Learning to Adapt

Perhaps the most often overlooked requirement of IT support is the ability to adapt. On some level, adaptation is required for any kind of IT support and environment with a diverse group of users who bring eclectic backgrounds and preferences. Everyone who was done IT support for while, particularly in an environment where the general public can seek support, has seen that situation where we’re asked to support devices we have never seen before. The effective way to respond in most environments is not to adhere to some arbitrary sense of scope support and decline supporting the device, but instead to look it up if needed and attempt troubleshooting the best we can through trial and error. That level of adaptation is required in any kind of IT support, but most environments also depend on IT support professionals to adapt in more ways and it is through our ability to adapt to new situations, practices, and procedures that we grow as an organization and become more effective at the support we provide. With all of that being said, adaptation is a skill we need to refine just like any other. We are not all born ready to adapt, but we can become effective adapters through perseverance, openness, and practice.

As humans, we can rationalize that adaptation is easy. After all, our study of evolution has taught us that species advancement and diversification is influenced by life adaptations to environment and circumstances. In the modern world, we pride ourselves on our ability to adapt. We often proceed as if adapting to new environments, challenges, and situations is something we instinctually do. To some degree, that may be true. We can respond to danger with stunning agility, learn new cultures, and navigate new environments. When it comes to our daily lives, though, consistency is more the norm. When we go about our daily routine practices, we are more prone to creatures of habit who are ultimately resistant to change. This is important to bring up because institutional changes brought from a top-down approach that starts at the system level and filters down to the end users are often, in most environments, bureaucratically implemented with the expectation that users will adapt. But not everyone easily adapts and, with so much changing technology, people may often be reaching their limit of learning new processes.

We as, IT professionals, must be the ones who lead the way with the adaptation, adapting first ourselves, and bringing others on board. I do not see IT’s role in such changes to be salespeople as some may suggest, but, more importantly the standard bearers. We can convince people to adapt in the ways that enhance productivity in our lives and workflows once we have built rapport. The first step, however, is that we need be the ones to adapt. That may very include implementing new processes first, such as a new two-factor authentication model or email system that may or may not eventually be rolled out to end users. This kind of early adaptation not only makes good sense for changes to come within the organizations we support, but it also makes us better at what we do. That’s because it makes us more prepared to deal with any device or problem that may walk through our doors or come up in our support tickets. If we strive for a state of near constant adaptation, we are likely not to be very resistant to change. Instead, adaptation will become the norm. If we can achieve that state, we will be open to supporting any issue that may arise. In today’s BYOD (“Bring Your Own Device”) culture, that is probably the state of mind that works best for IT support since the nature of IT support is becoming increasingly unpredictable. That lack of predictability does not have be associated with stress and we can ensure that it is not through the refinement of our ability to adapt.

We often do not discuss adaptation in our interviews, our evaluations, or our planning. It is, however, important to recognize that people who excel not only in technology-support-driven professions, but also any technology-dependent profession are most often those who can easily adapt to change. Those individuals may have always been that way, but I would contend that most of them learned to develop that skill perhaps in response to an environment that was changing. Others may not adapt as easily and avoid changes as much as possible. We all know a few people who adopt changes slowly shortly before a new change arises so they are always a step behind the future and often outside recommended or supported practices. A tendency IT professionals may be prone to develop is to characterize such slow adopters as obstinate, but I would argue that such practices and such perspective is natural. It’s those of us that are not resistant to change that have refined our abilities beyond our natural tendency. With that being said, I do think the skill of adaptation to change needs to be developed for not just everyone that supports technology, but everyone that uses technology. Since all of our lives are influenced by technology in some way, I’m probably talking about everyone.

From a technical perspective, change is almost always good. As we improve the development of a piece of software, we implement new versions containing new features and bug fixes. As we improve our hardware, we release new models featuring more speed and accommodations. Some of us often get excited by new features in technology. Most people have felt that excitement at some point whether it be with a shiny new phone or a glossy new television. Most of us supporting technology look at those changes as a necessary part of life, whether or not they also excite us. What is often not talked about is that, to many end users, new versions of technology can be threatening or even terrifying, particularly when support for a familiar version is ending. Again, I would not characterize such responses as backwards or inappropriate. I would argue that view is valid and we do not react in that manner have developed a practice of adaptation to new technology that has become so engrained we are no longer aware that it is happening.

In an ideal world, everyone tasked with supporting technology already has developed a practice of adapting to new technical changes. Once you’re in a support role for a while, the various situations in which you encounter new technology will likely automatically acclimate you to be adaptive if you were not already that way. However, I often encounter new employees who have not really developed that skill yet. They may have the customer service skills we looking for and a basic understanding of technology, so we will go ahead and hire them, but we find out during the training process that they’re using old versions of operating systems, they’re not interested in new versions of technology, or they feel anxiety in new environments. When we make that kind of discovery, the necessary time to spend with that person is not always available, but, if they keep persevering, they will get there eventually. However, to best improve our practices, we all need to think about how to encourage adaptation in those with whom it is not natural. It will not only help us train our new employees, but help us best support our users.

In the meantime, adaptation is something that takes time, practice, and persistence. Once we’ve adapted to enough, I believe, most people will become accustomed to adaptation and excited by new opportunity. However, we must be patient with people who are not adapting at the same rate because everyone has an individual path and pace in life that makes sense for that person. Everyone is influenced by certain environmental or inherent factors that inform our individuality. This diversity should be celebrated and it is important for us to realize that we all move ahead when no one is left behind. It is up to us as support professionals to lead the way through unfamiliar landscapes and changing environments toward a better future by ensuring that everyone is on the same page and ready for the changes ahead.

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