- The COVID-19 pandemic made it clear that circumstances can change overnight. It’s up to you to be able to meet the challenges you weren’t expecting.
- Take stock of your own company’s needs and make sure you set yourself up for success should you find yourself in a tricky situation.
- Three business leaders who prioritize agility and adaptability share valuable insights on how to bend without breaking – no matter what life (or the economy) throws your way.
There’s never been a better time to be adaptable.
As was made abundantly clear by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s impossible to know exactly what’s on the horizon for your business. Yearly and quarterly market forecasts meant nothing in the face of a global crisis. If a business wasn’t already agile and adaptable, it had to become so — or suffer the consequences.
“If leaders and founders and CEOs stayed on the courses they initially planned for 2020, they probably would not be doing well today,” says Steve Chaparro, founder and CEO of organization design agency Culture Design Studio, on an episode of BOLD Business Podcast.
As a business leader, you will face challenges. It’s up to you to think about what you’re going to do when they arise. Setting up your business to be adaptable puts you on the path to being successful no matter what challenges life throws at you. It is so important to be flexible, paying attention to what your clients and your team need instead of running ahead at full force without taking time to reflect on what works and what doesn’t.
“Being adaptive is not a pivot. It’s something you learn over time, and that you have to practice,” says Mike Wittenstein, founder of management consultancy Storyminers.
Rick Hall, the CEO of Aginity Corporation, which specializes in analytics management, would seem to agree.
“You have to stick with your idea long enough to know if it’s going to work, test it, and figure out what works and what you can improve on,” he says.
Rick, Mike and Steve have learned a lot recently about how to stay ahead of the curve so their companies are prepared to meet problems directly –– and always meeting their clients’ needs.
Lessons on Adaptability in Business
The key to being adaptable is to take stock of your own business, tailoring solutions to your own needs. But it’s still important to take some tips from other business leaders who can provide insights into how they’re staying adaptable. Here are some of the best strategies we’ve learned.
1. Set a Strong — but Flexible — Framework
Just because you’re adaptable doesn’t mean you can’t have goals and structure. In fact, it’s vital to have a framework for your company. Just make sure you’re in a position to make some tweaks if need be.
“First, understand what your outcomes are, what your customers need and what constraints you have. If you start framing it up, you’re going to get a much better structure. You can always make more adjustments as you go further down the process. But if you get the walls wrong, you can’t fix the ceiling,” Mike says.
Having a strong foundation also means having faith in yourself and your business, and not giving up if times seem tough. Sometimes you might have to reevaluate your plan, but that doesn’t mean you’re not on the right track.
“When I get scared of not being on the right path, I go back through the original thinking of why I decided to do what I decided to do, and I ask myself if all the reasons why I decided to go down this path are still true,” says Rick. “If they are, I’m on the right course. If something’s wrong, I have to reconsider.”
2. It’s Okay If You Don’t Create the Next Google
Sometimes you can be so focused on catching lightning in a bottle that you don’t use everything you already have. If you’re aiming for an unreasonable goal, you won’t be able to take on the real challenges facing your business, which leads to becoming inflexible.
“People think about innovation, and they think of the Google guys, who came up with the idea for their company in a garage while they were in graduate school,” Rick says. “They launched one of the most important companies in the world, but the number of times someone gets it right like that is statistically insignificant. We should never count on that happening.”
It’s important to be honest with yourself about what’s working for your company and what’s not.
It can be really hard to filter out our own noise: we aren’t used to sitting in silence without attempting to fill it with TV or another form of media. But if you learn to sit in that initial discomfort, you’ll find that you gain a lot from it down the line.
Just because you might not be able to create a multibillion-dollar company doesn’t mean you won’t be able to have a meaningful impact. So keep evaluating your company’s progress with an open mind. Don’t give up on a good idea just because you don’t see it launching you into stardom.
3. Listen to the People Who Matter
As a business leader, it’s easy to get caught in the weeds and lose sight of what’s most important. Remember that your clients are your first priority.If they aren’t satisfied, lose the ego and make sure you’re doing everything you can to meet their needs.
“If you don’t listen to your clients first, it’s a lot harder to come up with the little things that can make such a big difference to them,” Mike says. “When you’re selling to them, they’re actually buying you. It’s their choice. It’s not yours.”
This also means listening to your team, and cultivating trust so you can work cohesively to tackle unexpected challenges head-on. You don’t want to be a leader your employees are scared of. Sometimes you have to loosen your grip and allow others to take over.
Rick says that, though the pandemic has made the intricacies of teamwork a bit more difficult, he has found a group of people to weather the storm with.
“Building a team is a challenge, and COVID made it even more so,” Rick says. “But you have to pick the right people, give them clear responsibilities and empower them. You have to demonstrate through your actions that you are somebody to be trusted.”
He adds: “I think we’ve transitioned from command and control to empower as the way to lead organizations.”
4. ‘Fix the Roof During the Summer’
When everything is sunny, it’s easy to forget to prepare for storms. But you can enjoy the fruits of your labor and relish the good times while setting yourself up for success if a challenge comes your way.
“The idea is to put a plan together when you don’t need it –– so you’re prepared for growth or you’re prepared for pain,” Steve says. “We’re going to do this work when the going is good before the market tells us we really need to change.”
Problems never arise when we actually have space and energy to solve them in the moment — that’s just the way it goes. Stay on top of things before you have a huge problem to deal with. Anticipate that the road to success will include some unexpected turns, so you don’t panic when they appear.
5. Be Bold
It’s brave to be adaptive. You’ll have to make some changes, take some risks, and remember that you won’t always know the answer to every question. Being rigid and stiff might feel safe, but you need the flexibility to take an honest look at yourself and your business. Ultimately, you’re better off taking some risks to stay competitive.
This will require you to ask for help and listen to other people’s ideas. It can make you humble, too. It’s important to remember: You don’t know everything.
“I think it’s bold to be adaptive –– to be a facilitator –– because you have to admit that you are not the smartest person in the room,” Steve says.
In reality, it’s much more of a risk to be unprepared. You might feel like you’re ripping the bandage off, but changing your business to be more adaptable will be a huge help in the long run.
“You have to be brave about looking at new things,” Mike says. “The really bold thing everyone can do is face uncertainty without feeling diminished.”
Want to learn more about adaptability? See what else Steve, Rick and Mike had to say on the topic of our podcast episode, “Adaptability: The New Competitive Advantage.” Don’t forget to subscribe to The BOLD Business Podcast for more insights on leadership and success.