With the current pandemic appearing to scale down, many of you running businesses are looking forward to things getting back to the way they used to be.
I'm sorry to predict that it will never happen, which means that the agility you may have learned over the past couple of years will continue to be critical to your survival. If you aren't yet adapting to the market and your customers, you are falling behind.
I define business agility for my consulting clients as the ability to change your business rapidly to meet customer and environmental changes, with minimal organizational disruption and cost. In other words, change in your business has to become the accepted norm, just like it is in your market.
That requires an overt strategy and regular actions on your part along the following lines.
1. Set a tone that change in your business is good.
As an entrepreneur, business owner, or leader, your message must never be, "If it's not broken, don't fix it." Most team members I meet still fear that even suggesting changes will have negative consequences for them, rather than rewards. You need to change that perception by your daily actions.
In this context, the late great Andy Grove, founder of Intel, believed that no change breeds failure. He lived the philosophy that companies must be paranoid in order to survive, and continually disrupt their own markets to prevent being overrun by competition.
2. Be proactive rather than reactive to market change.
If you find yourself being surprised by new competitor offerings and customer demands, then perhaps you are not paying attention. How serious are you about really listening to customer feedback, your own teams, and participating in industry forums? Don't let the daily crisis run your life.
Every good entrepreneur I know has a proactive mindset. This means that they focus more on the future, make plans to address likely scenarios, and make things happen. It's also important to define a big picture goal for your team, such as saving the environment.
3. Initiate regular iterative change experiments.
Effective internal changes don't have to be large, highly risky, or expensive. Start small and move quickly to test new approaches that can be scaled up later, with an understanding that some will fail. By characterizing them as experiments, everyone will see them as a learning opportunity.
Amazon and Jeff Bezos credit much of their growth and success to incentivizing regular change experiments. Bezos believes that if you double the number of experiments you do per year, you're going to double your agility, and thus outpace your competitors.
4. Reseed teams with new leaders and rotation.
New blood and new ideas are keys to agility. Make sure you are fostering people's development to their full potential, for them and for your business. That means making sure you are utilizing coaching and mentoring, as well as training to keep up with changes in technology and the marketplace.
5. Demand and reward speedy analysis and execution.
I still find many organizations that think of internal change in terms of months and years, or even worse, suffer from analysis paralysis--studying a problem forever. Make sure your teams are enabled to make timely decisions, as well as foster accountability for staying competitive in their domain.
6. Foster a collaboration culture, rather than competition.
Healthy conflict is good inside of teams, but competition and conflict between teams slows down change. Your priority must be to create and maintain a team culture of continuous innovation, through regular communication, setting the right strategy, and management by walking around.
7. Adopt some key metrics to measure your change agility.
I always remind leaders that people don't work on things that aren't measured in some way. If you want change in your business, you must publish and reward people based on how many changes have been initiated, how fast they are completed, and the overall impact on business metrics.
With the worldwide Internet, every aspect of your offering, including latest changes, is instantly visible to current and potential customers. In fact, changes are often highlighted by online sites and influencers as positive, and can give you that extra boost you need to stand out in the marketplace over competitors. Don't let complacency keep you from the success you deserve.