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Adaptability in Talent Development: Q&A With Esther L. Jackson


Tue Oct 12 2021

Adaptability in Talent Development: Q&A With Esther L. Jackson

Adaptability is a critical skill for leadership capability, career potential, and working relationships. Therefore, it is vital for talent development (TD) professionals who face countless situations that test their ability to adapt—from reacting to unplanned modifications in the training they design, to implementing new learning technologies, to adjusting to their organization’s shifting needs. In Adaptability in Talent Development, TD expert Esther Jackson takes you through a process of raising your self-awareness and developing an adaptive mindset.

What prompted you to write about adaptability?

I was always captivated by behavior profiles and emotional intelligence. I heard a speaker talk about great leaders being high in the Qs. This speaker proceeded to talk about emotional quotient (EQ), but he also discussed a new one for me—adaptability quotient (AQ). EQ I knew, but what was AQ about? I just had to find out, so my research into adaptability began there, which was several years before the book was published.


The Qs, or quotients, are the actual measures from the tests for one’s emotional, adaptability, or other intelligences. I was intrigued because it was used in reference to one’s leadership capability. In my research, I saw that there was an abundance of content on EQ and emotional intelligence but little on AQ and adaptability intelligence. The more I learned about adaptability and AQ, the more I wondered why additional attention was not given to it for leaders and talent development professionals. I wanted to address this gap in the field of talent development. This topic seemed like unchartered territory that was ready and waiting for me.

What is adaptability?

Whether you are dealing with sudden changes in client needs with remodeled products or responding to COVID changes with training for remote work, it requires adaptability. It is a way of applying skills that allow you to understand the problem(s) because of a change. Research the problem, demonstrate curiosity about what is possible, apply collaboration to solve it, and take risks when needed.

Where does adaptability show up?

Adaptability shows up everywhere. If you are looking for it, you will find it, and the search isn’t hard. The need for adaptability is more prevalent than ever. Maybe you are in a team meeting and an unforeseen problem arises. You have an idea. Do you share it? Do you discuss it with colleagues or a few other business areas to vet it out and see if it would work? Do you conduct research on your idea, if applicable? Do you seek out an opportunity to take a risk with it? Do you consider writing an article on it? These are actual questions I asked myself as I considered the adaptable moments I was allowing to slip away.

Why do talent development professionals need adaptability?

The pace of today’s changes continues to accelerate. Adaptability is the key factor that helps TD professionals expect, recognize, and process changes. Although we can’t plan for what the unexpected will be, there are proactive steps we can take. Response to change with adaptability includes demonstrating resilience and seizing opportunities as they arise. These are areas to target for development in others, but we must apply and demonstrate them ourselves first. The game changer is called “adaptability.”

I often receive questions about adaptability in relation to change management, so I wanted to make sure I included the distinction in the book. You can’t say that one is proactive and the other is reactive. A reaction to unplanned conditions might be to implement a change to adapt, which may require change management.


We are seeing more and more organizations recognizing the need to respond to external changes in the community and internal changes that prompt them to adapt to new policies such as DEI and working from home. Adaptability is integral to maintaining a competitive advantage. For example, let’s say your organization deems it necessary to adapt with advanced technology. Many organizations are doing digital transformation for this reason. It is still a form of adaptability. When it comes to adapting, it is not only applicable to the executive team or leaders alone. Leaders can cultivate a culture of adaptability. However, everyone has a role in adaptability. Every individual can influence others in being flexible, open, and resilient. When it’s done well, this can promote a thriving organization.

What is so important about this topic now and for the future?

Until the end of time, things will continue to change. What does that mean for us? We will always have a need and the opportunity to adapt. Research shows that individuals with a high AQ experience greater success professionally. They also have more success in relationship building. Talent development professionals with a high AQ survive professionally and their organizations prepare for change despite the uncertainty that comes with it. There is a growing need for TD professionals who can assist in training and developing a workforce that can adjust quickly, demonstrate flexibility, and thrive with constant change. Innovation and creativity in designing learning materials to target those needs are also in high demand. Adaptability skills will always be crucial to success in one’s profession and career regardless of any new name or label we may give it in the future. It is not enough to know what it is. You should be working to stay ahead—Adaptability in Talent Development is how you do that.

What are key connections to adaptability that are often overlooked?

A few key connections to adaptability we can often overlook are interpersonal communication, DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion), and emotional intelligence. The common denominator among these areas is the involvement of people. From my experiences, I have observed individuals who are open to diverse cultures are better able to demonstrate openness, positive thinking, and creativity. I have seen how individuals who champion equity and inclusivity develop greater levels of empathy which are evident in the way they engage with others along with the level of engagement they receive in return.

In the midst of demonstrating adaptability, you depend on others to understand change situations, adjust to new teams with diverse people, involve them in problem solving, address diverse needs, manage relationships, and manage yourself in the midst of unplanned change.

What was the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book?

One intriguing discovery was how rewarding it can be for ourselves and those around us when we are intentional about our adaptability climb. We tap into a greater aspect of ourselves when we can overcome our discomfort with uncertainty.



How can those who are not talent development professionals benefit from reading the book?

**I focused on talent development professionals as I wrote this book, but the content and the tools have much to offer for anyone aspiring to unleash their maximum potential. There is a model, a development plan, and a career checklist that can be applied by anyone regardless of industry and role in the organization’s hierarchy.

The need for adaptability is not limited to our professional lives. We face countless situations requiring us to adapt. You are forced to relocate for a job. Your child leaves home for college. You must adapt, and you also find ways to help your child adapt and adjust to some changes they did not expect. An immediate family member develops an illness, and you have to adjust to new conditions in your home. These are only a few examples of the personal call for us to adapt time and time again. The value is in recognizing that when you harness the skills you will gain from applying what’s in the book, you can experience the positive impact personally with the situations that can arise unexpectedly.

What is an example of a takeaway that readers can use immediately?

When it comes to takeaways, Adaptability in Talent Development is full of them from cover to cover. One I think that stands out is the A-D-A-P-T model:

  • Assess (A) your current state of adaptability or know how you measure up.

  • Determine (D) the desired state of adaptability for yourself.

  • Analyze (A) the resources you have or can obtain to address the gap between your current and desired states.

  • Prepare (P) for achievement with your adaptability goals.

  • Take action (T) with the execution of your plan.

Developed from my experiences with clients and through my training, this model applies a step-by-step process for planning development leading to a high AQ. It is an immediate takeaway that readers can implement to build their own adaptability and the adaptability of others through training that targets that skill.

What is something that readers can get from the book which they will not gain from a webinar or course?

If you think that a webinar or course will give you everything this book does, then you are mistaken, and you just might miss the adaptable you who is waiting to be unleashed. This book provides the level of detail and context that are not captured in a course or webinar. Unlike books, courses and webinars are designed to give you minimal pieces of information. This book takes you on a journey and sets you on a path for immediate application while giving you the ability to pace yourself. Each chapter prompts you with targeted questions and actionable items. A course or webinar is one and done while this book gives you pause points allowing for you to apply what you read then return for more when ready.

About the Author

Esther Jackson is a project manager, college instructor, instructional designer, and trainer. She focuses on the evolving learning needs and expectations of today’s multigenerational workforce. Esther has a proven track record of equipping people with the skills and knowledge to face challenges amid constant change by addressing the employee experience, workforce engagement, performance, and professional development. Esther acquired more than 20 years of combined experience in HR leadership, project management, talent development, and diversity and inclusion.

Esther serves as a national advisor for chapters with the Association for Talent Development (ATD) and has held various roles with the ATD Detroit Chapter, including president. Esther has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in education from Wayne State University and a doctoral degree in higher education and adult learning from Walden University. She also holds an AQ Foundations Certification from AQai.

About ATD and ATD Press

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is the world’s largest association dedicated to those who develop talent in organizations. ATD’s members come from more than 120 countries and work in public and private organizations in every industry sector. ATD Press publications are written by industry thought leaders and offer anyone who works with adult learners the best practices, academic theory, and guidance necessary to move the profession forward. For more information, visit td.org/books.

Adaptability in Talent Development

ISBN: 9781952157516| 160 Pages | Paperback


To order books from ATD Press, call 800.628.2783.

To schedule an interview with Esther Jackson, please contact Kay Hechler, ATD Press senior marketing manager, at [email protected] or 703.683.8178.

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