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Flexibility is the openness to different and new ways of doing things; willingness to modify one's preferred way of doing things.
An employee demonstrating this competency:
  • Is able to see the merits of perspectives other than his/her own
  • Demonstrates openness to new organizational structures, procedures, and technology
  • Switches to a different strategy when an initially selected one is unsuccessful
  • Demonstrates willingness to modify a strongly held position in the face of contrary evidence
Importance of this Competency
People who can work with a wide variety of people and find mutually acceptable solutions have always been in demand. In recent years, organizations have undergone sweeping changes, and the ability to adapt to change has become an essential requirement. The redesign of work processes and roles and the introduction of information technology have led to broader and ever-changing job responsibilities. People who cannot demonstrate Flexibility will not survive in most organizations.

Flexibility does not mean being agreeable to whatever others want to do. Outstanding performers are results-oriented and maintain firm commitment to their goals. They are flexible regarding methods to achieve the goals, and they enlist others’ support for the goals.
General Considerations in Developing this Competency
To develop Flexibility, you will need to learn to understand and appreciate perspectives other than your own. This means listening to others and genuinely trying to understand their concerns and feelings. It also means thinking about issues from the perspective of what is best for the overall organization, given its strategy and plans.

Developing this competency also means demonstrating openness to change (e.g., by actively learning and supporting a new work process or information technology). Change is difficult because it requires setting aside methods that are comfortable and replacing them with new methods that are at first uncomfortable to use. You must be willing to persist through the initial period of discomfort, to achieve comfort and enhanced effectiveness with the new methods.
Practicing this Competency
  • When you discover that you disagree with someone regarding a policy, decision, or project, ask this person to explain his/her perspective. Listen , periodically paraphrasing what you hear, but do not express disagreement. Allow the person to fully explain his/her perspective. Comment on what you like and can support in this person’s position.
  • Volunteer for assignments that involve working with internal and external groups that are new to you.
  • Take a leadership role in supporting the implementation of new technology or work processes.
Obtaining Feedback
Let coworkers know that you are working to develop this competency. Ask them to observe you over a one-month period and to let you know when you demonstrate flexibility or a lack of flexibility.
Learning from Experts
Observe someone with a reputation for Flexibility over a period of one month. Note what this person does when faced with obstacles and changing circumstances.

Interview someone who has adapted effectively to change. Ask what strategies and approaches this person used to adapt to organizational changes.
Coaching Suggestions for Managers
If you are coaching someone who is trying to develop the compentency, you can:
  • Model openness to change in your own behavior.
  • Provide assignments that require dealing with new work processes or technology or working with different internal or external groups.
  • Notice and praise behaviors reflecting Flexibility.Let this person know when he/she is demonstrating behavior that does not indicate Flexibility.
Sample Development Goals
By May 5, I will set up a luncheon meeting with Gary Vynes (a team member in the Training Department who seems to have a different perspective than mine on the kind of training we should be providing for first-line supervisors). I will ask him to explain his perspective on training first-line supervisors. I will listen, summarize, ask questions to clarify, and identify parts of his views that I can support.

By May 10, I will learn to use our new presentation software and apply it in a presentation to the Relocation Team.


Flexibility at Work: Balancing the Interests of Employer and Employee, by Peter A. Reilly. Hampshire, England, UK: Gower Publishing Limited, 2001.

Modularity, Strategic Flexibility, And Knowledge Management, by Ron Sanchez. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking, by Roger L. Martin. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2009.

Strategic Flexibility: Managing in a Turbulent Environment, by Gary Hamel & Don O’Neal. West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Son Ltd., 2000.


See Appendix