Agility is not always the answer

Agility is not always the answer

We all know the cliché’ – too big to change – and we’ve all heard the stories of companies that failed to adapt and, thus, are now footnotes in history. The examples are endless. Circuit City. Blockbuster Video, come to mind. And powerhouse brands in the process of failing like Sears and Kmart.
The advice is (almost) always the same: get more agile, slim down and restructure yourself to move quicker and change easier. Well, that CAN be good advice. But sometimes it’s not. In reality, some businesses are just not built to be any different. These are generally designed on a simple process that works as long as you keep the process and make minimal changes to that process.

Examples of this include Walmart and McDonald’s. International powerhouse businesses built on simple concepts that have, literally, become just too massive to change quickly.
McDonald’s is built on a simple, effective program. Get decent, predictable food out to people fast using highly structured processes that involve workers who can be plugged into the process with minimal training.

Customers get consistency and fulfilled expectations. McDonald’s serves billions and billions. Sure, throughout the decades they try different menu items based on shifting consumer tastes, but the basic process remains. There may come a time when they need to revamp their menu, but there’s not likely to ever be a time when people don’t want “cheap and easy” meal options from time to time.

Walmart is also built on a simple philosophy. Buy big and sell cheap. Most folks admit not really enjoying the shopping experience, but they go by the tens of millions because they can get just about everything they want – and then some – and they can get it cheap in a single stop. Again, the concept here is cheap and easy. That’s really what Walmart delivers.

That’s why, back in October of 2015, some people rolled their eyes when Walmart announced plans to “get more agile” as a company. Sure, they could trim here and there, but does anyone really believe Walmart will ever be as agile as some of its online competitors? Think about it. This is a $450 BILLION company with more than 2 million employees. It is the ultimate brick and mortar survivor. So, sure, Amazon is peeling away at Walmart’s market share, but when was the last time you were in a store that wasn’t packed?

The point is, “agility” is a relative term. Some companies need to streamline. Others need to up their online game. Most don’t need to completely reinvent the wheel or tear down all their processes and rebuild from the ground up. But all too often, that’s the message sent when people talk about business agility.

The principle is simple here, friends. When you start talking about agility, understand what that should mean and should look like for YOUR business. Don’t try to assume someone else’s vision or copy another company’s strategy.

Remember, football needs linemen and running backs, big strong stalwarts and quick flashy movers … and so does business.

Chris Burch is a venture capitalist and investor of Cocoon9 tiny houses.

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