Imagine you've fallen into a rushing river, water swirling around you. Your head could go under at any second, and to make matters worse, there's a waterfall coming.

How long do you think you'd last if you didn't rev your arms and legs into gear and pivot yourself in the direction of land?

That's what it's like to be a business leader in the global market today. If we don't swim and put some effort in, if we don't transform what we're doing and change course, we can get washed away and forgotten. So, what's going to pump up our muscles and turn us into the strongest swimmers of our industries? Leveraging our core capabilities.

To do this successfully and come out on top, there are four steps leaders can follow.

1.     Look deeply into the company's core capabilities

Core capabilities are the central skills that your business applies best and relies on for efficiency and a good reputation. SearchCIO says that core capabilities identify your company's defining strength and that they're "not easily replicated by other organizations, whether they're existing competitors or new entrants into the market." Branding is an example of a core capability because when you do it well, customers can connect to what you sell and buy even if your products still have room to improve. Similarly, if you're in a car business, one of your core capabilities could be logistics rather than simply selling vehicles.

Most of the time, your company has the core skills it needs to transform already running around. But leaders often have trouble pivoting and growing because, when they look at their business, they stop at the tactical level. You have to go deeper to identify your core capabilities. 

Pulling your employees together and having them write out what they think the company's core capabilities are is an easy exercise that reveals how your team views the business and its operations. You'll probably be surprised at how little crossover you get. After the exercise, you can take the top responses, compare them to your original goals, vision, or intent, clarify what you really want, and tweak your operations to make sure everyone is working with the same sense of shared purpose.

2.     Define what the core capabilities do

Once you know what your core capabilities are, ask yourself, "What do we currently do with them?" For instance, at my company, one of our core capabilities is fleet management of commercial vehicles. Currently, within that, we offer a lot of day-to-day services like handling tolls, fuel, and maintenance.

All fleet management services should connect directly to the efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and reliability customers can get from their commercial vehicles. These services help customers understand exactly how to move forward by, for example, providing more safety training for drivers. But they also free business leaders to focus on other critical areas of their business because they don't have to worry about their vehicles or drivers. This underlying peace of mind is a benefit that goes well beyond just getting customers the products they want. It's the true differentiator. 

3.     Ask what else you could do

This usually means looking at attached or ancillary capabilities. Another one of our company's core capabilities is vehicle acquisition and distribution. When I joined the business, we had partnerships with organizations that ran summer camps for kids. At the beginning of the summer, we'd send about 1,500 vans out to bring the kids to the camps. Then, we'd have those vans take the kids back home when the camps were over and return the vans to our fleet centers. 

What we weren't doing was last-mile delivery, the kind you think of when you think about Amazon or FedEx deliveries. What does last-mile delivery require, though? Getting vans, sending them all over the country, and making them disappear. Our experience with the summer camps proved that we knew how to do that. All we had to do to get into the last-mile delivery sector was recognize that we could apply our existing skills to it. Getting into that additional service helped build our business from 1,100 vehicles to 22,000 in just three years.

Fixedness--that is, being set in your way of thinking or doing-is the biggest challenge during this step. I had to convince the team they did know how to do last-mile delivery and get them past the idea that they had to stick to what we'd always done. 

Another example of the benefits of breaking fixedness can be seen in the freezers on the bottom of our refrigerators. Having the freezer in that location is way more energy-efficient, but it took years for the design to shift simply because people were so used to refrigerators being laid out in the traditional way with the freezer on top. So, identify where you're fixed, face it head-on, and reap the benefits.

4.     Start trying to roll out those new capabilities and services

It makes sense to market new services and products to new customers who might not have considered you before. But one of the most effective ways to roll out new options is to take those options to the customers you already have through cross-selling. These efforts are important because your odds of selling to an existing customer are 60 to 70 percent, compared to just 5 to 20 percent for somebody new. Cross-selling also contributes to higher engagement, better customer satisfaction, and stronger, longer-lasting relationships

There are multiple paths for cross-selling. You might present new options at a quarterly or annual account review meeting, or you could pitch new offerings during customer appreciation events. Other cross-selling opportunities might include sending out an invitation email after a buyer makes a purchase, bundling products, or using artificial intelligence (AI) to recommend new products automatically on your site. 

To demonstrate how this works in our business, if we introduced new technologies, those technologies could allow people to track more fleet metrics efficiently. Existing customers who use our current fleet management services would likely be the easiest sell for the technologies because those customers are already interested in analyzing and improving performance.

Transform quickly, fail fast, and enjoy your growth

As you pivot, it's important to remember that speed matters. If the market is shifting at 50 miles an hour and you're only going 40, you're actually regressing. You have to move faster than the market. But to get that speed, you have to give people permission to fail fast. 

Don't pick a million things to go after and get distracted. Instead, pick one or two good ideas to work on. Tell the team you hope one succeeds but it's okay if one fails. Even if one idea ends in failure, the one that succeeds will prove that exploring does work.

When building out capabilities, culture matters

Companies that go through a transformation process based on an evaluation of their core capabilities sometimes see that they're weak in a certain area. Then, to fix that weakness, they go out and try to acquire a business that can fill the gap. This kind of quick solution can work if it's well thought out. More often, though, when you bring two companies together, the two cultures of the companies don't mesh well. If something is missing in your business, look into all your options and pick what's truly best for the company in the long term, not just what changes things the fastest or what seems easiest in the moment. 

Start your company's transformation now

Every company has the ability to transform. It just requires a little strategy: figuring out what your core skills are, identifying how you use them, deciding how else to apply what you're good at, and rolling out your new capabilities and services. Use this four-step process in your own company to tap your core capabilities and see positive change.