How agile is your business?

Ever feel like the world around you is changing too fast for your company to keep up?

Of course you have! Every small business owner or entrepreneur has probably felt this way at one time or another.

It’s a scary feeling. Especially if you’ve spent years getting your business up to speed — your staff well-trained and efficient, your processes streamlined and in place or your products ideally matched to the wishes and whims of your target market.

Technology leaps forward, and suddenly your services (or products) are on the way to obsolescence. Or falling behind a new-to-the-market, more agile competitor.

Smart companies are agile.

The Chicago Tribune recently reported that Fresh Market is closing stores around the country, including two in the Chicago area. The chain jumped on the organic food trend when it launched and rode it as long as it could. But when all the other grocery chains jumped in with farm fresh products, Fresh Market could no longer compete.

Whole Foods, on the other hand, became more competitive. Acquired by Amazon, they lowered some prices and offered customers Amazon Prime specials, discounts and delivery.

This is how companies stay successful. They can reinvent themselves on a dime…..or so it seems. They’re agile.

Fresh Market isn’t the only company in distress. Think about some of the once successful businesses that have closed — or are in the process of closing. You’ve no doubt purchased from them in the past.

If you have kids, you’ve shopped at Toys R’Us. Needed sports gear? You went to Sports Authority. Own a business or simply need to manage your schedule? You had a Palm Pilot. Then maybe a BlackBerry. Searched on the Internet? You used Alta Vista (right, WHO?) And if you’re a Chicagoan like we are, you’re no doubt still angry about the demise of Marshall Field’s.

So how can you avoid being on the short list of doomed businesses?

You certainly don’t want to wait til a crisis hits to start trying to figure out what to do. You need to be constantly vigilant and always proactive. You have to have a plan. And if you’re not sure how to do that, the best way to learn is to look at successful businesses.

Here are four things that successful businesses in highly competitive industries do to stay on top:

  1.  They’re nimble.
    They’ve streamlined the chain of command to make decision-making simpler. They’ve implemented technology solutions to make processes flow better. They’re making use of AI (artificial intelligence) for improved efficiency.They’ve honed communication skills to make meetings shorter, emails simpler and calls briefer.  Amazon comes to mind. Why? Check out how Jeff Bezos likes to run meetings
  2. They’re inventive.
    They’re constantly looking for a better way. To make products more efficiently, to bring a product to market faster, to SELL products to a broader market, to make customers happier. Whatever it takes to stay on top of the competition, a successful company finds a way. Yes, Amazon comes to mind once again. But so does Southwest Airlines, which is always looking for new ways to improve the customer experience. Read about how they do this courtesy of engage.customer.com.
  3. They never sit back on their laurels.
    Successful companies don’t get complacent. They’re not satisfied with status quo. They’re smart enough to know that a savvy competitor can appear almost overnight – with a cooler gadget, a smarter business tool, a glammier spokesperson, an everyone-needs-this must-have, a smoother system.Once Uber was the only game in town. Then Lyft appeared. While Uber is still #1, when a negative news report hits the  airwaves, Lyft gains market share. Uber’s problems in 2017 were a boon for Lyft’s bottom line.

    But Uber management is sound. They’re quick to respond to negative news, and the company continues to hold the    bulk of the ridesharing market.

  4. They’re humble.
    Successful companies take responsibility for their mistakes. They own up to their misdeeds. They ask their shareholders and supporters for forgiveness and promise to do better.

In the past year, we’ve seen far too many cases where this didn’t happen. Take for example, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Fox News as covered in fortune.com in 2017. Both men had been accused of sexual harassment. More than once. But it wasn’t until advertisers began to bail that Fox did anything in response. And they never said they were wrong. No humble pie here.

So how would your small business rate on the capabilities cited above? You may not compete with big companies, but you can certainly learn from them. Especially from their mistakes.

If we’ve encouraged you to think about this, we’ve written a good post.

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