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When planning or navigating a pivot, how do you know if you are pivoting in the right direction? Answer simple questions to validate your pivot and execute on four actions to help create speed-to-market.

We are hearing the word “pivot” a lot these days. The idea is that business conditions have changed dramatically and, therefore, we need to change course. Companies are finding that they must shift business and adjust the game plan in order to survive or thrive. What we often fail to do is ask ourselves what we are changing the plan to. What, how, who and where are vital questions that need to be answered for a successful pivot. Simply assuming you will find your answers along the way creates complexity and can lead an organization to adopt what is easy, not what is strategic and value-creating.

Not all pivots are the same or will have the same impact. There are a few ways to pivot: market, product, and organization. Market pivot is when your organization changes its customer base or the way it delivers value to its customer. Product pivot is when your organization changes the product or services it delivers to its customers. Finally, organizational pivot is when your organization changes its paradigm or purpose to something different. Each pivot requires different strategies, resources, and timelines.

One example of successful pivoting is Slack. It started as a video game company, but after finding little success in that vertical, company owners realized they would need to pivot. They had a good product, so they decided to use the same product as a chat application for co-workers. This is an example of a market pivot.

A botched pivot can be catastrophic to a brand, and in many cases, result in unrepairable damage or the death of a brand. The reverse is true: a successful pivot can give a whole new life to an organization, leading to growth and success. Sometimes a company may have to go through multiple pivots, but each pivot should lead the company into a better place, incrementally.

To avoid failing in your pivot effort, you need to answer these simple questions:

  • Why are we changing?
  • Changing from what to what?
  • What are we going to gain (or avoid losing)?
  • How are we going to pay for the pivot?
  • Who is going to win in the process?
  • Who are we going to disappoint in the process?
  • What resources are required?
  • How long will it take to execute the pivot?

The sooner you answer these questions, the stronger and clearer the decision and pathway toward pivoting success becomes. It is important to emphasize pivoting is a journey from a less favorable condition towards a future/context that is more conducive for your business.

After you decide on your pivot, the next step is to innovate. Innovation is taking problems or opportunities and turning them into value that your customers will appreciate and pay for. It is the innovation that will validate if the pivot was successful.

Assuming you are committed to innovation, you must focus on speed-to-market. To help you achieve speed and make your pivot successful, do the following things:

Focus on creating customer value. This is the north star. What does the customer (current or potential) need and how quickly can you get it to them (not in perfect form, but in a way that solves a problem they have)? Since the focus is the customer engagement and validation, you must eliminate “nice-to haves” and organizational bureaucracies and make the process of delivering the minimum viable product as quick as possible. In a pivot situation, validation trumps perfection. Once you have validation by the customer, then you can come back and create scalable processes and further efficiencies.

Create ideal teams to execute innovation. Form small, organized teams that work closely together to get results faster. Learn and fail fast. Wherever possible, ask a member of your customer base to be part of the team so you can get feedback quickly. (Yes this works, just ask!) Avoid forming large teams and creating decision-making committees based on positions and hierarchy. Instead, create competence-based teams with specific skills that are suited for the task at hand. These teams may disband after the work is done. It is not time for power struggles; it’s time to win together quickly.

You can use assessments to help select and create committed teams quickly. One such assessment is Innovation FitnessTM, which uses science to reveal where people best fit in the stages of innovation, and where they will be able to use their natural talents and skills to help drive results and efficiency.

Use the 6-step innovation framework to innovate quickly and systematically. Every successful innovation goes through six stages: identify, define, verify, develop, deploy, and scale. By using this proven framework, you will avoid skipping necessary steps and causing your innovation—and your pivot—to move in cycles, wasting precious time and resources to market, eventually disappointing customers.

Deliver value incrementally. Iterative mindset is required in the innovation process. Learn fast using experiments and deliver something of value to your customers quickly and incrementally. During pivot you want to receive continuous validation, and the only way you get validation is through customer acceptance. Get your value-producing innovation in front of people as quickly as possible and then keep delivering more as you learn, as resources allow, and as customers demand more. It doesn’t have to be perfect. If you wait for perfection, you will have lost an opportunity to deliver and engage your customers. Best is often the enemy of good when trying to take advantage of a new opportunity in business, especially during times of crisis. Your focus should be to first deliver something valuable—in some cases I actually recommend delivering the minimum viable product—and then ask your customers to commit to you as you improve it for the better. Just be good enough for your customers to want more!

About the Author

Dr. Evans Baiya is an internationally recognized and trusted guide to business leaders and innovators. Using his 6-stage process, he helps the businesses identify, define, develop, verify, commercialize, and scale ideas so the businesses and individuals can learn, grow, and thrive. He is the co-author of the award-winning book, The Innovator’s Advantage and co-creator of The Innovator’s Advantage Academy, a detailed step-by-step innovation training. Learn more at TheInnovatorsAdvantage.com.