No one changes the world while playing catch up; that is why cultivating the agility to act swiftly and smartly in any given situation is one of the keys to managing the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world. I know from personal experience how hard it is to find a balance between thinking a situation through and acting too quickly. Indeed, overcoming “analysis paralysis” is easier said than done. Nevertheless, developing the agility to transform rapidly increases the likelihood that you can withstand and even thrive in the face of whatever comes your way.
This process starts with developing a flexible attitude that includes an open mind and the eagerness to explore options on how best to proceed in the direction of your new idea. Even more important is a mindset that can accept mistakes, learn from them, and move forward quickly.
Perfect is the Enemy of Done
Many of us hesitate to act until we feel the way forward must be foolproof. True, mistakes are inevitable, but as the CEO of Business Nitrogen, David Asarnow, puts it, “perfect is the enemy of done.” Taking action in spite of the unknown requires courage, and while there is an inherent risk in any decisive action, you cannot let the fear of failure prevent you from trying. Given the head-spinning pace of change, it isn’t a choice. Kathy Sheehan, a Senior Vice President at Cassandra, an insights and strategy agency focused on young consumers, has written,
A striking example of this truism has been the hospitality industry which was one of the hardest-hit sectors of the global economy at the height of the pandemic. According to Wendy Alberts, CEO of the Restaurant Association of South Africa, the evolution of the restaurant industry during the pandemic had a profoundly innovative effect on the way restaurateurs around the world now do business. There was no way to create customers magically, but quickly responding with ambition and creativity created brand-new profit streams.
That was the route taken by the South African entrepreneur Larry Hodes. Prior to Covid, Hodes was a consulting business coach and facilitator for the Nedbank Group, one of South Africa’s four most prominent financial institutions. In addition, Hodes also owned and actively managed three successful restaurants in two of Johannesburg’s sprawling suburban dining-out hubs.
When South Africa went into total lockdown in May 2020, Hodes and his wife, Annie, faced each other across a sea of empty tables and chairs that could no longer provide them or their staff with an income. With the ban on indoor dining, Hodes lost his profit stream but still had to pay business expenses, staff wages, and manage his household expenses,
The couple would come to use the same mindset that had driven others to pivot and reinvent the way things are done while still using the same materials. There would be no layoffs, no break in service, and no giving up. Hodes’ entrepreneurial drive kicked in, and he set about creating a new foundation to build and thrive in a hybrid and isolated world. Only supermarkets and takeaways could operate at the height of the lockdown in South Africa. Hodes launched the Dark Kitchen concept, a restaurant without a shopfront, where everything was done via delivery or curbside collection.
Re-engineering in Under 24 Hours
Hodes also converted his empty restaurant into a gourmet grocery supplier that continues to flourish by offering a wide selection of artisanal food offerings. Without an entirely crafted business plan, the team bought everything on consignment. Although Hodes had never before worked with any of the suppliers they now rely on, he was able to negotiate a deal on the spot.
Hodes credits surviving and thriving not to luck or magic but to seizing the opportunity. Hodes said:
By the time Hodes and his team met with their new suppliers, The Gourmet Grocer was ready for business. “There was this great sense of urgency, a feeling that we had to do this immediately or never. We couldn’t afford to dwell on names and procedures and red tape. We wanted to go with this and see where it leads, and this is where we’ve ended up. This is how we built the relationships that now power us.”
Some of the positives that have come about for Hodes and his team include franchising inquiries about The Gourmet Grocer and the Dark Kitchens, the launch of a high-end coffee roastery, and a welcoming casual restaurant. Hodes attributes their continuing growth to being bold. Entrepreneurs will often fail to launch because they say they do not have the money, but there is a saying that goes:
As a business coach, I’ve learned that resourcefulness is one of the key things about being a great entrepreneur. Often, people will only start once things are perfect, even though they’ve got a lot of money to work with. They’re still waiting, and nothing’s perfect, so they don’t start. I can tell you now even though we’re up and running, it’s not perfect. There is still a long way to go.
Every crisis affects each business differently. Dr. Clemen Chiang is a Singapore-based financial analyst and author of the cryptocurrency book, “Spiking to the Moon.” He was forced to move his multi-million dollar international company’s sales efforts online when the pandemic hit. Previously, one hundred percent of his revenue came from speaking at significant in-person events. In fact, When the magnitude of the COVID restrictions’ hit around the world, Chiang was speaking before thousands of people at a large conference in Hong Kong. As he went home to quarantine, he knew his model was facing a radical transformation.
Enlisting the help of David Asarnow’s online marketing company Business Nitrogen, Chiang recalibrated his sales efforts in just over thirty days. While the transformation happened at warp speed, it was a sort of reckoning for the renowned international speaker.
First, he pivoted from brick and mortar to his home office. Next, he found a partner who could guide him through the process of reinventing his business model. In-person training events replaced large speaking engagements. Within the first month, Chiang conducted more business online than he did in person, allowing him to hit his one-year goal in the first one hundred twenty days.
Chiang’s thirty-day reset required intense determination and tenacity, but he now sees that this complete shift in his way of thinking and acting was a blessing in disguise. Instead of wasting countless hours traveling to various destinations to speak to a single, limited audience, he can now allot time to product development and wider-reaching virtual presentations.
Review and Reorganize
Similarly, Andy Phouli, the British co-founder of Rush Hair and Beauty, the largest privately held salon chain in the United Kingdom, used the shutdown to review and reorganize his entire operation. Rather than waiting to reopen, the founders recognized that their business was going to be different moving forward.
Within months, the company reopened with an entirely new marketing and sales system, making communication with its clients more manageable and transparent. They introduced processes like a customer rewards system and a two-way booking system, eliminating the need for clients to sit in a waiting room.
Rather than wait for official safety regulations to be mandated, the founders constructed plexiglass walls separating each style station. The scheduling process was converted to create an hour between two shifts to sanitize their space so that no one would have to contact anyone else needlessly. The focus was placed on establishing a cashless payment system. These new systems prioritizing health and safety set them apart within their industry.
The action was taken without waiting for any communication from the authorities. Today, traffic in their salons has grown to the point where half of their clientele is made up of new customers. By emphasizing safety, they secured the loyalty of longtime clients and attracted numerous new ones.
No company is too big to change or too small to change effectively.
Long before the pandemic left businesses no choice but to reinvent, Morven Groves had been helping companies deal with just these types of issues. Groves says these “life-comes-at-you-fast” moments are something everyone will encounter and must learn from. She believes the focus with which you respond genuinely differentiates you. It’s easy to become consumed with the busy day-to-day course of business, but analyzing and preparing for the long term is just as important, if not more so.
Life- and business-altering situations indeed call for extreme measures. Still, Groves believes that the best leaders explicitly carve out time to think about their business in even the best of times. They focus and plan on what is next, where their industry might be heading and how their business will fit into that equation.
Shift Your Mindset
Thought leaders like Shantanu Verma believe businesses must shift their mindset to include strategic action. Verma is the India-based founder of The Automation Artist, a consulting company that helps experts launch online courses. He, too, shifted his sales efforts from in-person to online.
Verma believes that the stage is merely a medium through which you share your message and knowledge. When that stage is taken away, it can be replaced by virtual platforms such as Zoom, WebEx, LinkedIn, YouTube, a podcast, or any social media site. Being forced to rebuild your marketing strategies swiftly does not mean you have lost your business.
Instead, you have lost a communication medium, which can be easily replaced by another. It might take trial and error to understand this new medium, but the potential always exists for it to surpass your expectations. Instead of loss, Verma suggests viewing any forced recalibration as an opportunity to attract a new audience refreshingly.
In the physical world, agility is defined as ” an ability to change the body’s position quickly, an ability that requires the integrating balance, coordination, speed, reflexes, strength, and endurance.” It’s a skill that takes practice, both in the physical and hybrid world, and it doesn’t necessarily come naturally. What follows are some guidelines that can help you cultivate the agility to act quickly and smartly:
- Don’t be attached to how you do things; instead, be open to new ways to shift and do it rapidly.
- Muster the drive and time necessary to carve out a new uncharted path
- Don’t be afraid to experiment.
- See the shift as a gift to refocus in a new and potentially far better direction.
- Once you strategize your opportunities, choose one item you can take action on immediately with intense focus. Massive changes can be daunting, so never forget the power of taking one step at a time.
- Understand that you don’t have to go it alone. You can collaborate with others who have skills you may not. They can help you realize your vision in ways you could not imagine.
- “If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try, try again…” has never been more true.