The first half (H1) of the year is already well underway, which means it’s time to start planning for the second half (H2). In addition to whatever plans you have for product development, marketing and expansion, it’s important to spend some time reviewing — and improving — your company’s overall adaptability.
Adaptable businesses have a much higher likelihood of surviving tumultuous and unpredictable events and tend to fare better in terms of efficiency and profitability. That’s why it’s essential to learn how to improve your company’s adaptability in your business in H2.
Why improving adaptability matters
Let's take a moment to explore why improving adaptability matters for a business.
Staying adaptable and changing your business frequently in response to external events or predicted external events confers tremendous business advantages. But why?
One explanation is the link between adaptability and innovation. If your company is constantly open to new ideas and always working to improve, you're going to invest a lot of time, resources, and effort into invention, product improvement and even streamlining the efficiency of your team.
Employees throughout your organization are going to be more likely to volunteer new ideas and help creatively brainstorm, so it's going to be easier for you to innovate.
Various innovations can help your business in a multitude of ways. Some innovations may allow you to outcompete a rival who has been dominating the market for too long.
Others allow your business to operate with fewer resources, allowing you to reduce prices while keeping profits high.
In any case, a steady stream of new innovations will keep your business afloat during even the most trying times.
Guarding against “black swan” events
Adaptability is also essential in the face of “black swan” events. The black swan theory relies on a metaphor to describe the occurrence of events that strongly deviate from the historical norm, creating chaos in their wake.
A black swan event, then, is any unpredictable and sufficiently impactful event that could threaten the future of your business.
For example, let's say there's a fundamental change in your target demographics. Due to economic hardship, they don't have as much spending power as they used to and, therefore, can no longer afford your products.
If your company is not adaptable, it's only a matter of time before it collapses. But with enough adaptability, you could shift your products and services to offer more affordable options to your demographics, you could choose to target a different demographic entirely, or you could undergo a similarly significant change to improve your prospects.
We've already seen great examples of corporate adaptability in the face of historical black swan events. The economic recession of 2008 forced countless businesses to pivot or perish, but more recently we can look to the COVID-19 pandemic as a black swan event that tested the adaptability of almost every type of business.
Entertainment companies were forced to figure out how to handle films that were already made but could not be screened in a theater. Companies like Disney responded to this by streaming many movies digitally and postponing others.
Foodservice companies were forced to find a way to serve customers without dine-in options. That led to companies like DoorDash and Uber stepping in to fill the void, capitalizing on their own monetization model while giving restaurants a chance to adapt into takeout-centric forms.
In short, the companies with the highest rates of not only surviving but thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic were the ones willing to adapt to the circumstances.
Rather than waiting for the pandemic to be over, they leaned into the opportunity and immediately began making changes.
Improving long-term outcomes
Adaptability also can improve long-term outcomes for businesses in a variety of other ways. Innovative and adaptable businesses know how to reflexively respond to subtle changes in their business environment, such as changing attitudes within their target demographics, emerging competition, and pricing changes for the goods and services they rely on.
Additionally, employees tend to feel more confident and more motivated when working for companies that show adaptability. Within these business environments, employees are afforded more opportunities to learn, develop themselves and grow in directions that aren't locked in from the beginning.
But being forced to do the same thing forever or quit, employees can find new responsibilities and start new initiatives, boosting their company loyalty in the process.
10 strategies to improve adaptability in your business
Now for the important question. How to improve your company’s adaptability in H2? Adaptability is an abstract quality, so it's not something that you can buy from a vendor and it's not something you can toggle on like a simple light switch.
Instead, improving adaptability usually manifests in a variety of different long-term strategies. These include:
1. Make adaptability part of your business culture
One of the best things you can do is make adaptability a core part of your business culture. This simplest and most straightforward change you can make is adding adaptability to your list of company core values or including it somewhere in your mission statement. But these official documents are only going to have an impact if they are routinely acknowledged and, to an extent, enforced.
If you truly want adaptability to take hold as a part of your organizational culture, this quality needs to be embodied by all of your leaders.
That means coaching and encouraging everyone in your business, especially leadership, to remain as flexible as possible in the course of daily operations.
2. Diversify your income streams
Adaptable businesses are able to survive tough events, in part, because they tend to have diversified income streams. What does that mean exactly? The simple explanation is generating revenue from a variety of sources. That could mean selling a variety of products and services, serving many different market segments in different ways or, to an extent, operating in multiple locations. This way, if any single source of income is threatened, you can temporarily lean on the other sources to get by until you come up with a better plan.
3. Hire adaptable people
This strategy aligns with your goal of making adaptability part of your business culture and you can't afford to neglect it.
A company is only as good as the people it hires, so it stands to reason that your company will only be as adaptable as the people who work for it.
When hiring or promoting people from within, make sure you target adaptable people. ”Adaptability” Is a common descriptor on resumes, almost to the point of being cliche. So don't just take someone's word for it.
Pay attention to how they hold themselves in interviews and ask for specific examples of how they've adapted in the past. You'll quickly get a feel for how flexible they are in a professional environment.
4. Hire a diverse team
It's also a good idea to focus on hiring a diverse team. That doesn't necessarily mean hitting certain targets when it comes to the demographic makeup of your workforce. But it does mean making sure many different types of people are represented when it's time to make big decisions for the company.
People from different backgrounds will have different perspectives, helping you proactively identify potential threats and stimulating innovative ideas in the face of stagnation.
5. Decentralize decision-making
Some businesses, especially large, established ones, suffer from slow and inefficient decision-making. Every decision needs to be run up the corporate ladder, then debated by committees for weeks, if not months, before any action is permitted.
This slow and plodding approach may result in change eventually, but it's nowhere near agile enough to support an ideal level of adaptability. Instead, it's better to decentralize your decision-making, allowing individuals at all levels to make authoritative decisions in fields that are relevant to them.
6. Break up bureaucracies and fixed titles
In line with decentralized decision-making, consider breaking up internal bureaucracies and fixed titles within your organization.
Your company will be much more flexible if there isn't a strict hierarchy and if people feel less restricted when it comes to personal responsibilities.
Allow certain employees to float between roles and departments and be willing to support more transfers and promotions to help employees find their best fit. As an added bonus, this approach has a tendency to boost morale within your organization, thereby improving employee retention and productivity.
7. Spend time cross-training
How much time do you spend cross-training people within your organization, exposing them to different departments? This strategy leads to greater adaptability in many ways. For starters, in an environment with ample cross-training, the loss of a single valuable employee does not disrupt the business — someone else can easily take over their responsibilities.
Additionally, employees can fluidly move between departments and share workloads as needed. Plus, the very act of cross-training encourages employees to think in different ways and embrace new perspectives. It’s a great recipe for fostering more innovation within your ranks.
8. Embrace and reward innovation
Make it a point to encourage your employees to come up with new ideas and make them feel comfortable bringing those ideas to the table. If you have the budget for it, you can even create a reward system to provide monetary bonuses or other incentives for employees who come up with the most interesting or profitable ideas for the company. Google is well known for attempting something like this, allowing employees a fixed number of hours per week to work on projects of personal interest to them.
9. Prioritize adaptable investments over fixed investments
When possible, optimize your investing strategy for adaptable rather than fixed investments. Investing in heavy machinery that is only capable of doing one job locks you into place. In contrast, if you purchase a building with significant potential utility in a high-demand area of town, you could conceivably transform that building as necessary if you ever needed to pivot the business.
You won't always have much control over this area, since you may practically require some fixed, immovable assets for your core business model. But when you have the option, go with whatever is most adaptable.
10. Create pivot-and-response plans
Finally, spend some time thinking about the major threats your business could face and the disruptive events that could jeopardize your business model. Black swan events are, by definition, unpredictable, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't spend time preparing for them anyway. For each hypothetical scenario, try to come up with a response plan.
What could your business do to address this potential threat? How could your business pivot or evolve to take advantage of this event? Just thinking about these questions can be valuable, but it’s even better to write out full plans. This way, if a similar event ever occurs, you can review your existing materials for ideas and possible direction.
Now you know how to plan to improve your company’s adaptability in H2
It’s often not a fast or simple process to become adaptable as a company. If you're planning for H2, you might only have a few weeks to put together a new strategy that's going to direct the company for the next six months.
This leads to a serious dilemma.
Do you choose to focus on small, ground-level changes that will make a minuscule, but measurable impact on your business is adaptability? Or do you begin fostering momentum for more sweeping, high-level changes that have the capacity to support your business development for many years to come?
There's no one right way to handle adaptability improvements in your business.
You'll need to think about your time horizons, your specific business goals and even your competitive landscape before making a final decision.
Improving your business’s adaptability could be the most valuable move you make in anticipation of H2. Instead of waiting to react to an economic disaster or major market shift, get ahead of the curve and stay ahead of it by planning proactively and staying adaptable.