Strategy not working? Have you tried pivoting?

The global financial crisis forced The Curve Group to re-model its business. Lyndsey Simpson reveals how pivoting transformed the group's fortunes

Now I’m one of those people who likes a plan. As such, my business partners and I at The Curve Group have always had a rolling three-year business plan that looked not just at the financials, but in detail at the clients, services, people and infrastructure that will be required to hit the plan.

However, we learnt a valuable lesson in 2008. It didn’t matter how great our plan was, nor how much our customers loved us, the market moved against us and we had three choices:

  1. Plough on with the existing strategy (providing senior and executive search into FTSE 100 Financial Services and Management Consultancies) and try and ride out the storm
  2. Close up shop and go and do something else
  3. Pivot our strategy

We chose number three.

Pivoting strategy to me, involves thinking of your strategies as triangles. What are the 3 core points of your strategy and how do you keep two of those points firmly rooted down but change the other one to pivot.

This gives you credibility, and thus leverage in your new direction. Let me give you an example – we were providing senior recruitment into FTSE 100 financial services organisations. Therefore one of our triangles in 2008 looked like this:

Pivot image 1

We brainstormed a number of new strategic directions where we could keep two points of our triangle but change one to open up new markets. Just two of the new triangles (and thus new strategies) to come out from the above original were as follows:

1)

Pivot 2

2)

Pivot 3

Both of these strategies required investment. The first was a whole new direction into outplacement services. Existing client contact, existing company, but given they were making redundancies rather than hiring, we wanted to provide what they needed now.

We built a new website, set up a new Ltd company entity, invested in outplacement technology, hired corporate coaches and went to market on January 5, 2009, having first brainstormed the concept in October 2008.

Within 48 hours we had our first FTSE 100 customer and within eight weeks we had broken even on all of our investment costs and had a profitable new strategy that thrived in recession to counter the dip in recruitment.

Targeting a new customer base

The second strategy saw us move our expertise from the world’s largest banks to the second tier challenger brands in financial services. Now this wasn’t as simple as it sounds of ringing them up and saying, we have a pool of talent your large competitors are unable to hire as they cut costs.

Instead, we

  • Invested in research to appropriately target the ones we backed as winners
  • Changed our website and marketing materials to be more attractive to mid-market organisations
  • Changed our processes and fee structures to align to fast growth entrepreneurial  companies that wanted more risk/reward built in
  • And importantly, we stuck like glue to our original client base so that as the economy recovered, our FTSE 100 practice returned, but was complemented by a new breed of smaller clients who protected us against the cyclicality of the economy.

Since that first lesson in 2008, we have become the masters of the pivot. This means we are constantly changing and asking our employees to change.

Becoming masters of the pivot

We have developed a stride where it almost comes naturally to pivot, adjust, pivot, adjust and drop (quickly) the strategies that don’t convert within the first four weeks and invest heavily (time and resources) in the ones that show real potential in the first four weeks. The quote we share at our team conferences and employee inductions is from Darwin:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent… it is the one that is the most adaptable to change”

This ethos has influenced our entire business model. We have shunned any form of client, division or personal incentives/commissions as they wed individuals to a particular activity or client, which if you want to change at a moment’s notice, becomes a constraint.

Our “Team Curve” philosophy and company-wide profit share approach allows us instead to move people and resources almost immediately to where the demand is, without push back. We hire people that can cope with ambiguity and thrive on change and pace. Without this, they would be permanently stressed in our environment.

My last note is to clarify what happens when you find a winner. Don’t think that by pivoting, we keep chopping and changing with the wind. We don’t. We still provide senior recruitment to the FTSE 100 just like we did in 2008.

The difference is, this now makes up less than 10% of our revenue, vs over 85% in 2008. By pivoting, we have kept the original clients and services, but extended our portfolio of solutions, diversified our client base and have a constant stream of new innovations coming through to protect our future growth.

So, if you current strategy isn’t working, pivot. If your current strategy is working, don’t rest on your laurels as the market can move overnight against you and a pivot could be the next big thing to take your business to even greater heights.

Lyndsey Simpson is co-owner of award-winning HR services company The Curve Group

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