Current global events have disrupted the global economic rhythm, placing a big demand on leaders within organisations to adjust and navigate their teams through a dynamic and uncertain environment. This period may be prolonged, greater than the recession experienced after the 2008 financial crisis.

The need to pivot

Trending in all sectors is the acknowledged need to pivot, in order to protect product relevance and customers, or to capitalise on new market sectors. Organisations are being tested, and are required to explore opportunities - an imperative to adjust quickly to either protect revenues, optimise costs or drive innovation, or all three.

We have seen examples of this in wholesale fast-moving consumer goods; companies rapidly pivoted into distribution of perishable goods directly to their customers using digital capabilities (apps, e-commerce platforms, etc.) and revised means of delivery. From the fruit and veg stallholder who started taking orders via Facebook messaging, through the brewer and butchers who opened an online store, to Ocado who scaled their delivery slots to meet demand.

Ability to change

SMEs are naturally agile, but to achieve this rapid adjustment corporate businesses laden with governance, process and cultural change hurdles had to change to avoid being left behind.

Shifting the gears of change requires the ability to manage one’s culture, remove barriers and, in some cases, start a paradigm shift. This is particularly important for the many organisations that have not experienced significant external economic shocks before and have enjoyed steady financial performance and growth. Some leaders find it challenging to get their incumbent change teams to move at pace. Relying on the traditional barrier removal approaches will not work in the short timescales needed for an agile pivot.

A different approach should be considered alongside current processes.

Understand the blockers

Understanding your cultural change barriers allows the organisation to find its enablers for change. This positions leaders to overcome blockers and realise positive and fast action plans, essential in protecting the organisation or seizing an opportunity to move ahead of competitors.

So how do we avoid being stuck in the starting blocks of change in times of stress?

Before we answer that, one thing that your organisation may want to avoid is to approach each problem with the same tools you have used for other problems. As Abraham Maslow said "I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail."

Good leaders have a high ability to strategise and create long-range roadmaps, yet they often ignore the legacy processes which are found to be too rigid to respond when rapid change is essential. Often it is the behavioural side of change that is forgotten.

Focus on behavioural change

When rapid or pivotal culture change is required to reposition the business, the following questions must be answered with clarity and positivity to ensure your agilty to respond.

  • What are the short-term change acceptance behaviours required?
  • What are the barriers to achieving the intended pivot outcomes?
  • Can cultural change barriers be turned into enablers very quickly?
  • What are the quick but effective cultural change opportunities? (move pebbles not boulders, find the capabilities and assets hiding in plain sight)

If these questions bring out more questions than answers, pivoting your business at the speed you need to, in order to stay relevant and stay trading, may be a challenge.