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Would anyone have ever seen March 2020 coming?
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Which businesses will live to see March 2021? Hopefully a lot, but certainly not all.
So who will survive? How do you survive? How do you prepare for a future nobody saw coming? Here’s what I’m seeing:
The future belongs to the agile.
Yes, the future hinges on resources—whether they be from a government bailout, cash reserves or good fortune. But if there’s a single lesson I’m learning from the train wreck of this month, it’s that the landscape is changing faster than ever, agility is the key to survival, and that maintaining agility gets harder every day.
Not long ago, I came home from a run and decided to get some stretching in, since I’m moving toward an age where that’s mandatory.
As I struggled to reach my toes, my toddler came into the room, saw me, proceeded to tie herself into a human pretzel (as only a toddler can do), laughed at me and left the room. After I got over being humiliated by a 3-year-old, it dawned on me,
“Every day I am alive, I get less flexible.”
For my own sake and the sake of my businesses, I have decided to declare war on that truth. And you should too, particularly given the new reality of a COVID-19 world.
It’s an uphill battle. Even the best entrepreneurs fall prey to losing their agility. Given the rate of change in our world, that’s a problem. Just over 40 years ago, nobody had even heard of a Sony Walkman. Now, some of those reading this article will have to Google that term to see what the forerunner to the iPod was. The irreplaceable iPhone? It’s less than 14 years old. Uber? Not even 12 years old.
I’ve long believed that the No. 1 quality that separates the very best entrepreneurs and team members from the rest is agility -- the ability to change with the times, shift at a moment’s notice, and pivot when needed.
It’s not something that can be taught. Even worse, it’s a quality that naturally atrophies over time, not just within ourselves, but also in our organizations.
Whether you’re talking about an entrepreneurial spirit or a growing business, everyone has a harder time being agile as time marches on.
So what do we do to fight off the atrophy? I’ve had the opportunity to interview thousands of candidates for jobs, as well as sit elbow-to-elbow with some of the best leaders and smartest entrepreneurs of our day. Here are some of the lessons I’m learning from them in my fight to maintain my agility.
1. Stay personally agile
I used to think stretching was a waste of time, and time is too precious to waste. Turns out I was wrong. Stretching actually gives you more time.
Many studies have shown that regular stretching can have an anti-aging effect and can have an ROI of extra days added to your life. But don’t just stretch your body, stretch your mind. Apps like Lumosity offer quick daily mental challenges that will keep your mind flexible. Doing sudoku before bed (but not in my bed) keeps my problem-solving gears well-oiled. Given that nearly half of Americans have been ordered to stay inside right now, stretching the body and mind might be more critical than ever.
As a leader in your home or work, if people on your team see you as a regular stretcher, it will inspire them to do more on their own. If you are stretching and showing more flexibility than younger people around you, you’ll stoke a fire in your company to get serious about staying flexible.
2. Stay organizationally agile
We get less flexible every day. In other words, we calcify. And once a person, and especially an organization, begins to calcify, the days of growth and innovation are numbered. This is a real danger for our company. We are at the front of our industry, but only as long as we continue to innovate.
In the days of living with COVID-19, the necessity of fighting the virus has been the mother of invention in companies everywhere. Teams are being forced to do work remotely, to throw away old methods, and try new technology.
School systems that have put off going remote are having to learn new ways. And I believe that many of the very real, but short term pain of these changes will end up being a long-term win for organizational agility.
How are you leveraging this moment to try new methods?
We purposefully wage war on calcification at our company. One of our nine core values is “Ever-Increasing Agility,” and we talk about those values at every meeting, thanks to a great lesson from the management team at the Ritz-Carlton. We use the hashtag #EverIncreasingAgility in our emails to highlight someone’s ability to pivot. Because of this war on calcification, you never hear the phrase, “that’s the way we’ve always done it” in our office. And because of that commitment, our team was able to move to remote work with a flip of a switch.
3. Keep company with the agile
Maybe you don’t remember the stretchy superhero. He was as flexible as can be and could stretch for what seemed like miles. And I’d love to be his friend.
The level of the company you keep determines the level of your success. This is true on both a personal level and a professional level.
I’ve learned that if I surround myself with agile people, I think younger, faster and better. That’s been the best benefit of working on a team that is predominantly millennials.
It’s why I (used to) fly from Houston to Atlanta to be around the CEOs in The Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs.
What are you doing to surround yourself with the most pliant, agile people you can find? If you will, you’ll get more flexible instead of less.
In any organization, the same truth holds. Everything rises and falls on the team and agility is no exception. When hiring, be extraordinarily committed to hiring only people who show tremendous agility.
At our office, we incorporate questions about agility into our interviewing process. And the more we hire team members who can pivot, the more our team improves.
4. Reward agility
Peter Drucker is credited with saying, “What’s measured improves.” How can you set measurements for your stretching?
On a personal level, it might be the literal measurement of how far you can stretch your body. It might be setting goals for trying a certain number of new things each year. If you measure it, you’ll see yourself reverse the aging and calcification process.
At our office, we do an annual fitness challenge. Now, we are doing it virtually. And yes, even now, because mental and physical fitness may be more important than ever.
Last year, we included a mind-strengthening challenge with the app Lumosity. We gave the biggest prize to the individuals who showed the most improvement of their mental agility during the challenge.
We also measure creativity and keep count of new ideas as we strive for #EverIncreasingAgility. And we use our core values in our staff reviews to assess compensation.
How can you set measurable goals for your team’s flexibility? Measure it, and it will improve. Improve, and your team will have a real advantage as the landscape changes in the future.
5. Beware of SOS or "Shiny Object Syndrome"
Agility does not mean flighty vision. The future belongs to those who remain stubborn about their vision, but stretchy when it comes to methods.
A natural consequence of stretching is the temptation to lose focus on your company’s key offering. The panic of COVID-19 has likely tempted a lot of leaders to consider whole new ventures.
I call this dark side of the entrepreneurial spirit SOS, or "shiny object syndrome."
Too often, businesses start out strong but try to expand their offerings in directions that do not align with the business’ core mission.
I experienced this firsthand in the early days of starting the Vanderbloemen Search Group. Early on, we were asked to expand our offerings to include vision consulting, and because it was a fascinating opportunity, we looked into it.
We were also asked to do real estate mergers for large churches, which piqued my curiosity. But thanks to some wise direction from a consultant, we drilled down on the singular focus of helping faith-based organizations build their best team ever. Having that singular focus has acted as an anchor for us as we’ve grown.
I’m still working on touching my toes, but I’m getting a little better every day. It makes me feel and act younger and makes me run better and faster. The same can be true for you and for your company.
Declare war on losing agility. Stretch yourself and stretch your team. You will find your success stretching farther, faster, and longer than you ever thought possible, no matter how much the world changes.
William Vanderbloemen is the CEO of Vanderbloemen, which serves teams with a greater purpose by aligning their people solutions for growth: hiring, compensation, succession and culture. Through its retained executive search and consulting services, Vanderbloemen serves churches, schools, nonprofits, family offices, and Christian businesses in all parts of the United States and internationally. Follow him on Twitter @wvanderbloemen.