How to Manage Culture During a Pivot
Ahh, the "pivot"--once startup buzzword, now a mainstream mainstay. It seems like you can't open a business magazine these days without a pile of pivots tumbling off the page.
To be fair, evolution for any successful enterprise is undoubtedly a mandate, and there are certainly a multitude of merits to iterative shifts in pursuit of the optimal business model. However, beware of the dark side of the pivot--the unintended consequences on the very people tasked with bringing this ostensibly better version of your business to life.
Be Aware.Sounds silly, but hear me out. The senior leaders most often advocating and defining the pivot are often the least aware of the implications of the pivot on their people. This makes sense, as these same leaders are the ones with their hands on the steering wheel (not to mention typically with an "above average" tolerance for risk).
But take a second and consider the view of John or Jane Q. Employee--while leadership is off calibrating their aim on the new bullseye, what does this change mean to the rank and file? At a divisional level: What does this mean for us and the role we play in the success of the business? Are we more or less critical to the organization? At an individual level: What does this mean for me? My job? My future? My identity? My mortgage? And so on.
After all, there's a reason people used to draw dragons on the edges of maps--it is our nature as humans to be cautious of the unknown. So start by considering the pivot not just from the perspective of the bottom line, but also through the eyes of the people on the front line.
Be Honest.Not all pivots are equal. Yes, some are truly incremental shifts, the search for a slightly new direction, applied tinkering based on historical learnings, customer feedback or the like. But others have more significant implications on the business as a whole.
Consider Groupon, who famously pivoted from their original aim to organize social advocacy campaigns and transformed into a billion dollar daily deal site. Think about how significantly the mission and purpose of that organization shifted--from social advocate to discount dealer. Yikes. Talk about a minor case of whiplash.
To be clear, I'm not advocating that businesses resist the urge to evolve into more successful versions of themselves--rather, I'm suggesting that you need to be honest about the implications of your pivot on your business' core purpose and core values.
Gut check time: Are you fundamentally changing your business and what it stands for? Your target audience? Your operational model? Your reason for being? Are the manner or channels in which you are making money going to be radically different? Bottom line, is the reason that people came to work for you in the first place changing in a meaningful way? If so, it's critical to be honest, acknowledge this change, and connect the proverbial dots (and organizational rationale) as best you can.
Be Proactive.Effective leaders play offense--it's that simple. So while you're building out your pivot plan, don't forget to think about every part and parcel of your organization. Consider the implications of this evolution on every functional area--and likewise, on each and every interaction between your organization and its customers.
Work with your leadership team to develop plans--and metrics--across the enterprise. These plans can include anything from communications and incentives to resources and training. The key is that they be a deliberate, proactive thought --not afterthought--as the damage done during a poorly executed evolution of any size or shape can have deleterious implications on a business for a long time.
Bottom line, failure to effectively transition the organization during a pivot can lead to not just a distraction, but also an actual disruption in performance--thereby undermining the very intentions of the pivot in the first place.
CURT HANKE | Columnist | Founder and CEO of Shine United
Curt Hanke is the founder and CEO of Shine United, a 41-person advertising and digital agency headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin, serving such clients as Harley-Davidson, Wisconsin Cheese, Mizuno Running Shoes, Entwine Wine, and Winston Fly Rods.