2020 is the year of pivoting.
Over the past six months, companies ranging from early-stage startups to massive organizations employing thousands of people have had to pivot to meet the demands of the current climate. Companies have pivoted their products, their business models, their internal processes, all with the hopes of adjusting to this “new world” we’ve found ourselves living in.
However, especially in times of uncertainty, pivoting can morph into a frantic chasing of the next short-term fix. Instead of taking the time to think deeply about the long-term future of the company, entrepreneurs and company leaders end up spending too much time “in the weeds,” only to end up in a vicious cycle of putting out fire after fire.
Pivoting is necessary for any startup to succeed. But knowing when, how, and why you should pivot is the key.
1. Set aside time each quarter to check-in on the strategies you’ve set into motion.
Making company-wide decisions in the heat of the moment is a very bad habit.
There is a big difference between making changes in day-to-day operations, and making changes to overarching company strategies. Changing your story needs to be a well thought out process, and given enough time to ensure the change is the correct one (preferably based on data).
For example, one of the things we do at my company, Place, is check-in every quarter on how different verticals of the company are running and whether we feel it’s necessary to pivot or change their direction. If the answer is no, or not yet, we will check back in again 3 months later. And if the answer is yes, then we will have dedicated time to decide how.
But these big strategic types of decisions are never made “in the moment.”
2. Avoid over-automation.
I love automation. I love streamlining processes. I like using software more than hiring a big staff.
But as with anything, you have to always keep your end goal in mind. Buying software that can streamline, automate, and simplify processes is one thing—but over-automation occurs when you then take the software you’ve purchased and tried to make it do everything for you. What originally was a desire to make a handful of tasks more efficient eventually morphs into an overly complicated workflow that has to be used in a hyper-specific way (otherwise it will break).
Whenever possible, take stock of the different ways in which you are trying to achieve internal goals within your company.
And if it starts to become difficult to name all the different solutions you are trying to integrate, chances are, you’ve gone too far.
3. Have an advisory board—and use them as a sounding board.
One of the reasons I wanted to go the venture capital route with my current company, and why I wanted a board of directors, was to have other people who have a fiduciary responsibility to the company to give their advice.
Without investors or advisors, it can be very difficult as a founder to make big decisions. Building a startup is a highly emotional journey, and sometimes no matter how much you feel like you know what’s best, it takes someone else’s perspective to get you to see the company outside yourself and in a different light. I have always found it incredibly helpful to have advisors who can either validate my decisions or give me new alternatives to consider.
So, whenever possible, surround yourself with educated, experienced people who can give you this type of personalized feedback.
4. Use a central place to share information.
It’s far easier to make decisions when the information you need to make said decisions is readily available.
- Where do you keep documents?
- Where do you store reports?
- What reports do you regularly look at?
- How do you keep them organized?
- Who else on your team looks at this information? How often?
The more organized you can be internally, the more informed you and the rest of your team will be when it comes to deciding which direction to take the business. What you don’t want is to know things aren’t working, but not have any visibility into how or why.
Something “not working” isn’t a good enough reason to pivot.
You need to know why it’s not working, and what you need to be doing instead in order to fix it.
5. Give other people the autonomy to make their own decisions
Really big decisions should always be made by the founder(s), the company’s leadership team, and the company’s board of directors.
But a big mistake I see a lot of companies make is they become over-reliant on one or two people within the organization to make each and every decision. This, arguably more than anything else, leads to the most inefficiency within a business. It’s just not feasible to build a high-growth company that way.
Instead, I really encourage founders to give their department heads and team members varying levels of autonomy. Obviously, rules need to be in place so that people know when it is appropriate to get approval on certain items. But for the most part, you are far better off as a founder giving other people the freedom to make their own decisions—rather than requiring everyone to go through you, first.
6. Don’t silo your departments.
Finally, be careful that you’re not siloing different parts of the business too far away from each other.
For example, our number one goal right now as a company is winning and retaining customers. In an effort to really work toward that goal, we have call hours blocked off for our sales teams where they can focus exclusively on driving sales. When we block these hours off, however, we also add them to the leadership team’s calendars so they know not to bug the sales team during these chunks of the day. As a result, the leadership team knows to leave them alone, and the sales team feels empowered to push everything else aside and focus—not needing to worry about anyone wondering what they’re doing (especially if they’re being unresponsive on Slack).
This might seem like a small thing, but transparency is key. The more transparent you can be across different departments, the easier it will be for everyone to make informed decisions.