pivot strategy

How to pivot your business strategy quickly

Reading time: about 8 min

Life is full of turning points—and some of the best stories include many of them. Turning points often jump-start necessary growth and change, even if they initially throw you for a loop. 

When it comes to business, we can call this need to change a strategic pivot, and it's not as daunting as it may sound. Whether you're considering a simple name change, a full rebrand, or building out an entirely new revenue model, it's not uncommon for businesses to reach a pivot point that requires a shift to ensure the company can stay successful. 

Let's dig into what businesses need to know to quickly and effectively pivot strategy. 

What does it mean to pivot your business?

Market conditions are ever-changing, and sometimes even the best-laid plans require another look. The most successful businesses may see numerous strategic pivots over the lifespan of the business. A pivoting approach in business means that you reassess your business model's basic assumptions and tenets against new information—and adjust your plan accordingly. 

Determining when you need to pivot your strategy

Strategic pivots are sometimes the result of a faulty business model or strategy. However, it's important to remember that not all "failures" result in business failure. Instead, companies can use the shortcomings of previous decisions or plans to inform and improve a strategic pivot. 

Other times, a business needs to make a strategic shift due to circumstances outside of its control. Take the COVID-19 pandemic, for example. In just a few weeks, most businesses—from small shops to giant enterprise organizations—needed to shift to remote work or quickly find ways to keep employees on the payroll. 

So how do you know when you need to pivot your strategy? If key indicators highlight that a shift is on the horizon, it's best to evaluate whether the pivot will be a large, organization-wide change or a more simple change. Is your team maxed out? Are productivity and retention taking a hit? It may be time to restructure your teams and secure some more headcount. Is your customer base changing or jumping ship and heading to your competition? Maybe it's time to reevaluate your customer's current needs and the way you're connecting with them. Do you find yourself slowed down by legacy systems and processes? A full digital transformation is likely necessary for you to keep pace with your competitors and meet your customer's expectations. 

Here are three common ways to pivot your business and how you can execute them effectively. 

Pivot your vision

A vision pivot is likely the most holistic and most challenging type of strategic pivot. As a result, it will require more coordination and collaboration across the organization. 

A holistic vision change can be necessary due to an emerging technology that makes your offering obsolete. Or perhaps you've made many small pivots that have changed your organization's strategic direction. When making a visionary strategic shift, it's essential to look at as many data points as possible before pivoting—loop in key stakeholders, investors, and advisors to help you avoid surprises or missteps. 

Get started on your vision pivot with a vision alignment template:

vision template
Vision alignment template (click to use template)

Pivot your product

Your product will need to evolve to adapt to changing market conditions, customer demands, new research, and technological advances. Even a company as globally successful as Starbucks switches up its menu to keep things fresh. 

As you pivot your product, be sure first to incorporate feedback from your customers. Use their feedback to guide the extent of the pivots you'll need to make. Start with small changes early, measure their impact, then iterate and learn. 

Pivot your strategy

A shift in strategy is similar to a change in vision but focuses on specific tactics regarding individual teams or departments. If your company decides to target an emerging customer base, your channel strategy and brand voice may need to change. If the business pivot puts you in a new market entirely, you may need to reevaluate strategies, approaches, and processes across every arm of the organization. Either way, the business should ground any strategic pivot in what's worked—and what hasn't worked—in the past. 

How to implement a pivot strategy

Now that you've evaluated when and where you might need to pivot, let's talk about how to lead your organization to more profitable pastures. 

Listen to your customers

 A customer-centric mindset will never lead you astray. This is perhaps the most important part of pivoting business strategy. After all, you don’t want to change what’s already working for your customers, and you certainly don’t want to implement any changes that lead to an increase in customer dissatisfaction. Pay close attention to your customer feedback. It will often do a lot of the heavy lifting on strategic thinking for you. 

Templates like this voice of the customer matrix and this Likert scale can be really helpful in collecting and analyzing customer feedback.

voice of the customer
Voice of the customer matrix (click to use template)
Likert scale template
Likert scale template (click to use template)
customer feedback templates

Move quickly 

Once you decide to pivot, trust the data and insight that led you to that decision and act quickly. Decisive action will help you avoid wasting time, effort, and money. Beyond that, it will build trust among employees who might feel trepidation about a shift. You'll need everyone working in lockstep to implement your pivot strategy successfully. 

Align your goals to the pivot

Again, a pivot isn't usually a complete strategic overhaul of the business. Still, you wouldn't measure your time in a marathon against your goal for a 5K race, right? The same goes for any business pivot. Take a look at the milestones you've set along the way and adjust accordingly to ensure you're running toward the right finish line. 

Don't fix what's not broken

A pivot doesn't have to result in a complete overhaul of your strategic plans. Your team undoubtedly made a lot of smart, strategic decisions while executing your previous strategic plan. It's important to pinpoint exactly what's not working, so you don't throw out good work that led to any previous wins. 

Maintain a growth mindset 

Pivoting your business can undoubtedly help you get around a roadblock, but make sure there isn't another one sitting directly behind the first. As you build out a strategic plan to make your pivot, consider the opportunities for growth and expansion in your new path. A new streamlined offering might make good strategic sense in some ways, but if the resulting customer base is smaller, then you're limiting your opportunities for expansion and growth. 

How to communicate a strategic pivot

Business pivots can be an uncertain time for many companies. Whenever an organization pivots, one of the most essential and critical elements to focus on is communication. A comprehensive communication plan that loops in all internal and external stakeholders will help the company maintain transparency and trust while the business shifts strategy.

Sell the story 

You've crunched the numbers and know you're making the right strategic pivot. Now, sell it.

But how do you sell it? Take advice from an expert. Simon Sinek, author of “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action,” discusses how leaders who inspire action follow the Golden Circle model. The Golden Circle model is the idea of communicating first why you do something (your purpose), then how you do it, then what it is you do rather than the other way around.

Data storytelling can also help you paint the picture for the future vision of your brand. Incorporate data visualizations in your internal and external communication to illustrate precisely where things were going awry and how pivoting will help you get things back on track. 

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Learn about 7 change management models you can incorporate in your organization.
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Show continuity 

Your business is built on trust, so it's important to show continuity in the pivot. If the pivot is framed as a smart and organic progression of the brand and company, customers and other external stakeholders will view it as an exciting shift vs. a sign of instability. If your brand vision aligns with a broader societal purpose, (i.e. Google's brand mission of "organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful") you can build organic flexibility into your brand, allowing for more pivots and innovation. 

As an organization, you can also build out clear product roadmaps and sprint planning templates to demonstrate exactly how you'll successfully execute the pivot. 

Be empathetic 

Regardless of how well you communicate your pivot, some employees, customers, and stakeholders will still be wary of change. Be empathetic of resistance to likely changes to processes and company structure. 

Change is an inevitable part of modern-day business. No matter the reason for a strategic business pivot, smart companies learn to embrace quick, decisive pivots to keep the business sustainable while staying grounded in what they've learned.

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