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The Art of the Pivot

Hannah Michelle Lambert
21 May, 2020

If insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results, then the pivot is insanity's natural enemy (if done correctly). 

A pivot is described as a “conscious movement towards an element or subject of your core offering(s) that is getting far more traction than what you thought would be the primary use case for your customers.” In other words, it means recognizing that Plan A isn't working and quickly leaning into Plan B.

But a decision to pivot isn't as spontaneous as you might think. Pivoting is like an art form; it takes practice, preparation, and a willingness to let go. Here are some strategies that can help even the largest companies pivot with the speed of a startup: 

  1. Hardwire Operations for Change
    1. Keeping up with new technology
    2. Create a culture of collaboration
    3. Have a Plan B (and C, and D)
  2. Measure Consumer Behavior and Sentiment
    1. Cut out bias and gather true VoC
    2. Use real-time, 'hot' data
    3. Take advantage of actionable insights
  3. A Startup Within a Global Corporation?

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Hardwire Operations for Change

It's easy to fall victim to the sunk cost fallacy when considering a pivot. You put passion, resources, and hours, days, or months of work into an initiative or process, so it’s hard to let go or make changes. Especially if you’re a large company with practices that have been set in place for decades — adjustments happen slowly, if at all. 

austin powers making a million-point turn in a tight hallway

But if the Coronavirus pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that the lean, agile companies who can master the art of the pivot are the ones who will survive. One of the best ways to ensure that you are able to pivot in time to avoid disaster is to hardwire it into the DNA of your company from the start, at every operational level. 

Keep up with new technology

In January, many people never could’ve imagined that the majority of the workforce would be remote. By mid-March, 67% of employers said that they were taking steps to allow employees to work from home. This is a sudden change from the 28% who previously worked from home sometimes and 15% who worked strictly from home.

Technology is the thread that is holding remote work together. Chat platforms like Teams and Slack are more important than ever. Zoom calls are the main way we’re holding on to some sense normalcy, and project management tools like Monday keep us on track. 

Companies that have already embraced this technology, even when they were still in-office, have a huge advantage over the dinosaur companies that function on a strictly email-or-pop-in-my-office basis. Having to go remote suddenly is hard enough without adding on the chore of figuring out a whole new platform.

Staying hip on new tech is also to your benefit from a sales perspective. Take retail and restaurants for example. Companies that were just brick-and-mortar, not offering e-commerce or delivery options, suddenly found themselves without a viable business model.

If you put all your eggs in one basket (in-person transactions) you’ll be in trouble when the unexpected happens. The companies that had previously taken advantage of all the technology available, or those who quickly adapted, have a fighting chance now. 

Create a culture of collaboration

We've all heard that we need to “break the silos.” But really, it’s time. Internal, cross-department collaborations not only boost team morale, but they also help you with innovation and synergy. Especially in times of uncertainty and change, introducing a new player into the conversation can bring a crucial new perspective. 

Here at Worthix, we hold monthly “town hall” meetings where department leads share their current projects, wins, and things to look forward to with the rest of the company. We get to celebrate successes together, create a shared understanding of every facet of the business, and offer advice across departments. If you create this culture of collaboration at all times, your team will already be accustomed to thinking outside of the box (i.e. their department). 

Collaboration can also happen externally. I always say that the best way to get through something is together, so when other businesses can lend their resources, insight, visibility, and creative energy to each other, everyone wins.

We’ve got to get creative when plans fall apart, and it’s a lot easier when you have a pre-established network of collaborative partners to reach out to. 

Have a plan B (and C, and D)

No matter how smart you and your team are, none of us are psychic. You could plan a campaign down to the letter. You’ve researched it thoroughly and you just know it’s going to work. But then a crucial component suddenly and unexpectedly falls apart.

The best policy is to hope for the best, but always plan for the worst. Come up with a handful of backup plans so you’re not scrambling in that moment. Do some research and come up with the first steps you’d take should you need to put it into action. Provide just enough guidance for 'future you' so that aren’t sitting there dumbfounded at where to go next. 

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Consumer Behavior and Sentiment

So, you’re operationally ready to pivot on a dime if you need to; you've got all the tech, culture, and contingency plans in place. Great! But now we’ve gotta talk about knowing when you need to pivot. Because it’s ideally not when you realize you’re going bankrupt. 

The absolute best barometer for that timing is your customers. Even in  stable times (i.e. not a pandemic), consumer needs and expectations are constantly evolving. You need to constantly be getting fresh, innovative feedback from your customers to help sense if you’re becoming irrelevant. 

Cut out bias and gather true VoC

One of the surefire ways to lead to disaster is by letting all of our unconscious biases taint our decisions. They can be especially disastrous when attempting to measure customer sentiment. When creating surveys for customers, ensure that you are truly digging into what your customers care about, and not just asking questions that you want the answers to. 

Typically, companies solve this by outsourcing their surveys to remove their own personal notions, whether right or wrong, from the equation. It usually takes a professional survey company to tease the right information from customers, and isn't something you can haphazardly delegate to interns.

Use real-time, "hot" data

Data is time-sensitive. At one point, your data could have been a red-hot indicator of customer sentiment, but eventually it will go cold, often sooner than you think. It's vitally important to constantly gather feedback, especially true Voice of Customer (VoC) feedback.

On top of your regular NPS/CSAT surveys, you can also use social listening to see what people say about you on social media, and you could look into self-adaptive surveys that use AI to allow customers to talk about what they want to talk about.  

Keep up with the speed of change - Demo Worthix

Take advantage of actionable insights

Once you have that VoC information, don't wait to act on it. Changing customer wants and expectations can negatively impact your business if you don’t take steps to adapt, but they also introduce many new opportunities. The faster your turnaround, the better. 

Take the current situation. There was a huge uptick in demand for technology to connect remote teams, delivery services, and in-home entertainment, among other things. The smartest businesses are adapting their current value propositions to take advantage of these new customer needs as quickly as they can.

A Startup Within a Global Corporation?

The biggest weakness of large companies is their inherent lack of agility, once they become burdened with sheer numbers and the bloated bureaucratic process. But we've come across some creative ways to navigate that problem.

One of the best examples of this is Daimler AG. Daimler, the German automotive company, is a huge, old company that simply doesn't have the same pivot pace as a startup. So what did they do? They created the corporate incubator Lab1886, a startup within themselves that combines “the power of a global company with the freedom of a startup.”

As Charles Darwin said, “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” If you can master the art of the pivot, your chances of surviving the inevitable rough patches will skyrocket, whether you're a startup or huge corporation. Better still if you can achieve the best of both worlds.

don't wait for change, lead it — demo worthix today

...You really thought I wasn't going to include this, didn't you? No chance.

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