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Innovate or die. Cliché as it might sound, there’s a lot of truth to this adage. AmazonApple, Netflix and LEGO are all companies that reinvented themselves in some way to not only survive but also thrive. One of the more recent companies to reinvent itself is Chipotle. Though known for its counter-service approach, the fast-food chain had to drastically pivot during the pandemic. As such, it created Chipotlanes: drive-thru lanes for mobile pickup orders. On the surface, it’s not a significant reinventionbut it is one that got the company through Covid-19.
Although most companies that reinvented themselves in the past few years did so in response to recent events, there are more regular signals to look out for. For instance, poor talent retention, customer dissatisfaction and plateaued conversion rates could indicate you need to reinvent your company. If you fail to stay relevant and capture the market, you risk becoming obsolete.
That said, reinvention isn’t easy. Our organization transformed during the pandemic, tripling in size as a result. We had to put ourselves and our systems to the test, and we had to incrementally reimagine our communications and accountabilities to be fit for the future. What got us through was consistently informing employees of next steps and ensuring everyone understood the need for experimentation. Although initially met with uncertaintywe were able to strategically push through and come out on the other side.
Reinventing your organization might sound like a daunting task, and it can be a complex undertaking. For larger companies, it’s especially problematic; you’re disrupting the status quo, and this can prompt some resistance. However, reinvention is well worth the time and effort when done intentionally. Here’s where to begin:
1. Pay attention to signals
Don’t wait for something catastrophic to occur before you start trying to reinvent your business. Oftentimes, you will start to notice small, clear signals. Recognizing these warning signs early can mean the difference between a smooth reinvention process and one that’s painful or difficult.
What signals should you look out for? Take the job market, for example. We know that employees are leaving their jobs in record numbers. Microsoft found that as many as 41% of workers have plans to quit in the near future. The reasons, according to a Pew Research Center survey, are low pay (63%), lack of advancement opportunities (63%) and feeling disrespected at work (57%). Although salary increases might not be in the budget this year, you can stave off issues by reinventing your organization’s culture or approach to advancement.
2. Build a foundation of trust
Lack of trust is a common workplace problem. A recent Edelman survey found that almost 50% of people don’t trust their CEO. Don’t fool yourself into thinking your organization is immune to this. Without trust, you won’t be able to successfully identify reinvention signs or easily undergo transformation.
So, start listening to employees. Help people feel heard, and create a space of resonance. These actions can serve as a foundation for trust, not just in you but in other team members as well. At our company, we try to connect both professionally and personally. Although we don’t meet face to face often, employees work together to build trust through weekly tactical meetings, monthly offsites to discuss larger topics and annual meetings to revisit our purpose and vision for the company.
3. Experiment, inspect and adapt
Companies often reserve agile methodologies for project management or software development. But such a collaborative and iterative approach can serve you well when reinventing your business model. Considering that 70% of transformation projects fail, employee involvement and support can go a long way.
Use your entire team’s input and advice when trying to identify opportunities for experimentation. Arrive at a decision, execute, learn, and move on. If you fail, pivot quickly. Using agile methods when reinventing creates an environment where experimentation is safe and there is tolerance for failure. People feel comfortable trying new things rather than waiting for a large transformation initiative.
4. Uphold your values at all costs
Uncertainty and anxiety are often higher in the middle of a transformation. That’s why upholding your values is critical. They already guide the way your team works together and provide employees with a common purpose. Using those values as a support mechanism to improve your chances of success makes sense.
If employees are working on different goals and come to the table with different intentions, the outcome won’t be cohesive or productive. By placing your values front and center as Patagonia does, you can better keep people together and guide their efforts. Think of your values as your organization’s North Star during reinvention, and you won’t get lost.
5. Embrace tension as a positive nudge
In the workplace, tension is often considered a problem. Systematic tension is obviously different and should be addressed (according to a 2008 report by CCP, Inc., conflict cost US companies $359 billion a year in lost time and productivity). However, tension, in general, isn’t something to shy away from when used productively.
Conflict and tensions can encourage conversations, expose employees to other perspectives and even help companies innovate. Understand that tension doesn’t need to be destructive. The key is to positively frame the situation, empathize and empower people to have honest discussions.
Reinventing your organization starts with identifying a problem. From there, you explore possible solutions, settle on your criteria for success and begin experimentation. Give the process time, and never forget to learn from your reinvention efforts — it will serve you later down the line.