers might see uncertainty and building resilience to face whatever the future brings.  

In times like this, you also need an adaptable partner. If you’d like to discuss ways you can apply these principles to your business, we’d be happy to talk.


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Additional information

The information on this page has been prepared by Macquarie Business Banking, a division of Macquarie Bank Limited AFSL & Australian Credit Licence 237502 for general information purposes only, without taking into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on this general information, you must consider its appropriateness having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs. The information provided is not intended to replace or serve as a substitute for any accounting, tax or other professional advice, consultation or service.