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  • Writer's pictureBrett Simpson

In my experience…pivoting is as much art as it is science

Agility is a term I hear a lot in business.  I’m not talking about agile software development, rather how leaders navigate through change.  According to Google’s dictionary, agility is the ability to think and understand quickly, and move quickly and easily.  I appreciate this definition because I’ve found that thinking and moving in concert is more clearly effective than thinking and not moving or moving and not thinking.

Agility in business has always been important.  One change over the last 20 years is the speed of agility required.  Availability and volume of information provides organizations with inputs to make decisions about strategy and execution in near-real-time.  This puts the onus on leadership to take that information and translate it into agility-driven-decisions.  These decisions result in an organization’s need to pivot or stay-the-course.

In my experience, pivoting is as much art as it is science.  When pivoting, an organization’s leaders need to consider ‘when’, ‘why’ and ‘to what’.  Pivoting, even in a small organization, is typically a herculean undertaking that can cause disruption to both direct and indirect stakeholders.  Because of this it’s important to validate that pivoting is the best path forward.

In order to do that a case needs to be built for it.  Sometimes the outcome of that case doesn’t result in a pivot and it’s better to find that out before human and financial resources are deployed.  Organizations pivot for many reasons including product / service relevance, leadership changes, reorganization, M&A, market drivers, political impacts, environmental forces, cost structure optimizations or technology innovation.  The list can go on.

On a recent project an organization was trying to determine if pivoting was a good idea in order to stay relevant in their industry in terms of products and services offered.  Following are some of the questions we explored with the leadership team.

  • Who are your current customers (create a customer profile)?

  • How much does the average customer spend each year?  How many transactions? What exactly do they buy?

  • Why do customers choose your products or services?

  • What are you good at?

  • What are you not good at?

  • Is business stagnant?  How do you know?

  • What are the threats to your current business?

  • What are customers asking for?

  • What has been tried, and failed?

  • What has been tried, and succeeded?

  • What direction would you like to see the business go? What is needed to go that direction? What does success in that direction look like?

  • Do we need to pivot?  Why?  Why?  Why?  When?

Obviously, the questions will change depending on the initial rationale for exploring pivoting (in this case, product / service relevance), but the overall intent remains the same. Do the due diligence required to determine if 1) pivoting is warranted and 2) the organization is agile enough to do it.

Special thanks to Jeff Rooks and Phil Rauen, two strategic thinkers who are as good in their respective fields as anyone I know at guiding organizations through change when pivoting is needed.

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