Margaret Drabble, the English novelist, is quoted saying “when nothing is sure everything is possible.” Never has this been more applicable than in times of Covid-19 - the ultimate status quo destabliser…
In volatile, uncertain, changing, and ambiguous market environments like the ones we see today businesses can opt for one of two strategic directions: (1) ‘play it safe’ by slowing down and observing what their industry, competition and market is doing or (2) ‘go guns blazing’ by accelerating, trying new things and failing fast. Either way, I see opportunity in both of these approaches. After all, the foundation of business is entrepreneurship. And entrepreneurship is fuelled by curiosity and an appetite for risk and change.
Instead of waiting for the change to slow down, the challenge businesses have now perhaps more than ever is the challenge of embracing the change. The change associated with Covid... The change associated with technological transformation… Instead of waiting for the so-called ‘new normal’ to miraculously arrive, the challenge is building a business, product, and team that can continuously adapt (whether you choose to do that by ‘playing it safe’ or ‘going guns blazing’ will depend on your own SWOT analysis and strategy - but the point remains).
After gaining first-hand experience in businesses that trialed both strategies, here are some key lessons I’ve learned along the way:
1 - Just because there’s product-market fit here, doesn’t mean there will be when you expand
This is such a critical point businesses don’t place enough emphasis on when considering expansion and go-to-market… Every territory, culture, and market is different. There are nuances. Sometimes you actually need someone in the territory to educate you on how business is done and the unique needs of that environment. Make sure you do your homework.
It really does depend again if you’re a B2B or B2C and whether you believe you’re discretionary or not. As well as on understanding where you fit in line with other discretionary non-discretionary services and products.
2 - Growth doesn’t always have to mean geographical expansion
There’s so much more to growth. So before you go ‘guns blazing’, get your C-suite together and define exactly what that growth means. Growth could mean new geographies or new footprint, growth can mean new customer groups and new segments and growth can actually just mean how do you deepen the relationships with customers that you currently have and just look for greater acquisition.
3 - With a firm definition of growth, you set your organisation’s talent up for success (even in times of significant change)
The reality is that in most startups and scale-up companies, you are learning as you go and there isn’t a lot of time to document or put down how you got to where you were going. So that is a challenge when you’re working remotely, for example. If you haven’t captured that process, that’s repeatable somewhere but it sits in someone’s head, it becomes a little bit harder to then ascertain and get leverage on that. These challenges associated with remote-working, for example, can to some extent be mitigated by defining exactly what growth is, then giving your team the authority to make decisions in alignment with those growth goals.
4 - Growth is driven by innovation. Innovation now comes down to intentionally having random conversations…
People always talk about some of the best ideas coming off the back of random cross-departmental conversations had at the watercooler. In a world of remote-work, those conversations are less likely to happen as people become more insular. So make those conversations intentional. Encourage your team to reach out to other professionals on LinkedIn, virtual MeetUps, whatever… Get them talking. Even if it’s just 30 minutes a week.
One of the most important things a business needs to do when dealing with significant change is empowering its people. It’s the ultimate gamechanger. Giving your people a definition of growth and inviting them to have more constructive conversations is not enough. Nor is giving them authority around agile decision-making. You have to give them a channel through which they can voice their ideas and make innovation happen. That’s the only way to truly leverage the opportunities associated with the unstable and consistently changing market of the future.