Ever heard the adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”. It’s a common phrase that surfaced in the late 1950’s as a counter to the very human need to try and tinker and improve everything around them.
In the business world, it’s become a warning not to interfere when things are going well, because there is a risk that change can upset your success - and it’s one of a number of outdated ideas from another age that can have a serious impact on the way you work.
In the past, setting up a working factory or process and sticking to it was enough to get by, because markets were stable, customers had less choice, and innovation was gradual.
Today, though, the need to look ahead and constantly explore new processes and technology is essential, not only to boost the bottom line, but to ensure you’re ready for any unforeseen change.
The Covid-19 pandemic has proven that every business, regardless of size, needs to be able to change the way they work and even what they offer as quickly as possible.
Here are a few ways to find the critical success factor of the future - flexibility.
The Covid-19 pandemic put a number of SMEs at risk. Without foot-traffic in their location, and facing the combination of travel restrictions and the consumers’ collective urge to save rather than spend, many had to take drastic steps to try and find ways to make their business work.
Across the globe, business owners had to rethink what they could offer. For some, the shift was relatively simple: such as restaurants who had could partner with or develop delivery services and create so-called “ghost kitchens”.
Some businesses focused on converting their production facilities to develop PPE and other essential supplies to aid in the fight against the spread of the virus.
Others went further still: in the education, events and public speaking arenas, many had to move their live offering into the virtual arena - and quickly. Seminars were replaced with webinars, and Friday nights were suddenly spent on digital platforms like Houseparty.
While these are admirable adjustments, it is worth noting that there are some businesses that have simply been unable to respond or react - particularly in the hospitality, travel, and construction sectors.
With unforeseen events like the pandemic possibly lurking around the corner, it’s important for business owners to understand the difference between flexibility, and being fickle - because it is neither feasible nor profitable to change course constantly, but it is equally costly to stand still.
Being flexible as a business is all about ensuring that you have the technology, processes and strategic frameworks in place to react to relevant market conditions quickly, but not impulsively.
So, how do you embed that capability in your organisation?
Like any other business or brand attribute, being flexible is not just “something that happens”; it is the result of intentional focus and investment in several related parts of your company.
Firstly, you need to prepare your people for constant, quick adjustments - and it’s an industry in itself. Developing a mindset and environment where your team is comfortable with change, rather than clinging to the comfort of fixed processes, is essential. Often, it starts at the top. Take opportunities to put yourself in new positions, and encourage your team to do the same. Training, webinars and books are also a great way to get them to be ready for anything.
Next up, you need to invest in platforms and technology that allow you to collaborate and change in real time. The move to remote work has shown just how important it is to have these systems in place. Agreeing on a single communication channel like Slack, Skype or Teams is a good start, but you may also need to consider filesharing services and project management tools to keep track of your distributed workforce.
Lastly, embrace fluid processes. Business empires have been built on bureaucracy and following the chain of command, but that siloed, hierarchical approach is just too slow to get into new opportunities quickly and at scale. Embrace new management models and ways of working, like Agile, can help your whole organisation move more quickly.
If implemented correctly, these measures should also free up enough resources for you to reinvest some of your profits or time - even if it’s a small amount - in exploring innovation, and trying to figure out upcoming opportunities while keeping the lights on.
Another critical factor in building your flexibility is the need to play in different spaces to create multiple revenue streams that you can prioritise as needed.
Let’s use a fictional example - like a local drycleaner. Although the bulk of their business involves people dropping their laundry off and collecting it a few days later, offering an online pick-up and delivery service, serving local B&Bs, investing in eco-friendly products and machines, opening franchises, and even offering online stain-removal assistance via live chat are all ways to ensure that, should the worst happen and foot traffic drops off, there’s always an option to pivot into and prioritise.
Generally, this means exploring the digital marketplace to build out your business. Apps like Telkom Business’ Yep! are a powerful tool for building both your digital presence and a new customer base, as the platform allows you to promote your SME and respond to customer requests.
Really, it’s about having enough skin in the game to keep profits healthy but adapt when needed - and with a little help and the right tools, it’s a balance you can find, and flourish from.
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