How easily can your business adapt to changes in its operating environment?
Does it embrace new technology readily enough? Will it struggle to redefine itself when the winds of the world render its products and services obsolete? What if a recession hits? Do you have at least a sketch of a plan to withstand a difficult economic situation?
These aren’t abstract, needless questions. They are things you ought to be grappling with. Nothing ever remains the same forever; change happens. It’s the way the world works. You simply have to accept this fact and work with it.
Think about the famous brands of the past. How many of them have remained as prominent as they once were? How many of them still exist?
A couple of decades ago, there were companies which still manufactured typewriters. Today, there are none; the computer, allied with the electronic printer, has driven them to extinction. Courier services aren’t making a fraction of what they once did from delivering letters across the world; that’s because the web has made that part of their business largely unnecessary. Today, financial institutions are bracing up for major changes, as fintech startups encroach on their once secure market with new technology-driven solutions.
Your business isn’t exactly insulated from these sorts of transformations either. This is true regardless of its size. Huge banks have gone bust after being hit by economic meltdowns. About 80% of small businesses in Nigeria fail within their first five years; a large percentage of them fold up because they aren’t equipped to survive the uncertainties of the space in which they operate.
You can’t afford to just hope that this won’t happen to your own venture. You have to think about ways to make it more adaptable.
Over the years, we’ve learnt the basics of adaptability from companies which have successfully transformed to fit in with successive eras in the world of business. Here we’ll present a number of these cues to you.
How to Make Your Business More Adaptable
1. Be Willing to Change
The first step to take on the road to transforming the way you approach business is to decide to take that step in the first place. Once you become open to being flexible with the way your business serves its clientele and interacts with its environment, you’ll increase its chances of it surviving and even thriving in a world of constant disruption.
In practical terms, this may require that you revisit your motivations for running the business. How do you make them work in different realities? Will they remain relevant if the market turns away from your current modus operandi?
Your customers’ tastes change all the time. Perhaps you’re able to accommodate those alterations in their preferences. Now, you have to be willing to extend this over the longer term and be adaptable enough to cope with more abrupt, fast-paced turns in your industry’s trends.
2. Keep an Eye on Movements in Your Space
You can probably tell that your customers’ demands evolve as time goes by. One year, they’re asking for chinos; the next, they’re hunting faded jeans. Know what’s in vogue, and deliver its best versions to people who want it.
The only way you know there’s something significant going on close to you is if you’re watching your space closely. You will eventually realize whatever disruptions are brewing in your industrial neighbourhood; the question is whether there will be enough time to take meaningful adaptive action when you do find out what it is. Businesses which function without an ear to the ground they’re treading may get a rude awakening when the earth suddenly does a fatal shift under their feet.
How do you keep tabs of these said movements- like the latest relevant technology, public policy changes or an unfolding economic downturn?
The best bets are reading trade journals and well-researched business-focused publications, attending conferences in your industry, maintaining contacts with others in your space, and simply noticing the trends in your customers’ orders.
3. Plan for a Range of Eventualities
What are the more likely situations you might face given the nature of your work? What kind of ‘unforeseen’ scenarios could arise in the area your business is located?
Think through these possible eventualities, and work out ways to respond to them if they come up. Have a strategy for changing your tack as the older products you sell become less popular and new favourites appear on the scene.
If you’re faced with a couple of outcomes from a particular situation, you’ll want to consider what the best reactions to each outcome would be. For example, if there’s a dip in consumer incomes, your sales might be lower than usual. Do you respond by cutting back on production or restructuring the composition of your product mix? And how would you go on with either strategy?
4. Be Creative
The idea of coming up with new ways to run your enterprise may sound appealing, but it takes a lot of thinking and reorganization. Nevertheless, it could save your business.
Rigid systems are comfortable because they give us a sense of certainty. But they may also be a drawback in periods of real disruption. In such instances, they may require some tweaking, just so that ideas continue to flow, and solutions are developed and implemented more quickly.
There’s been a pushback against excessively ‘authoritarian’ leadership styles in recent times. That’s partly because these styles tend to stifle creativity and innovation– the very things that drive growth in our world today. Instead, there’s more focus on ‘decentralized’ leadership systems, in which members of staff farther down the company’s hierarchy are able to share ideas with their managers and operate with a higher degree of independence.
5. Approach Big Goals with Small Steps
Your mission and vision statements may be fine summaries of your long term aspirations, but the details they encapsulate are days, weeks, months and years of work. Don’t be so bound by fixed ideas about staying faithful to your mantras that you resist alternative ways of living up to them. Be open to the possibility that there could be better means to reach your goals. Be ready to embrace them if you’re sure they’ll work for you.
This sort of openness to alternatives will let you be flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances and the challenges they will pose.