Pivot and Adapt During Disruption

by Pranav Ramesh
March 09, 2022

Blockbuster. Blackberry. Nokia. Kodak. Xerox. Motorola. Borders. Radio Shack. Compaq. Those of us who straddle different generations can give plenty of examples of companies with leaders or missions that couldn’t adapt to the extensive and unrelenting changes of the 21st century. And those who don’t recall some of these brands, once giants in the American consumer market, can still gain valuable lessons from their downfall. 

Any respected leader of an organization knows a key tenet so many people try their hardest to ignore. Change is a constant in our lives. The disruption caused by change is another constant in our lives. If organizations aren’t able to prepare and adapt to change, they risk becoming obsolete very quickly. How agile were they? Was agility even within their company’s vocabulary? 

This ability to be agile and pivot is even more challenging for mission-driven organizations, whose vision to make the world a better place is explicitly tied to the company’s purpose. It can be a very fine line for a leader to walk. Often that mission was developed by a community of people. And often the goals are driven by more than just company profits, as well. How do you help your company pivot while still staying committed to your mission and goals?  


Learning the importance of agility as an organization in a disruptive world 

To be a part of an organization that is not agile and unwilling to accept impending change can be a scary proposition for many within the company’s leadership and employment ranks. Rumors may start to swirl, and employees can start to sense the decline of a ship they perceive to be sinking.  

A strong leader will watch future trends and the forecasting of new regulations, technology, or competitors. A strong leader will understand beyond just when it’s important to become more agile. They will understand how to become more agile within their organization and their industry. If there isn’t a consensus on how the organization should go about doing so, a strong leader will work to build it by listening to feedback and incorporating different advice and opinions.  

Developing and implementing an agile mindset for your organization can take some time and buy-in from employees. But as Charles Roffe notes below, the payoff of incorporating agility into the culture of a company is significant. A move toward an agile mindset is to not only prepare for small disruptions within an industry but to prepare for the massive, global disruptions like pandemics, supply-chain issues, and conflicts between nations.  

“Our team’s agile mindset and culture meant we were able to more quickly respond to needed business requirements and changes during the pandemic.” – Charles Roffe (Executive Advisor Cloud Center of Excellence Lead, CVS Health) 

There’s also a convincing push lately, with so much focus on social and environmental justice, to think about the larger picture and what’s at stake. Consumers are calling upon businesses to be a part of the solution for some serious societal issues and expect them to no longer put profit ahead of every other metric. The expectations of consumers, employees, and stakeholders are rising significantly. Companies that choose to align their mission with a purpose, live their values and put people and the planet first will thrive in an upcoming era that we know promises to be full of many new disruptions. 


Knowing when it’s time to pivot for your organization 

Strong leadership knows that to best serve its organization’s mission they need to be proactively agile, not reactionary. By paying close attention to signposts from within the organization, regulating bodies, and across their industry, certain tip-offs can be gleaned from paying attention to these factors.  

A few of those internal and external factors to consider are: 

1. Your company’s product missed the mark 

2. Some in your organization are holding onto emotional attachments about products or processes 

3. Your clients’ needs are shifting 

4. You or your employees aren’t excited about moving forward 

5. You need to better address industry trends 

6. Your company isn’t producing repeatable results 

7. You’re not getting the results you want 

8. You’re not having fun anymore- and neither are your employees 


Keeping the mission and vision intact but updated 

While a shift to becoming a more agile organization can seem like a daunting task, leaders can take some relief in understanding that, more often than not, it’s not a zero-sum game. Leaders can approach this strategic pivot as more of a multi-pronged approach than strictly a binary “this or that” option. This can help organizations prepare the next generation of innovators while acclimating clients and stakeholders, used to the “status quo” to a new way of thinking and operating over time.  

One excellent example of remaining agile, but still true to a company’s mission is HiBAR, salon-quality shampoo and conditioner company that makes its products from natural ingredients delivered to consumers in completely plastic-free packaging. Early on, the founders of this young company knew one of the main goals or values was to produce a product that was completely free of any plastic packaging. They knew the environmental havoc that single-use plastic creates for the environment. The business partners in HiBAR walked away from an excellent initial production offer because the opportunity didn’t align with their values. After further research and development, consumers can buy HiBAR on Amazon or directly from HiBAR’s website with completely plastic-free packaging. The founders weren’t willing to sacrifice initial upfront profits for their values and it’s paid off for the company, and their mission remains intact, if not stronger.  

The fact that nearly nine of every 10 of the original Fortune 500 companies listed in 1955 are gone, merged, reorganized, or contracted proves that nothing lasts forever. But the companies that are most willing and able to pivot will be the ones to see the most sustained growth and prosperity. Coupled with a purpose-driven mission, more companies are proving that long-term success is possible and profitable.  


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