How Businesses Successfully Adapt to Change

How Businesses Can Adapt to Uncertain Changes

How Businesses Can Survive, Thrive, and Adapt in the Face of Change

What do we do now? The sudden shutdowns in early 2020 forced many businesses to answer this question with sprints to virtual business models, attempts to secure emergency funding, and in some cases, pivots to new lines of business. Sadly, other businesses were unable to find a satisfactory answer at all that would keep them afloat.

Nearly a year later, as vaccines roll out and signal a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, businesses that have made it this far should again be asking – what do we do now? Or better, where do we go from here? But to answer this short-term question in the best way possible, it needs to be considered in tandem with a longer-term question – where do we want our business to be later? While the enormity and immediacy of changes wrought by the pandemic may have lessened, more changes to life and business are certain to come as we move forward. So, how can businesses balance these questions, prepare for more change, and emerge where they want to be?

Pivoting and Pitfalls

High uncertainty often brings with it the old “paralysis by analysis” state of mind, when the disruption to one’s business seems so vast that business leaders lose sight of the fundamentals – cash and survival. Many organizations carried out successful transformations and business model detours in 2020. Examples include:

  • An office-focused frame manufacturer who shifted to producing plexiglass dividers to support safe business interactions for merchants.
  • Restaurants and retailers pivoted to curbside pickup and increased their digital offering
  • An event rental company that changed from renting tents and related items to corporate event planners to instead focus on the needs of mobile testing organizations.
  • A maker of high-quality custom restaurant aprons and server wear that turned to make high-quality and tailored face masks.
  • A fitness company shifted from exclusively offering in-person outdoor workouts to live workouts online.

Several elements combined to make these pivots successful. First was a resolute focus on financial fundamentals – namely cash, revenue, and expense management. Foundationally, businesses must be able to generate revenue and have enough cash available to take care of expenses and investor obligations, not to mention grow. Each example above illustrates new revenue streams that mitigated or replaced losses elsewhere.

These successful pivots were also decisive and swift. The leaders of these businesses moved deliberately to evaluate options in an objective manner, minimize downtime, and reduce disruptions. Acting quickly was critical to their success, as it inspired them to seek new areas of opportunity the pandemic created while avoiding the pitfalls of paralysis by analysis.

Second was prioritizing commitments to loyal clients. While these companies were providing new offerings to new audiences and in new ways, they did not have to wholly reinvent themselves with completely different teams, tools, and in most cases, suppliers. They also did not compromise their core business and support to the needs of their established clients, even if these needs were temporarily reduced. When the time is right, and if demand for their traditional offerings returns, each has the opportunity to increase their core operations again.

And a third equally important aspect is that these companies stayed close to their employees, getting their inputs and feedback, retraining their workforce as needed, and embracing new tools to keep their teams employed and safe. By prioritizing clients and employees in uncertain times, leaders are not only solving short-term business issues but are also creating loyal and authentic relationships that will drive long-term success.

Nimble for a New Normal

Despite the welcome arrival of vaccines and brightening prospects of more in-person interactions returning, the pandemic’s lasting impacts remain largely unknown. For that reason, business leaders need to ensure that their organizations are effectively nimble moving forward.

Being a nimble business means supporting agility, quick actions, and high degrees of readiness. Approaches and activities that will promote this include:

  • Planning in shorter segments – emphasis on three- to six-month plan views vs. full-year plans that cannot fully consider the operational climate of its latter months.
  • Assessing contingencies proactively – preemptive “what-if” explorations that will facilitate rapid and well-informed actions should the circumstances change.
  • Listening more intently and frequently – disciplined engagement and conversations with employees, customers, and suppliers about how they are doing and how their needs and conditions may be evolving.

Being nimble also applies to ensuring flexibility in decisions, like when or if employees can return to the office or when in-person meetings may resume. Businesses should be careful not to cement themselves to dates or related commitments that presume certain future conditions will be in place. While many long to return to prior ways of working, prematurely pledging the timing of such actions can unnecessarily introduce anxiety and further disruption.

The Short-Term and Long Haul

Leaders should be appropriately comfortable if business conditions are not perfect right now. Perfect conditions seldom exist, but brighter days appear ahead. With employees, customers, and suppliers, business leaders should personify empathy for the individual and collective challenges faced, instill confidence that these challenges can be overcome, and promote actions and positions that will enable everyone to effectively respond to new and unforeseen changes.

2020 forced nearly everyone out of their comfort zones. Hopefully, the toughest days and harshest changes are mostly behind us. However, no one can fully predict the magnitude of shifts in how we will need to operate and what our customers may need as we move further forward. So long as we remain nimble, that’s absolutely okay. The old “normal” is no longer, but a better normal is ahead of us.


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