Ten ways business leaders can turn change to their advantage

What a year 2020 has been. The world has, at times, been paralysed by an unexpected pandemic, the UK government has finalised the Brexit negotiations with the EU and US voters have, unusually, turfed out a President after just one term. If dealing with the fallout of those changes isn’t enough, the dual challenges of climate change and new technology continue to grow. In 2021, business leaders have two options: run for the hills or embrace change.

Those who choose change will be the surefire winners in an increasingly uncertain business landscape.

Taking place in the grips of our third lockdown here in the UK, our webinar, A playbook for change: How to find the silver lining in a cloud of uncertainty, in partnership with British Business Bank, brought experts and leaders together to discuss how companies of all sizes could not just survive a period of great change, but thrive. We delved into some of the key secrets that change advocates swear by: accepting rather than resisting, creating a culture of learning and over-communicating.

But how can businesses of all sizes grow accustomed to the new and the benefits of being agile? And how can these business leaders embrace change and the opportunities it brings.

Here’s what our experts had to say…

Pivot...

When the world around you is changing, a smart move is to change with it – observe what is happening around you and create something to fit, says Julia Munder, International Marketing Director, Maxwell-Scott.

“Look at the times we’re living in – for example, we manufacture briefcases which are normally a favourite for businesswomen who travel. This year no one is out and about on the go. So we pivoted to home office accessories, such as mouse pads and this has worked well.”

Plan...

While change brings opportunity, it can bring shock waves for a business and having a strong foundational plan is key to survival, says Richard Bearman, Managing Director for Start Up Loans, part of the British Business Bank

“To deal with long-term challenges of this nature it’s important to plan and build agility and resistance into the business. These are easy things to talk about but you need to take the time to actually look at building these in. Challenges create opportunity, but for a business to be able to take advantage and respond quickly you need a strong foundation.”

Lean...

With an uncertain future, it helps to have fewer overheads, says Luisa Alemany, Associate Prof Management Practice, Academic Director of the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School:

“A lot of businesses are leaner than they were. They have adapted and are not spending so much money on things like travel and they’re maybe thinking about whether they need to pay for office space. The cost structure of companies is changing too and that’s key.”

Collaborate...

When times are looking tough, reach out to those around you to achieve shared goals, says Marie-Claire Frederick, Co-founder, Lemon Quarters:

“There’s an old African proverb that says, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.’ So I think, especially for startups, or even scale-ups and established businesses, work with other organisations, partner with other businesses and allow that collective force and collaboration to take off.”

Stay True...

Pivots are all well and good but if you’re creating something new, don’t lose sight of who you are and what is important to you as a business, says Margaret Morrison-Macleod, Founder, The Divine Hag:

“Stay true to your values. Establish what these are and stick to them. One of the major things I wanted to do with my subscription service was make sure that everything was recyclable and wouldn’t end up as rubbish. That’s a core part of my business that will become more and more important with the way things are with the environment.”

Communicate...

Your customers want to hear from you in a crisis or a time of uncertainty, says Julia Munder:

“Communication is important and it is critical to continue to speak to your audience. Just make sure you’re hitting the right tone at the right time – and don’t be afraid to change this as and when you need to.“

Mindset...

Businesses of all sizes should try to think like a start-up, says Luisa Alemany:

“You should continue to have an entrepreneurial mindset, even if you’re not a start-up anymore and have an established business, you should continue taking risks, looking to the future and finding opportunities – because wherever there is crisis, there is an opportunity.”

Speed...

In the grip of a crisis, companies shouldn’t wait to introduce things to their customers, says Marie-Claire:

“When launching new things or introducing concepts to customers, many leaders want to have their ducks in a row first and have an all-singing all-dancing website ready. But customers don’t mind an imperfect journey, they want to be taken on it with you, to understand your inspirations and the challenges you’ve faced to bring them something. Don’t delay talking to them, find out what they think and get in front of them as soon as you can with solutions.”

Learning...

Encouraging a culture of life-long learning in your company can create opportunities to innovate and change with the times, says Julia Munder.

“We’ve worked life-long learning into our internal KPIs, which might sound really harsh but our teams have the KPI to learn one new thing every month and in our monthly meeting we share the things we’ve learned. You have to move so fast, especially in digital, and we need to keep up with it.”

Innovate...

These may be challenging times, but let’s not forget that historically, moments like this create great things, says Richard Bearman.

“In times of crisis and dramatic change, we tend to get the greatest innovation and creativity and so the business trends that I’m most excited about are really the ones that I simply can’t imagine. But I know there are entrepreneurs out there who have imagined them.“

As you can see, change is a challenge but it doesn’t have to be a catastrophe – there are opportunities to be found. If you’d like to communicate change internally or externally but don’t know where to start, a content specialist can help and give you the confidence to keep moving through the uncertainty. Get in touch if you’d like to work with Lemon Quarters.

Similarly, if you’d like to find out more about the financial support and information available through the British Business Bank, such as the Coronavirus Finance Schemes and other ideas on starting, growing and scaling your business, you can find it here.

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