If you’re not agile, you’re fragile: How to compete in a world of startups

“Success is no longer about changing strategies more often, but having the agility to execute multiple strategies concurrently. Success requires CEOs to develop the right leadership capabilities, workforce skills, and corporate cultures to support  transformation”.

Pierre Nanterme

How mobile and responsive is your business model, and can you pivot quickly? What does it really mean to be agile in the current and future marketplace?

Do you operate cultural and organsiational siloes? Are your key performance indicators glued to a set of increasingly archaic distribution models? Are you locked into long-term liabilities, rewarding long term tenure, or recognising return indices on long-term metrics?

Agility is the ability to move quickly and easily, and it is absolutely fundamental to an organisation’s current and future well-being.

Startups are often regarded as being more agile, but if you look at the first wave of retail closures globally, you will start to see that size is not a determinant of agility. It may be a contributing factor, but rather, the heavy anchors relative to size are the main drivers.

Consider Walmart and Amazon. They both move with agility despite their large infrastructures. Successful growth models globally seem to have agility built into their DNA, from using new distribution formats, to operating small “ninja” project teams.

Move fast; be quick; think differently; respond, don’t react; dream the opportunity; bend some rules; deliver and move on.

When Amazon Go opened with a modular format in a Chicago train station last week, the message was clear: we are not here for a long time, rather a good time. Agility demonstrated.

The first problem for fragile organisations is that they approach the same issue the same way. The first opportunity for agile organisations is that they create the opportunity before anyone else.

What then of the organisations with large physical assets being eaten by enemies they don’t even know?

If you are King Kong, the enemy is not Godzilla. It is all the agile businesses moving in piranha-like circles around their victims.

For example, if you consider that average online sales will be around 25 per cent of the total retail market by 2030, spare a thought for the 100 per cent of retailers that are trying to operate in our dominant shopping centre model. Only the agile, investing across the streams, will ultimately survive. There are only so many coffees we can drink, salads we can eat and shirts we can wear.

The ability to leverage customer insights, such as neuroscience, change management, resources and a flexible leadership model are crucial determinants of the agility of a team, and therefore the business.

Physical, digital, virtual, mobile, wholesale, retail: channels are just deployment. Fragile organisations focus on the channel. Agile organisations focus on the step in front of the customer.

Consider the last five retail closures and rate them on their agile index. The ones operating the same model that they  have been from day one are the ones that closed.

Brian Walker is founder and CEO of Retail Doctor Group, a retail advisory and consultancy group and the Australian elected member of the global retail expert’s alliance Ebeltoft Group.

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