3 Adaptive Strategies Every Business Needs to Navigate Uncertain Times Ahead

11.16.22

By Camille Nicita, Managing Director North America, Gongos, part of InSites Consulting

Most business leaders can agree, the last few years have been anything but ordinary. From unprecedented circumstances like the global pandemic to record high inflation, the atypical has become typical in our everyday existence. The U.S. military coined acronym VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) is more relevant today than ever before. It represents the challenges teams, business leaders and organizations face as we navigate uncertain times. These unpredictable forces require a new approach. Instead of looking to the past to rewrite our future, we would benefit from paving a new path towards resiliency — one that takes a holistic approach in today’s business environments.

As we confront ongoing challenges without a manual, leaders are navigating conditions our predecessors have not yet laid the groundwork for. For many entrepreneurs, resiliency has not been an imperative leadership characteristic. However, those who exhibit this quality are adapting to the chaos — honing a renewed sense of optimism and seeking out resources to lead forward.

While there is no playbook for navigating uncertain times ahead, focusing on employees, customers and organizational dynamics can lay down the foundations for an optimistic future that creates win-win scenarios for all. Let’s dive in.

Inspiring employees

If executive stakeholders are in the driver’s seat steering organizations into the future, frontline employees are the engine that will get them there. One cannot succeed without the other. Just as importantly, customers rely on the frontline to be there. When staff shortages cause unforeseen delays and closings, it is detrimental to the customer experience and the overall long-term health of the brand.

On the heels of the great resignation and with record numbers of workers saying that “quietly quitting” (or doing the bare minimum to get by) is appealing, many employees are rethinking their orientation to work and how it fits into the broader context of life. While work may have previously been a defining characteristic for many, it is now simply a piece of life’s puzzle. To shift this mindset, companies must work extra hard to be purpose-driven and inspire employees to feel invested, as if their efforts are paying forward a contribution to something larger than themselves.

Often that purpose can come through a commitment to the customers served by the business. Mobilizing a customer-committed employee base requires leaders to shift mindsets from “I have to do this because it’s required of me” to “I am doing this because I understand and believe in it.” Through education, co-creation and positive reinforcement, leaders hold the power to inspire an employee base that is not only committed but enthusiastic to deliver.

Strengthening customer connections

Cultivating customer affinity is key to developing lasting relationships and in a volatile marketplace, the depth of these connections becomes ever more critical. Customer affinity can be defined by building reciprocal compassion, awareness and emotional connection to address the pain points, needs and underlying motivations of customers. This requires companies to stay even closer to customers and in sync with their specific life goals. The latter can be achieved by asking the right questions, listening and establishing feedback mechanisms to leverage learnings to continually charm customers and exceed their expectations in an ever-evolving way.

Adapting the organization

Once employees are engaged and customer insights are shared and internalized, it’s time to recalibrate organizationally. This means creating a renewed perspective and a more dynamic operating model.

Biomimicry — which teaches us the practice of mimicking nature’s strategies to resolve business challenges — is simple but profound. It unlocks the secrets of nature’s success so we can create businesses that are more adaptable and resilient to change. Utilizing an outside-in approach is akin to survival of the fittest. Those who successfully adapt to their environments are more skilled at managing change and thriving, than those who do not. Setting up leaders and organizational structures to be adaptive and flexible to an ever-changing environment is essential when navigating change and embracing the unknown. This involves posturing leaders to deviate from a culture of “comply and control” and blossom into a resilient servant leadership model which prepares them to roll with adapting to employee needs.

Similarly, organizational structures that meet customers’ needs will become more effective than those skewing toward operational efficiency.

The key takeaway

At its core, resiliency is an integral muscle to build in an ever-changing environment. Prioritizing customers and employees above all else enable leaders to navigate uncertain times ahead. In doing so, leaders can establish a renewed hope for the future and a resilient foundation to face the ever-changing dynamics we face now and will continue to face in the future. After all, our success as leaders and entrepreneurs depends on this.

As published in Entrepreneur.