Is Your Company Pivoting Fast Enough?

While no-one thinks that business-as-usual will take you through these tumultuous times, how can you tell if your organization is transforming quickly enough to earn a place among the survivors? Are you watching for signs that reveal the truth about the pace of your digital transformation?

Recently, my wife and I visited the optician. Unfortunately, buying glasses was the last thing on our minds. We only needed prescriptions because we intended to try an online service: Zenni Optical.

Together, we ended up spending about two fun hours on their website, trying on 20-30 frames each. How is that done virtually? The company takes a short video of your head as it moves from side to side. Then, it superimposes whatever frame you choose from its vast inventory, as you vary the colour and fit. All you need to provide is your prescription to place the order.

They offer a 30-day return guarantee, and added features such as sunglass clip-ons, tinting and various coatings. Not only did I spend more time than I ever have trying different options, but I also ordered two pairs. The total price? Less than US$100. My package arrived yesterday and with it, my first new glasses in over a decade.

If I owned a local store, or made a living selling glasses, I’d read the above story with a sense of dread. This particular digital transformation delivers the same product at the end of the day, but disrupts the traditional choosing and ordering experience. Will the optician’s office of the future consist of a doctor, a computer screen, and a MailPac account?

Arguably, if an owner of a store selling glasses doesn’t already have a strategic plan that involves a dramatic pivot, he/she should prepare to close up shop. It may be too late.

But how about your industry? Are you planning to deliver superior value to your customers at dramatically better prices? Or faster? Here are three simple steps to take in 2021 to ensure that you end the year as a survivor.

1. Drive a Specific Vision, Not a Mad Scramble

Granted, in 2020 we were all caught in a harem-scarem dash to save our companies. But now that the dust has settled, don’t sit back and wait for the next disruption to come along.

In fact, if you haven’t defined a detailed mid to long-term destination such as the 25-year vision Grace Kennedy crafted in 1995, you could be in trouble. Perhaps your stakeholders, tiring of the non-stop drama, may already be asking: “Why bother?” or “What’s the point?”

Reacting to one crisis or opportunity after another is exhausting, even if you do so successfully. Eventually, customers, employees and shareholders start looking for alternatives. In fact, you should reject their blind “loyalty” as a temporary glitch. It only lulls you into complacency, while delaying their inevitable withdrawal. Keep them engaged by redrawing and communicating your preferred vision of the future.

2. Find the Best Role Models

Companies often relax their efforts to hit world-class levels, arguing that Jamaican customers are willing to accept a lower standard. The truth is, my optician’s customer service has been falling for years, evidenced by the sour looks we received when we informed them of our intentions to purchase elsewhere.

My advice? Forget about local competitors. Instead, find the world-leader, then push yourself to believe that it’s coming to Jamaica soon. Now, build your transformation plans around that presumption, aiming to pivot your business more quickly than others can.

This may mean adding capabilities few understand or appreciate. For example, not a single person knew how to operate a SIM card mobile phone before Digicel’s entry. However, the value became apparent, so everyone learned; even those who couldn’t read or write.

3. Use the Best Pivot Process

I recall working with a board of directors which decided, in its wisdom, to reduce its average age over time by 10 years. The logic was brutal: it desperately needed young blood.

This kind of tough approach might not fit your company, but it’s not enough to say “No.” You must create a change plan that works for your environment, and delivers the result you want. In other words, you need to manage the transformation in all its dimensions so that you don’t miss a step.

Consider: if your organization is lacking the right vision, outstanding role models, and a credible change process, then you are sewing the seeds of your obsolescence.

The harsh logic is that people are seeking value from wherever it may be found, just as they always have. New technology simply fast-forwards their search, disrupting everything.

Today we are witnessing the destruction of industries at an unprecedented rate. You must pivot fast to keep up.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To search prior columns on productivity, strategy, engagement and business processes, send email to [email protected]

Don’t Waste the Pandemic!

It’s often said that a good disaster shouldn’t be squandered. If you were to follow this maxim for 2021, how could you make the most of last year’s twin evils: a recession and a worldwide pandemic?

Most executive teams are happy to have survived to the end of 2020 in one piece. Thankfully, their companies are still running and few employees have succumbed to the COVID-19 illness. They feel a sense of achievement at overcoming an unprecedented attack.

However, this is a low standard. In the years to come, some will ask: “What big things did your leaders do with the pandemic?” In other words, how did you take advantage of the dramatic changes underway to ensure the company’s future?

Although most won’t have an answer, here are a few questions you can pose now. Use them to make the most of the havoc wrought by last year’s tumult.

1) Do you have the right talent?

Under normal circumstances, most CEO’s and board chairpersons don’t like to rock the boat. While they may secretly want a company filled with top talent, they decide that it’s just not worth the fight. Instead, they settle for so-so standards, believing that you can’t have an organization of star performers.

Here’s another approach: the best football teams keep a list of potential replacements for every position. Looking forward, they plan for a time when each incumbent cannot improve his/her level of play. As such, no-one is granted an indefinite guarantee. Instead, these organizations continually scan the horizon for potential replacements.

Few local companies challenge their employees in this way: in fact, only a handful conduct proper performance reviews. This failure leaves them short – lacking the systems required to put top talent in seats. Consequently, when the time comes to make dramatic changes due to outside circumstances, they falter.

For example, in 2021 few companies escape the need for an urgent digital transformation. However, only a handful have the capacity needed to convert this strategic imperative into a reality. If your company has no active plan to upgrade its human resource strength, change your approach now, before the next interruption occurs.

2) Are you innovating enough?

Some time ago, an executive complained to me about the lack of a critical input to their company’s business. While it could be acquired locally, it was only available sporadically. We talked informally about taking strides to secure a steady supply.

Today, a decade later, the firm remains in the same spot. They failed to craft the strategy required, a weakness that COVID has “attacked”. If they had only taken the right steps at the right time, this would not be a concern. In fact, it would be an enormous source of competitive advantage leading to happier customers.

In my company, we were too slow in our pivot to offer an online version of our 2-day strategic planning retreat. Believing that COVID would pass in the near future, we waited…but now we expect companies to ask for lower cost, virtual retreats as a matter of course. We learned that innovation is easier to teach than to apply.

The truth is, when only a trickle of evidence is available, you need tremendous creativity to imagine what your customers and suppliers will need. Yet, there are standard, proven approaches to produce reliable, game-changing innovations. For example, use the Jobs to Be Done technique I mentioned in a Gleaner column from Nov 18 2016.

Here is a test – if you don’t have a list of practical innovations lined up for possible execution in 2021, you probably aren’t taking advantage of the pandemic. Teach your staff how to use the latest techniques and apply them even when it’s hard.

3) A Culture of Proactive Resilience

Jamaican companies know how to react to disasters: they are tough survivors. But few can make repeated operational changes which create room for transformational shifts. Unfortunately, CEO’s often behave as if their job is only about capably adjusting to outside fluctuations.

However, there is another approach: to always look to do more with less, thereby preparing your company to tackle the next disaster before it even appears.

The fact is that today’s pandemic is tomorrow’s hurricane, fire, or new digital competitor. These are just a few disruptions which can do serious damage to your enterprise. Consequently, you should be prepared by driving an enduring culture of continuous improvement.

Ultimately, this self-renewing corporate culture is more likely to succeed against rude surprises. It prepares your staff to tackle challenges effectively. This is the only way to ensure your firm’s success: the kind of place which sees the next disruption as an opportunity to transform itself for the better. Far from being wasted, it’s welcomed.