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How Business Leaders Can Pivot Out of Turbulent Times

When the market throws a curveball, it seems like there's no light at the end of the tunnel. However, resilient business leaders find a way to pivot.

When the market throws a curveball, it might seem like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. This is true if business executives assume their company can only compete the same way it has historically. However, resilient companies find a way to pivot.

Photo: Jennifer Apy, Partner and CMO at Chief Outsiders | Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Jennifer Apy, Partner and CMO at Chief Outsiders | Source: Courtesy Photo

In 2001, Jim Collins authored Good to Great – one of the most successful business books ever written. In his book, he shared principles that are mainly about building a great and enduring company from the ground up or taking a good company and making it great.

However, suppose a company is struggling with a dwindling customer base, fierce competition, rising costs, or tapering demand. In that case, it might be time to reengineer the roadmap for success and apply Jim Collins’ principles to engineer a life-saving pivot.

For larger companies to pivot, achieving the required change may involve applying entrepreneurial principles within an established organization. Management must not assume they have a recipe for success and must reevaluate the business on multiple levels, including how they manage their teams, make decisions, and evaluate risks.


Develop a new roadmap

In the revised BE 2.0 (Beyond Entrepreneurship, 2020), all of the concepts introduced in Jim Collins’ books published over the last three decades are woven into a roadmap for success – to help companies create the inputs that will lead to the outputs of every truly great company – superior results, remarkable impact, and lasting endurance. So for a company trying to pivot, here is how to apply these concepts to develop a new roadmap for success:


1. Have honest conversations

Start an honest dialog with the management team about the company’s current situation. To do this discovery work properly, lead with questions (not answers), engage in healthy analysis, and debate without blame (Good to Great, Chapter 4). Finally, do not forget to ensure the right folks are on the bus, in the right seats, before they start driving.


2. Understand the company

Evaluate the company’s core values as expressed by the Hedgehog Concept — what does the company care deeply about, what is the company best at (in the world), and what drives your company’s economic engine. Without this understanding, creating a good-to-great strategy for the company that can be followed consistently is challenging.


3. Find the new direction

For every new idea generated that could potentially propel the company forward, avoid using prior rubrics or models used to evaluate or filter ideas. Do not be afraid to embrace the “Genius of the And” (ignore the Tyranny of “Or”); try lots of stuff and keep what works (i.e., fail fast).


4. Cultivate the culture

Once business leaders have a winning direction, it will have a cascading effect on the entire brand. Think about what will create a Flywheel effect, a concept developed by Collins that suggests, “no matter how dramatic the end result, good-to-great transformations never happen in one fell swoop… Rather, the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant, heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond.”

Figure out what is needed to develop consistently better results, and follow the pattern consistently—then reinforce it with a cult-like culture. Avoid a doom loop where a lack of leader-led inspiration and affirmation causes new initiatives to lose momentum and morale to fizzle.


5. Practice true leadership

Finally, practice Level 5 Leadership (i.e., a mixture of personal humility and indomitable will), then layer on the principles (Fanatic Discipline, Empirical Creativity, Productive Paranoia) that guide an organization through unpredictable and chaotic situations they are bound to encounter but cannot control to attain 10x leadership levels.

If business leaders need more prompts to spur the proper discussions and set the right course for the company, “THE MAP: Twelve Questions for Building a Great Company,” is a strategic tool that can turn Collins’ principles into an actionable plan.

Introducing an added layer of insight around what will take the company to the next level – with the team discipline, processes, and strategic understanding that will create a “flywheel” of success – helps pave the way to implement real change and maximum results. It often requires a radically different way of thinking than the norms that got the company where they are today.


Jennifer Apy is a Partner & CMO with Chief Outsiders, the nation’s largest and fastest-growing firm offering fractional Chief Marketing Officer services with Fortune 500 experience.


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Photo: Realstock1, YFS Magazine, Adobe Stock
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