Nothing in business ever stays the same for long. That's why it helps to have an agile management system.
With agile management, your company is flexible, nimble and able to adjust on the fly. This simply means that you’re thinking ahead and taking precautions, like a captain making sure the boat has enough life jackets, or that a building has plenty of fire exits.
There may be signs that your company could benefit from practicing agile management. But what are those signs? Some red flags include the following.
1. Thinking that being extremely busy is a way of life.
It’s a good thing to have a lot going on, right? It means you have a lot of work.
And yet, Terence Channon, principal at NewLead, a technology solutions and digital marketing company headquartered in Vero Beach, Florida, makes a great point.
“I once heard a very successful gentleman say, 'My schedule is totally empty, and I work very hard to keep it that way,'” Channon says.
—David Coffman, president and CEO, Business Valuations & Strategies PC
Channon immediately recognized the wisdom of what the man was saying. A free schedule can mean that you’re available for clients when they come with a problem or new work. A crowded, chaotic schedule could mean turning clients away or asking them for a delay.
“Remaining flexible and [maintaining an] open schedule is essential to building new relationships, increasing the lifetime value of a customer and reducing the limitations and boundaries on exploring new business opportunities,” Channon says.
2. Offering a limited number of services.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a niche business or specializing in one or two things or even having one or two revenue streams.
But if that’s the case, it may be worth it to have an agile management system in place. Why? Because it can help your business branch out quickly, if need be.
Lauren Milligan is the founder and CEO of ResuMAYDAY, a professional resume writing service in Warrenville, Illinois she launched in 2001. The company started with, as she puts it, “a modest catalog of services,” such as resume writing, interview skills coaching and LinkedIn profile writing. But then the recession hit hard in 2008.
“Many of my clients—smartly—became more budget-conscious than ever before," she says. "In previous years, clients would be reading off their credit card number to me while I was still trying to 'sell' them. But with the recession, I not only had to modify my sales approach, I also had to include more budget-friendly service options.”
Granted, Milligan’s operation is able to be far more flexible than a multimillion dollar corporation with hundreds of people. But the moral is the same for a small or large company: If you have a few services that suddenly become almost unpalatable to the public overnight, you need to be able to offer new, additional ones quickly. Because if you can’t, your company could have some serious problems down the road.
Who knows? If Milligan hadn’t done that, I might be telling you the story of how her company came to an end. And you know what? Even as the economy has improved, she has kept her budget-friendly options.
3. Failing to have mastered your cash flow.
Earl Choate is the CEO of Concrete Camouflage, an e-commerce company based out of Isabella, Missouri that sells concrete acid stain supplies.
In 2005, several hurricanes and tropical storms hit the southern coast of the United States, including Hurricane Katrina.
“Many of our clients were impacted and ended up owing us quite a bit of money as they struggled to build back their businesses and local communities," Choate recalls. "This hurt our cash flow and was a major setback in the short term.”
Simply put, it's going to be hard for your company to have agile management if you don’t have enough money to operate. It was an easy fix for Choate, however.
The experience, he says, “forced us to simplify our business model by no longer offering credit accounts and acting as a bank.”
4. Refusing to deviate from your business plan.
Many business experts swear upon the importance of business plans. Certainly when you’re starting a company and need investors and lenders to believe in you, it would be unwise not to have one. And it would be a waste of time to create a complex business plan and then ignore it.
But with all of that said, your business plan needs to be flexible. You need to be flexible. And your employees do, too. That’s the definition of agile management.
“I have long been a proponent of getting rid of formal written business plans because they do not encourage flexibility,” says David Coffman, a certified public accountant and the president and CEO of Business Valuations & Strategies PC in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
“I believe planning should be an ongoing, continuous process. In evolution, as in business, the key to survival is adaptability—not having a great plan,” he says.
He has a point. If you think of companies that haven’t survived, or have suffered, due to changes in technology, you’ll know what Coffman means. (Hello, camera companies that weren’t prepared for smartphones, or brick and mortar retailers that weren’t ready for online shopping.)
Yes, business plans are important. But if you can’t change your direction when things go south, then maybe you don’t have much of a business plan.
5. Struggling to adapt to change.
Along those same lines, if you or your employees are thrown when the unexpected happens, it could be a clue that you need agile management.
Ronna Moore owns Fairy Homes and Gardens, a fairy gardening e-tailer based out of St. Joseph, Missouri. (If you’ve never heard of that phrase, think about garden gnomes, and you’ll start to get the idea).
Moore says that she has had “plenty of wake-up calls when it comes to business flexibility.”
“You can't survive in this business without adaptability,” she says. “My sales fluctuate greatly just based on weather patterns.”
This year has been particularly tricky, according to Moore.
“We had a late start to spring and that directly affected my business. Not many customers were thinking about gardening when there was an inch of snow on the ground in April," she says. "I had to reroute and push products that were gardening-adjacent to ensure I could meet my sales goals for the month.”
But Moore was able to meet them. Having that type of flexibility and ability to execute in the face of the unexpected can go a long way in keeping your business afloat—and growing.
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