Day by day the world around us changes more rapidly than ever before, and with the introduction of Web3 technology, the pace looks set to pick up yet again.
To stay ahead of the rolling snowball, businesses need to be willing to change as well – and this is where strategic pivoting comes in.
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To pivot is to take a new direction, or make a shift.
We heard the term pivoting used a lot during the pandemic as a magic bullet, fix-all solution to sudden change – but what actually is pivoting? Put simply, a pivot is an intentional shift in what a business does or how it operates to better achieve its objectives. This might be a change in target consumer, the main industry, or it could mean a renewal of the product and service portfolio or distribution channels.
On one hand, this redirection in activity can sometimes create a bit of uncertainty for those involved. Venturing into the unknown with changes of this scale carries risk, and it can be unsettling for employees and customers who have a strong sense of familiarity and structure to how things have been done in the past.
But in reality, a pivot is an essential part of business innovation. It is key to developing future-fit organizations that can readily adapt to the constantly changing environments around them. The businesses of tomorrow are smart, flexible, and most critically, genuinely willing to change how they deliver for their customers.
Progression stops when businesses stop learning.
Pivoting doesn’t necessarily mean a change to who the business is or what they stand for. As author and entrepreneur Eric Ries said ‘’A pivot is a change in strategy without a change in vision.’’ Whether the strategic changes made are big and disruptive, or incrementally small, their purpose is the same – to positively progress the business in a direction to better serve their market.
Progressive pivoting means being receptive to customer needs, proactive in spotting early signs of change, and willing to rapidly shift just enough of what is needed in order to not just survive, but thrive, against emerging demands. But progressive shifts won’t happen without learning. If organisations lose the ability to read their market and deeply understand their customers, they can fall behind – creating urgency for a pivot of a significant size to get them back on track.
I’ve experienced this first hand with a previous client. Global health trends had created a mammoth drop in demand for the core product of a multinational consumer goods company. The face of an industry that had remained the same for decades was disrupting overnight, as new consumer behaviours emerged that they couldn’t explain, and challenger brands rapidly responded to meet them. Having relied on their core offering for so long, the organization’s ability to engage with existing and new consumers had vanished. It was clear a large-scale pivot was needed, but with so much change ahead, managing this journey in a way that helped employees feel supported at every step was critical.
First, a new product and service portfolio was created, with the brand authenticity needed to retain existing consumers and the future-facing relevancy for emerging trends and needs. So the organisation didn’t stagnate again, we partnered around an exciting strategy that empowered teams with technologies to continue to learn about emergent consumer needs – setting them up for a future of progressive, and intentional pivots. Preliminary results showed both group and category revenues significantly up – a win for the pivot.
Embodying a Pivoting Mindset
The challenge with pivots of this scale is they bring a massive, and pretty painful journey of change for all involved – for customers, for employees, for operations.
So how do we use pivoting to stay relevant, whilst avoiding the unnecessary stresses that come with a large scale shift? The answer is a pivoting mindset.
We love partnering with clients on cracking complex, future-facing challenges. Whether exploring deep insights, inspiring them to build new strategies, visions, products and services, or challenging them to boldly lean into the world of experimentation, embracing vulnerability and feedback is core to every step (In fact you can read about one such client and their subsequent culture shift).
One way we bring vulnerability and learning into the room is through safe pivoting, early and regularly. Because, if you haven’t realised yet, pivoting is essentially using data to make a strategic change. Using feedback to iterate solutions so they better solve a problem in a safe environment, with a low risk idea, is a brilliant way to build muscle around making strategic pivots on a bigger scale.
This supports building skills people can take forward and apply to all areas of the business; from spotting the signals that help you critically assess how well your product meets the needs of your customer, or change the distribution channels for better efficiency and engagement.
Instead of blindly continuing in the hope that things get better in the future, we help our clients embrace a future of strategic pivoting, big or small, so that they can stay constantly relevant for their customers, and one step ahead of their competitors.
When is pivoting hard?
Pivoting is best when we are in a position of constant learning.
- Pivoting is hard when we stop learning and listening
- Pivoting is hard when we become comfortable
- Pivoting becomes hard when we fix on the thing in the market, and not how well it solves the need
Things to think about at the point of a pivot…
- Spot the seeds of change. What are the macro and micro behavioral shifts? What are your competitors doing? Get real – how well do you know your customers?
- Be honest. How well are you delivering for your customers in the wake of this shift? How about your competitors, what are they doing? Who is new on the scene?
- Get clear on your goal. Is there a clear strategic ambition for the pivot? e.g. growth of market share, commercial revenue, market differentiation…
- Identify your passengers. What does this mean for those involved? What does the journey of change look like? What is the likely impact of this on your people, and how can you get them teams ready?