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Do You Pivot or React? Understanding How to Make Productive Change Moves

The only constant in life (or business) is change. We know this. We also know that, in general, most people don’t like change. It is disruptive at the least and catastrophic at its worst. Making a change decision that affects us personally is somewhat easier to swallow because we are in the driver seat.

However, when we make a change that affects others, or when others make change that affects us, that power is no longer ours. The impact of such changes within a business can reverberate with alarming intensity across the organization. It is for this reason that we must pay attention to how we initiate and implement change. Are we pivoting or are we reacting?

The Lean Startup

The concept of the strategic pivot was popularized by Eric Ries in his book, The Lean Startup when he discusses pivot or persevere when the data indicates that a drastic change in strategy may be called for. Like many management concepts, the solid underpinnings of the idea can be lost in bad application. Pivoting sounds great as long as we are really pivoting – the key point here being decision changes based on a healthy capture and analysis of data. Some use the concept of “pivot” to throw over and completely reinvent the organization, but more often, we don’t need to burn it all to the ground – but we do need to make a significant change.

When we understand that change is necessary to ensure the longevity and health of the organization, we then need to recognize what it takes to develop and implement those changes. Here are some key considerations:

- Pivoting is intentional and thoughtful. It is a proactive decision process that considers not only the changes in what is happening around us or to us, but also the advantage of the new direction we are headed in. Too often, we simply react to “move away” from an adverse event versus adjusting our game plan to “move towards” the end-goal.

- Pivoting never forgets our purpose – our Why as Simon Sinek calls it. In basketball, a pivot requires a player to keep one foot in contact with the floor while allowing movement in any direction with the other. This concept is relevant for organizational pivots as well. Keeping our “one foot” solidly in that box that describes what we do, why we are here and the value we provide allows us to then think broadly about how to adapt to new circumstances without getting off track or lost all together. Too often, we react in panic-mode with the mindset that we will get back to it once the danger has passed, not realizing how far off course this can get us.

- Pivoting adapts a plan versus throwing it out the window. Regardless of whether we are in the process of long-term planning or having to move rapidly in a crisis event, taking stock and leveraging our internal cores and capabilities is absolutely critical in making adjustments to operations and strategic direction. We don’t create agility by starting all over; we create agility by knowing what we are capable of and how we can use that strength to support the next move.

- Pivoting is a team effort. When a leader makes change without the inclusion of key stakeholders (your First Team with input from those who have to carry out the change) it is the equivalent of putting the organization at the end of a whip. Back to point one above, pivoting is both intentional and thoughtful, which means that you must have the right people at the table to game the plan, and then you must clearly communicate the plan (and its anticipated impact) to the remainder of the team.

Meaningful Communication - Essential Strategy

The importance of clear, frequent and meaningful communication during times of change cannot be overstated. In my recent presentation on Essential Strategy, we discussed the growing science behind how our brains respond to change and what is needed to support acceptance of change based on three key conclusions reached by Hilary Scarlett, author of Neuroscience for Organizational Change. In a nutshell, it goes like this:

  1. We crave information. People like to know what’s going on – don’t you? Especially when it impacts what they do every day. If they don’t get information from you, they will find information from some source and it will not likely be wholly accurate.

  2. Decision-making requires energy. There are all kinds of studies that show how our decision processes break down when we are tired, stressed and undernourished. Tied to number one above, we crave information when making decisions, and it follows that more heads in the equation make for more information and better decisions. Leaders need to share the load with key staff providing both the environment and time to have real discussion and debate to support decisions to pivot the organization.

  3. We have a need for social connection. People need other people to relate to, bounce ideas off of, commiserate, celebrate and otherwise do that tribe thing. Good leaders know the importance of this (it’s an emotional intelligence thing) and will create a more efficient and effective workforce by supporting the social connection process with an appropriate level of information. Remember that not everyone needs every bit of information behind a change.

Business is moving at the proverbial speed of light in nearly every industry now. We are faced with challenges and opportunities in combinations that we have never seen before and if we are wise, we will recognize this as the new normal. You need to pivot – not react. Hold tight to your purpose and pivot in order to grow and survive.

You best accomplish this by leveraging your team to analyze and develop strategies to adapt to the environment you find yourself in. Once you do, communicate that to every level of the organization. People need clarity – they need to understand why you’re pivoting, where it’s taking them, and what the impact and expectation is for them personally. Keep it simple, keep it real and reinforce the message often.

Pivoting, when done correctly, is essential to maintaining agility and building resilience.

Remember that strategy is simply a plan, and plans will change based on the evaluation of data that is constantly feeding your monitoring and decision-making processes. Staying steadfast to purpose, value and vision when pivoting will ensure that you won’t get lost in the change!

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