Based on my experience as a business advisor, most businesses don't think about the need for change until a crisis occurs. This might be the recognition that competitors are surpassing your own results, financial growth has disappeared, or the pandemic has eliminated loyal customers.
Only then do they begin searching for that one-time fix that will restore their leadership position.
My recommendation is that you plan to pivot your business on a regular basis, at least once a year, even before you see specific negative symptoms indicative of change in the market you thought you knew so well. In my experience, planning for change means creating the right culture in your organization, having a real change process in place, and effective team communication.
Here are some key steps to get the ball rolling if you don't know where to start:
1. Establish the mindset that change is good.
Because change often leads to a crisis, you and your team can easily see it as a negative, and approach it with fear. Yet if you think back to when your business started, you capitalized on change as your opportunity. That's the model you need to project to your team daily, and remind yourself regularly.
Many smart business leaders believe that you can actually train your brain to get better at handling change through simple mental exercises, from noticing a few positive changes every day, to learning how to meditate. Change is inevitable, so accept it as the norm.
2. Keep an open channel to customers and influencers.
Running an existing business is an all-consuming job: managing employees, vendors, and government regulations. It's hard to find time to really study the market for new trends, and listen to customers. The right approach is to allocate time, maybe an hour a day, for these critical change drivers.
In addition, it is important to stay actively involved in external activities relevant to your business, including industry conferences and panels. Maintain relationships with other industry movers and shakers, including customer support groups and media influencers.
3. Regularly update and publish your vision and goals.
Reminding yourself and the team annually of the big picture is the best way to check your ongoing fit to a changing world. As a constant learner, your reminder will generate new insights that allow you to prepare for the future, without waiting for a crisis. Be sure to factor in the new realities.
For example, many entrepreneurs have found that adding a goal of serving a higher purpose attracts new customers and improves team commitment. Toms Shoes now succeeds by providing a free pair of shoes to the needy for every pair sold.
4. Institute a formal change process with rewards.
People must be incented to look for and recommend positive changes, rather than just incentivized to follow the existing processes. That means providing every employee with the authority and resources to make change decisions in their scope, and be rewarded based on value to the customer.
Jeff Bezos credits much of Amazon's continued success to his incenting of regular change "experiments." He believes that if you double the number of experiments you do per year, you're going to double your inventiveness, and keep ahead of the market.
5. Don't let stress and emotion drive pivot decisions.
Make sure that you use data and expert outside advisors, more than your gut, to prioritize the alternatives for a change. Decisions made in the heat of the moment are likely ones you will regret later. For your ongoing personal health and well-being, take the time to do the surveys and review data.
Another way to raise your logic and decrease your emotional reactivity is by documenting the pros and cons of a potential change. The discipline of reviewing the facts will keep you rational about options, and prevent your emotions from getting the best of you.
Most entrepreneurs recognize that pivots are required to adapt their initial understanding to the real market. Once synchronized, they often forget that change is the only constant in business, and it takes a crisis to remind them.
If you can make this acceptance of change a normal part of your business process, I assure you your business life will be more satisfying, as well as fruitful.