Are You (and Your Company) Flexible Enough? Five Considerations

Bent pencil - flexibility

The importance of flexibility in the face of obstacles and challenges cannot be overstated.

If you or your business can’t embrace change and adapt to new circumstances, you simply won’t survive.

Over the last number of years, my company has been creating systems that would make it possible to work remotely.  We had no clue that a global pandemic was in the offing when we decided to digitize all of our important documents and switch to cloud based platforms, but being located in New York City, we had experienced the devastation of 9/11, the blackout of 2003, and hurricane Sandy in 2012. We may not have seen COVID-19 coming, but we were pretty sure that sooner or later something else would.

So, in March 2020, when the city told us all to go home…and stay there…we were ready.  Despite the numerous adjustments we had to make, physically and psychologically—from the challenge of conducting a zoom call while your dog and bird are having a contest to see who can make the loudest noise, to the sudden onset of insomnia brought on by the myriad professional and personal worries the pandemic brought with it—in these trying circumstances, our work and service to our clients continued essentially uninterrupted.  We had to modify our systems, sure, and we had to lean in heavily to flexibility, but it turns out that all the preparation we’d done to be ready for this moment paid off.

And that brings me to my point which is that the biggest lesson I, and many others, learned over the past year and a half is that flexibility is our greatest superpower in business and life.  You can’t stop the surging tide of events, but with a flexible mindset you can adapt and go with the flow rather than drowning in it.

Many businesses realized once they went fully remote that their overhead went down, their employees were actually giving them more hours because they didn’t have to deal with commutes or leaving early to pick up kids, etc., or they had to throw out antiquated processes that were clunky even before the COVID-19 crisis made them obsolete.  And the work still got done, in some cases better than before.

Here are 5 things to consider being more flexible about:

  1. Employees’ work location and hours—if someone can get the same amount (or more) work done from home or after their kids are in bed, and doing so helps them manage their stress better, why not be flexible about those needs if their physical presence is not essential to running the business?
  2. Procedures should not be set in stone—unless you’re operating a nuclear power plant.  Look at the way you’re doing things and see where you can make changes that will streamline or do away with unnecessary processes.
  3. Consider your infrastructure and see what needs updating or implementing so that you are able to quickly and easily pivot in a moment of crisis—IT systems are key here.
  4. Make sure your important business partners have the same flexibility as you—for instance, make sure your bank can accept mobile deposits and see if your clients will accept wires or ACH transfers instead of checks.
  5. Practice a flexible mindset.  Acknowledge the one thing you’re most inflexible about and look at it objectively and dispassionately and then try come up with ways that might make you open to changing it.  Whether this is a ritual you’ve had for 10 years or an idea you’ve held onto past its expiration date, see if you can move the needle on your flexibility meter.

The importance of flexibility in the face of obstacles and challenges cannot be overstated.  If you or your business can’t embrace change and adapt to new circumstances, you simply won’t survive.  As the great basketball coach John Wooden said, “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”

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