How Quickly Should My Business Adapt?

Any business at any stage of its life must be able to adapt and change to changing circumstances. One of the very real benefits that early stage businesses have is that they are small and fast on their feet and are therefore perfectly structured to be able to react swiftly to changing circumstances.

The larger the company and the more layers of management and complex matrix reporting systems that they have, the slower the vast majority of companies become in decision making.

I find it strange, therefore, that I do overhear discussions amongst startups about how quickly they should be able to adapt aspects of their business. It is of course true that different businesses and sectors need to be able to change at different rates, but in very simple terms those that find a way to adapt quickly are those that will survive, and those that do not adapt, or do so too slowly, are the companies that will ultimately fail.

In these unusual times I guess that I have to comment on coronavirus, but it is a perfect example of how sometimes every business is faced with an unexpected situation. The fact that these are almost unprecedented times and virtually every business is faced with having to adapt in one way or another all at the same time does not alter the fact that each and every business must make its own decision and make it quickly. In these circumstances some businesses will make temporary changes just to mitigate the rapidly changing habits of their customers or working around supply chain or workforce issues, but for other businesses the changes made may well become permanent as they see the benefits to their business model.

Just as I often overhear things in startups, it is probably true that I have often been overheard to use an analogy that a business is like an aeroplane and say that if it does not keep moving forward then it will drop out of the sky and crash. In my experience this is true and each of us could cite many examples.

Events normally unfold at a slower pace than we are witnessing with coronavirus, but that in no way reduces the importance of adapting and adapting more quickly than either the existing competition or any potential new challengers. This entails constant monitoring of your competitors and the wider market place, product and technological change, consumer demand and behaviour, cultural and ethical changes, and all the other myriad of inputs that goes into a buyers mind, whether consciously or subconsciously, before they decide whether to become your customer or go to a competitor or not.

One other key piece of advice is relevant here. That is, that as part of the constant monitoring of your business and the market in which you operate it is important to remember that your business plan should be a living document and that it should be regularly revisited and revalidated.  I have come across companies that have failed to do this only to find that by the time their product is ready for launch the market has moved on and they have been left behind and, in the worst case this necessitated them having to close the entire company.

Having read all of my thoughts, and justifications for those thoughts, above it will not be a surprise to know that in my experience there is a very clear answer to how quickly a business should adapt, and that is as quickly as possible and certainly no slower than any of your competition, and preferably much faster. This way, as long as your underlying business and product or service is kept relevant and refreshed your business should continue to grow and prosper even if others around you flounder along the way.


in British English


to prosper or cause to prosper vigorously and rapidly