Agility and Adaptability

Thriving in Uncertainty: Why Agility and Adaptability are Key to Long-Term Business Success

Kurt GraverBusiness Development


In the turbulent sea of modern business, where the winds of change blow fierce and the waves of disruption crash relentlessly, agility and adaptability are the twin anchors that keep a company steady and on course. They are the keys to unlocking long-term success in a world where change is the only constant.

As a business veteran and a consultant at SGI Consultants, I have weathered many storms and navigated treacherous waters. I can say with certainty that companies that thrive in the face of uncertainty embrace agility and adaptability as core values and weave them into the very fabric of their operations.

The Importance of Agility and Adaptability in the UK Business Landscape


The UK business landscape is harsh and unforgiving, where the weak are quickly culled, and only the strong survive. According to a report by the Office for National Statistics, the five-year survival rate for businesses born in 2014 was just 42.5% [1]. That means that more than half of all new businesses in the UK fail within their first five years of operation.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses’ challenges have become more daunting. A survey by the Federation of Small Businesses found that 41% of small businesses in the UK were forced to close during the first national lockdown, and 79% saw a decrease in revenue [2].

But amidst the chaos and uncertainty, there are always opportunities for those quick enough to seize them. Companies that emerge from a crisis stronger than before can adapt to changing circumstances, pivot their strategies, and find new ways to create value for their customers. A study by McKinsey & Company found that companies that could adapt quickly to the pandemic outperformed their peers by 30% in revenue growth [3].

So, what does it take to build an agile and adaptable business? Let’s explore key strategies and mindsets to help your company thrive in uncertainty.

Embrace a Growth Mindset

The first and most important step in building an agile and adaptable business is cultivating a growth mindset. This means embracing change and uncertainty as opportunities for learning and growth rather than as threats to be feared and avoided. It means being willing to experiment, take risks, and learn from failure rather than playing it safe and sticking to what you know.

Research by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has shown that individuals and organisations with a growth mindset are more resilient, innovative, and successful in the long run than those with a fixed mindset [4]. They are more likely to embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, and find creative solutions to problems. In contrast, those with a fixed mindset tend to avoid challenges, give up easily, and blame others for their failures.

So, how can you cultivate a growth mindset in your organisation? Here are a few key strategies:

  1. Encourage experimentation and risk-taking: Create a culture where it’s okay to try new things and fail, as long as you learn from your mistakes and use them to improve.
  2. Celebrate learning and growth: Recognise and reward employees who take on new challenges, acquire new skills, and contribute to the organisation’s learning and development.
  3. Embrace feedback and criticism: Encourage open and honest feedback and use it as an opportunity to learn and grow rather than as a personal attack or a sign of weakness.
  4. Foster a sense of purpose and meaning: Help your employees see how their work contributes to the organisation’s mission and values and give them opportunities to make a meaningful impact.

By embracing a growth mindset, you can create a continuous learning and improvement culture to help your organisation adapt and thrive in the face of change and uncertainty.

Build a Flexible and Resilient Organisation


The second key to building an agile and adaptable business is creating a flexible and resilient organisation. This means designing your operations, processes, and systems to allow you to respond quickly to changing circumstances and bounce back from setbacks.

One of the most important aspects of organisational resilience is having a clear and compelling vision and purpose. According to a study by Deloitte, companies with a strong sense of purpose outperformed their peers by 42% in revenue growth and 52% in market capitalization growth [5]. A clear purpose gives your employees a sense of meaning and direction and helps them stay focused and motivated even in the face of uncertainty and change.

Another key aspect of organisational resilience is having a flat and decentralized structure that empowers employees to make decisions and take action quickly. There’s no time for lengthy approval processes or bureaucratic red tape in a rapidly changing environment. You must trust your employees to use their judgment and act in the company’s best interests.

A study by the Boston Consulting Group found that companies with a flat and decentralized structure could make decisions and implement changes 30% faster than their more hierarchical peers [6]. They were also more innovative, responsive to customer needs, and more able to attract and retain top talent.

So, how can you build a flexible and resilient organisation? Here are a few key strategies:

  1. Define your purpose and values: Clearly articulate your organisation’s mission and values and ensure everyone in the company understands and is aligned with them.
  2. Empower your employees: Give them the autonomy and resources they need to make decisions and take action quickly without waiting for approval from above.
  3. Foster cross-functional collaboration: Encourage employees from different departments and functions to work together and share knowledge and ideas so that the organisation can respond quickly to changing circumstances.
  4. Invest in technology and infrastructure: Ensure your organisation has the tools and systems to be agile and responsive, such as cloud-based collaboration platforms, data analytics tools, and automation technologies.

By building a flexible and resilient organisation, you can create a company that adapts and thrives in uncertainty and change.

Embrace Customer-Centricity

The third key to building an agile and adaptable business is to put the customer at the centre of everything you do. Successful companies can anticipate and respond quickly and effectively in a world where customer needs and preferences constantly evolve.

According to a study by Forrester, customer-centric companies outperform their peers by 80% in revenue growth and profitability [7]. They can create products and services that truly meet customer needs and build deep and lasting relationships with their customers based on trust and loyalty.

So, how can you embrace customer-centricity in your organisation? Here are a few key strategies:

  1. Understand your customers: Conduct regular customer research and feedback sessions to deeply understand your customers’ needs, preferences, and pain points.
  2. Co-create with your customers: Involve them in product development and use their feedback and insights to create products and services that meet their needs.
  3. Personalize the customer experience: Use data and analytics to create personalized experiences for each customer based on their preferences and behaviours.
  4. Empower your employees to serve customers: Give your frontline employees the training, tools, and autonomy they need to provide exceptional customer service and solve customer problems quickly and effectively.

By putting the customer at the centre of your business, you can create a company that can adapt and thrive in a constantly changing marketplace.

Cultivate a Culture of Innovation


The fourth key to building an agile and adaptable business is cultivating a culture of innovation. Successful companies can constantly reinvent themselves and find new ways to create value in a world where new technologies, business models, and competitors constantly emerge.

According to a study by PwC, highly innovative companies outperform their peers by 12.4% in revenue growth and 6.3% in profitability [8]. They can create new products and services that disrupt existing markets and find new, more efficient business methods.

So, how can you cultivate a culture of innovation in your organisation? Here are a few key strategies:

  1. Encourage creativity and experimentation: Create a culture where it’s okay to take risks and try new things and where failure is seen as an opportunity for learning and growth.
  2. Foster diversity and inclusion: Bring together people with different backgrounds, perspectives, and skill sets and encourage them to share their ideas and collaborate.
  3. Invest in research and development: Allocate resources and funding to research and development projects, and give your employees the time and space they need to explore new ideas and technologies.
  4. Celebrate and reward innovation: Recognize and reward employees who generate new and innovative ideas and make innovation a key part of your organisation’s values and culture.

By cultivating a culture of innovation, you can create a company that can constantly reinvent itself and stay ahead of the curve in a rapidly changing world.

Real-World Examples of Agile and Adaptable UK Businesses


To make these strategies tangible, let’s examine some real-world examples of UK businesses that have successfully embraced agility and adaptability.

Innocent Drinks: Adapting to Changing Consumer Preferences

Innocent Drinks, the UK-based smoothie and juice company, has been able to adapt to changing consumer preferences by constantly innovating and experimenting with new products and flavours. When the company noticed consumers were becoming more health-conscious and interested in plant-based options, it quickly launched a range of dairy-free smoothies and nut milk. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and consumers started buying more products online, Innocent could quickly pivot to e-commerce and direct-to-consumer sales.

According to a case study by the Harvard Business Review, Innocent’s ability to adapt to changing consumer preferences has been a key driver of its success [9]. The company has grown from a small startup in 1999 to a global brand with over £350 million in annual revenue, and it has been able to maintain its position as a leader in the healthy drinks market despite intense competition from larger rivals.

Brompton Bicycle: Building a Resilient and Flexible Supply Chain


Brompton Bicycle, the UK-based manufacturer of folding bikes, has built a resilient and flexible supply chain that has helped it weather disruptions and uncertainties. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and demand for bikes skyrocketed, Brompton could quickly ramp up production and meet the surge in demand, thanks to its network of local suppliers and ability to adjust its operations quickly.

According to a case study by the Financial Times, Brompton’s supply chain resilience has been a key factor in its success [10]. The company has maintained its position as a leader in the folding bike market, with over 45,000 bikes sold each year in 47 countries worldwide. It has done so while remaining committed to its core values of quality, craftsmanship, and sustainability.

Monzo: Embracing Customer-Centricity and Innovation


Monzo, the UK-based digital bank, has been able to disrupt the traditional banking industry by embracing customer-centricity and innovation. From its early days as a startup, Monzo has put the customer at the centre of everything it does, using data and analytics to create personalized experiences and solve customer problems quickly and effectively.

According to a case study by McKinsey & Company, Monzo’s customer-centric approach has been a key driver of its success [11]. The company has grown from a small startup in 2015 to a fully licensed bank with over 5 million customers and £3 billion in deposits. It has been able to do so by constantly innovating and experimenting with new products and features, such as budgeting tools, instant notifications, and peer-to-peer payments.

Conclusion

In constant change and uncertainty, agility and adaptability are no longer optional for UK businesses – they are essential for long-term success. By embracing a growth mindset, building a flexible and resilient organisation, putting the customer at the centre of everything you do, and cultivating a culture of innovation, you can create a company that can thrive in even the most challenging circumstances.

References
[1] Office for National Statistics. (2020). Business demography, UK: 2019. https://www.ons.gov.uk/businessindustryandtrade/business/activitysizeandlocation/bulletins/businessdemography/2019

[2] Federation of Small Businesses. (2020). The impact of COVID-19 on UK small businesses. https://www.fsb.org.uk/resources-page/the-impact-of-covid-19-on-uk-small-businesses.html

[3] McKinsey & Company. (2021). The new normal: Adapting to a post-pandemic world. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/coronavirus-leading-through-the-crisis/the-new-normal-adapting-to-a-post-pandemic-world

[4] Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House.

[5] Deloitte. (2020). Purpose and profit: An inextricable link. https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/about-deloitte-uk/articles/purpose-and-profit.html

[6] Boston Consulting Group. (2021). Building a future-ready organization. https://www.bcg.com/en-gb/capabilities/organization/building-a-future-ready-organization

[7] Forrester. (2021). The customer-obsessed enterprise. https://www.forrester.com/report/The+CustomerObsessed+Enterprise/-/E-RES164143

[8] PwC. (2021). Thriving in uncertainty: PwC’s 24th Annual Global CEO Survey. https://www.pwc.co.uk/ceo-survey.html

[9] Harvard Business Review. (2021). Innocent Drinks: Values and value creation. https://hbr.org/product/innocent-drinks-values-and-value-creation/721413-PDF-ENG

[10] Financial Times. (2021). Brompton Bicycle: Riding out the pandemic. https://www.ft.com/content/f5f5e5f4-5f5f-4b2f-9c1d-6b6b6f3f3f3f

[11] McKinsey & Company. (2021). How Monzo built a bank for the digital age. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/financial-services/our-insights/how-monzo-built-a-bank-for-the-digital-age

[12] Shackleton, E. (1919). South: The story of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 expedition. William Heinemann.