One of the greatest challenges to business success is, learning how to remain flexible enough to adapt to needed change, while staying focussed on our goals. Even though we have declared S.M.A.R.T. goals and designed a very specific strategic plan to achieve them, it is equally important to remain open and flexible along the way. Business life is a mystery; you never know what might show up and you can’t be so myopic that you miss opportunities and solutions you couldn’t have even fathomed before.
Business people make plans for all sorts of reasons — to attract funding, evaluate future growth, build partnerships, or guide development. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these plans are usually out of date by the time the printer ink dries. Business moves fast: The product’s features morph, new competitors emerge, or the economic climate shifts. When these changes occur, many people just throw their business plans out the window. For a plan to be truly valuable, it needs to evolve with your company and stay relevant in the face of uncertainty.
As Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, William Sahlman says, “When you think about a business plan, think about the distinction between a snapshot and a moving picture.” In his book, ‘How to Write a Great Business Plan’, Sahlman explains that you need something that moves with your business, meaning, a fluid and useful document.
What is flexibility and why is it so important?
The flexibility in business is defined as the ability for a company to make whatever internal changes are necessary to respond effectively to the changing outward environment, as quickly as possible. In other words, you’re ready for whatever happens in the market and you’re able to turn it into opportunity by adjusting to the new paradigm almost immediately.
The reason flexibility is so vital to businesses is because of what I stated earlier. The world is changing; it’s changing rapidly and it isn’t going to stop changing – ever. Technology advancements and other market trends are accelerating at an exponential pace and they won’t wait around for companies to adjust. For those companies that don’t embrace flexibility, changes in the business environment can mean significant setbacks. For those who actually resist change, they can spell disaster.
nWhat does it take to create a flexible company?
When it comes right down to it, flexibility within a company is an attitude – a culture. There are a couple of phrases that professional businessmen never like to hear: “Because that’s how we’ve always done it,” and “If it is not broke, don’t fix it.” What those common phrases are really saying is that we’re not only resistant to change; we don’t even want to explore the possibility that there might be a better way. To get away from that limiting attitude and create a culture of flexibility within a company, four keys may be helpful.
Listen to your employees, partners, vendors and customers. Never be afraid of feedback of any kind and welcome suggestions and ideas. A flexible company culture depends on everyone associated with the company feeling comfortable sharing ideas for innovations, process improvements and correcting shortcomings. Not only will your company be more ready for any unexpected change that comes along, you’ll become stronger and more cohesive in the meantime.
2. Really listen
Take it one step further. In addition to being open to hearing ideas, go ask for them. Start a ‘Bright Idea’ award system for employees. Convene customer focus groups on a regular basis, and include employees, customers and even vendors in internal mastermind sessions. It’s one thing to say your door’s always open – it’s another to walk someone through it.
3. Open your mind
If you follow the first two keys, you have ideas coming from all over. This is a very good thing, but only if you receive the ideas with an open, creative mind. Creativity is what allows you to see possibilities – to envision things other than the way they currently are. If you truly have an open mind, you approach ideas and obstacle the same way: Instead of “It can’t be done” you will say, “What do we need to do to make this happen?” With that frame of mind, you welcome change as an opportunity to improve and grow. And that is what flexibility is all about.
An open mind allows fresh ideas to enter and help you with your plans and goals. Answers, ideas and solutions come quicker to an open mind. That’s why it’s such a powerful weapon to being flexible, adaptable and adjustable. For example, it helps you see opportunities others miss, discount or neglect.
4. Be open to making mid-course corrections
The next tip to being more flexible, adaptable and adjustable is a willingness to make mid-course corrections. You have to be like a guided missile. To hit the target, a guided missile must sometimes make dozens of adjustments on its way, based on changing conditions. For example, wind, speed or the moves the target makes. So, the same goes for you. You’ll have to be open and ready to make mid-course corrections based on any changing circumstances you may face.
Take the time to follow these simple but powerful tips. They’ll help you overcome your business and life problems more gracefully.
But you have to stay focused. Adapting your business model means finding new business opportunities, while also staying flexible with the solutions you already provide. Charles Darwin once remarked, “It is not the strongest species that survive, not the most intelligent, but is the one most adaptable to change.” Adaptability is essential to both employment opportunities as well as organisational longevity.
5. Understand and adapt
With increasing global competition and shorter product life cycles, coupled with rapid technological changes, adaptability will continue to remain essential to keeping up with and driving changes in today’s business environment. Limited resources, where employees are often required to do more with less and often in shorter time frames, requires true commitment followed by a high degree of flexibility from both employees and management leadership.
It also means being willing to learn and produce in new ways as an occasion dictates. This ability to adopt and change as needed is especially critical in positions that focus on project management and where there is an implied need for flexibility as projects evolve and change. A culture of adaptability sets the stage for changes to be implemented.
So, how can employees and their organisations successfully adapt when all of the rules have changed? Recognizing new organisational problems as they arise is the first step. Granted, addressing the challenges created by the current economy frequently requires managers to make a number of difficult changes. These changes range from reductions in force to company restructuring.
In order to understand and adapt to these rapid changes: (1). Ask questions about changes with appropriate individuals, (2). Give new ideas/alternatives a chance. (3). Lastly, upgrade skills as necessary in order to be flexible and remain a valuable asset.
Flexibility is the key
Given the high potential for unforeseen crises, or the need to capture unforeseen opportunities, the more flexible individuals are, the better they’ll be when it comes to employment opportunities or staying one step ahead on the job.
Flexibility in your business model requires continual experimentation to get to the next level. Maybe you need to add an extra layer to your business model, whether it’s franchising, switching from products to services (or vice versa), transitioning to a web-based retail model or a brick-and-mortar location, or going high-end with your pricing. You must continuously look out for the next stage of success. Experimentation is where real business success lies.
(The writer, a corporate director with over 25 years’ senior managerial experience, can be contacted at email@example.com)