Why the Flexibility to Scale Back is as Crucial as Scaling Up

Esther McMorris learnt a valuable lesson when the business flexed to manage costs. But how do you retain nimbleness as the firm grows?

Why the Flexibility to Scale Back is as Crucial as Scaling Up

Flexibility is a term regularly paraded in business, but few organisations actually practice what they preach. This isn’t through a lack of effort, but purely because once a business has defined its message and built a team, customers and staff make it challenging to actually change how a business operates.

It is safe to say that the majority of business owners are aware of the need to adapt to market shifts, but what about when global events occur? That is when the ability to stay flexible really demonstrates its worth.

Even though the recession is still fresh in the minds, returning business confidence is having an interesting effect on many organisations. It is leading them to forget the lessons they might have learned during the early stages of the crash. This is a concerning path to take, especially as the global economy is still in recovery.

Possessing the internal capabilities to be flexible during a situation like a recession is one thing, but it is equally important to pay attention to how the business comes out the other side.

Cutting our cloth during tough times

We often use our own experience as a compelling example of the need to stay flexible during tougher times.

When the recession struck in 2009 we were still a growing company. The short-term future for the team looked uncertain. We had recently completed several major projects, but as organisations re-assessed their spending, it meant we found it challenging to secure new work in the economic climate.

At the time we had less than 10 employees, but the partners and I took the decision to reduce our working weeks for a three-month period to reduce staff-related overheads. This was a decision intended to protect the rest of the business, but much to our surprise the rest of the consulting team followed suit.

This was particularly heartening to see and it showed the benefit of building a shared-values company. Suffice to say, this ability to stay flexible was crucial in navigating the difficult period and we came out of the recession a stronger business. The most valuable aspect of the whole event was what it highlighted at the time – the need to create a more flexible financial structure. We took the appropriate measures to ensure that, if challenging times did occur again, we would be prepared.

Applying a flexible approach to every project

We learned our lesson as a growing business. Being flexible is an invaluable asset to have, but even more important is leveraging the insight you gain to advance your business even further.

This applies to every aspect of business: project flexibility, scaling technology, marketing that reflects the market rather than following it, HR and legal awareness, and everyday management.

Every business can be flexible, both with its own staff and customers, but it needs to implement the knowledge it has gained to deliver business success.

This approach translates well to everyday project management. Many projects go off track because of the lack of flexibility present in the original plan. Milestones and schedules are important, but make sure you can change aspects of the project if required. The need to adapt could come from customer feedback, new technology, staff departures or simply because something is not working.

Requesting help is sometimes all that is needed – that in itself is demonstrating flexibility – and taking on board the lessons learned from that process will ideally lead to greater business agility, now and far into the future.

Esther McMorris is the founder of Nine Feet Tall

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