August 14, 2014
Knowing When To Pivot
The idea of pivoting in a business is one of those things not thought of when things are running smooth and business is growing. Often its not until things start “slipping” do you start to hear the rumblings of a “pivot” in the works. What is a pivot? Why should a business pivot? And when should a business pivot? Let’s see if we can answer those three questions.
What is a pivot?
The first question I want to look at is the background, definition, and meaning of a pivot in business. The first thought which comes to my mind is the analogy of a basketball player. If you’re familiar with the sport at all then you’re aware that once you’ve picked up the ball (after dribbling) you are no longer allowed to move both your feet. You’re only allowed to move one or the other. This action is called a pivot. You can pick up one foot but the other must remain firmly planted where it was originally placed.
Business pivots I like to imagine are quite similar. A pivot is when a business identifies its core business is not completely meeting its needs (for a variety of reasons which we’ll see in the answers to our next questions). What a business may choose to do then is to pivot the focus of its business slightly to something different. Similar to the basketball pivot I like to imagine the business keeps one “foot” firmly planted in the culture, goal, and objectives upon which it was founded. Now that we have a basic understanding of a pivot let’s look at the reasons why a business might pivot.
Why should a business pivot?
Business pivots are difficult decisions to make. Sometimes they may be gut-wrenchingly hard. But they can be a necessary part of a business’s evolutionary process. Sometimes it’s the only way for a business to survive. Knowing what a pivot it we need to understand the reasons why you’d want to perform a pivot. Here’s a couple to get us started.
Pivot because market shift
Sometimes in the course of business the market will shift away from what you’ve been doing. This is a common reason especially in the technology industry. The current trends change so quickly it becomes very difficult to keep up with trends and if you’re not vigilant your market can shift away from you seemingly overnight.
Pivot to refocus on core purpose
Another useful time for performing a pivot is when you realize you are not accomplishing your goals or your core purpose. Stop and think about why you got into business. Are those reasons what still motivate you to get up and go each day? Does your team believe what you do is accomplishing your goal? If not then it might be time to consider a pivot.
When should a business pivot?
You may notice that the last sentence of the previous paragraph brought up our next point. It might be time to consider a pivot. If we know what a pivot is and why a business might consider a pivot the last question we’re going to ask today is when should that be done? This is certainly the most difficult question. Along with a pivot comes change.
Many people (customers, community, team members) are averse to the idea of change. Change causes us to stretch ourselves and possibly lose the comfort zone we’ve settled in to. (Ironically this might be the very reason why a pivot is necessary).
Pivot on time
Too many times a pivot comes too late. Business has already lost the market (see the reasons above) or the community, team members have lost the core value and begun leaving the company. A pivot is difficult to time because some of us don’t like change and secondly it’s just plain hard to do. But constantly analyzing and studying the market and the reasons why you do what you do will help you spot early on when a pivot is necessary.
Pivot when necessary
No, that’s not an easy-out type of answer. The truth is you should perform a pivot when it’s necessary. Timing is key and the only way to know when a pivot becomes necessary is if you stay alert and attentive. Don’t get lazy. Don’t be over-active either. The best thing you can do is to be consistent and be constantly pro-actively growing. When you notice shifts that would require a change-pivot. Don’t pivot just because you are bored with the current business environment.
The easy answer is to pivot when your business has faded, but I would suggest this is too late. Be proactive but don’t be over-active. Don’t change for the sake of change but at the same time don’t avoid change because it’s hard. Pivoting when done right can take a business to the next level and keep you successful for many years to come. Know when to pivot.