Charles Darwin said it best, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
The best teams in the world have incredible talent, but they also have depth so they can readily adapt to change and adversity. In sports, they call this “bench strength.” The teams with the deepest bench often win championships because they can overcome injury, fatigue and unknowns where other teams fold under this kind of adversity. Look no further than this year’s San Francisco Giants squad for proof. They overcame multiple critical injuries and even a drug suspension to win the World Series because of their depth and adaptability.
The same rules also apply to business. The very best companies have built tremendous bench strength to help them go the distance. In business, unexpected occurrences happen all the time – from critical employees choosing to leave the organization, to market shifts and family or team members falling ill. It is crucial that a company have people within their organization who can take the reins in any situation, so they can ensure continuity and effectiveness. Additionally, when a business knows that it has a deep bench, it is more confident in making big bets and innovating because management can rest assured that the team understands opportunities that arise and will execute on them effectively.
So what can entrepreneurs do to make sure they’re building bench strength and adaptability? Here are five key tips:
1) Hire right.
As Arthur Rock, the successful venture capitalist behind Apple and Intel, said, “I invest in people, not ideas. If you can find good people, if they’re wrong about the product, they’ll make a switch, so what good is it to understand the product that they’re talking about in the first place?” Restated, people are the most important asset to the success of a company, and hiring the right team makes everything else vastly easier.
Building an adaptable organization really starts from the hiring process. Finding great people is hard, so be sure to give yourself ample time to find the perfect match and don’t fall prey to the “we just need someone” syndrome. The cost of hiring the wrong person is huge in a fast growing company. Simply put, there are only so many seats on the bench, and if one is taken up by a sub-par player, everyone is effected. If management is limited in its ability to build bench strength and adaptability, others on the team will feel like there are weak links, reducing the entire team’s confidence in the organization’s ability to execute.
2) Look for cultural fit.
A close corollary to hiring the right people – and perhaps more important – is hiring someone that is a great cultural fit. A person’s parents had around 18 years to get it right, and if they didn’t do the job, you’re never going to! A company can always train and even re-train for skills depending on the needs, but it is impossible to train someone to be hard-working, thoughtful, honest, entrepreneurial and hungry (or whatever your specific culture embodies). The best organizations I have seen are laser-focused on culture, and are quick to admit hiring mistakes and remove poor cultural fits early on. This ensures that the company does not create an unhealthy workplace environment, and it also helps to reinforce the company culture, allowing outstanding employees to prosper and grow over time.
3) Be transparent.
Transparency is also a key ingredient to building bench strength and adaptability. The more information employees have, the better they are going to be at making smart decisions for the organization. The key here is constant communication, especially about topics that are broader than just that specific person’s job. If people at the organization don’t have a good sense for the important decisions, issues, and needs of an organization, then there is a problem. If information isn’t flowing freely, then it will be very hard to find someone to “step up” when needed because they won’t have the information necessary to be ready (and they are already likely making poor decisions because of lack of information).
4) Encourage distributed decision-making.
Many of the best organizations such as Google, Zappos, Netflix and Southwest Airlines are known for a highly distributed decision making culture, and tend to be flatter organizations with reduced hierarchy. The theory is simple: the wider the decision making goes in an organization, the better the organization can scale because information flows more freely and decisions are made more quickly. Further, if employees are used to making their own decisions, they will be more prepared to make difficult decisions as they move up the ladder. They will also feel more ownership over the success or failure of a task because they made the decision instead of having it forced upon them.
5. Focus on adaptability.
As an entrepreneur, your goal will always be to grow your company. And with growth comes change. At Bizo, we focused on building a team that was adaptable and could mature alongside the company: from a nimble startup to an Inc. Top 100 company.
So how do you ensure adaptability? General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff argues, “Simulate chaos by creating conditions with a high chance of failure. We often want to shield our teams and ourselves from failure. However, if we have the chance to fail when failure has the least ramifications, then we have the opportunity for the greatest growth.”
I discussed how critical it is to hiring the right people, and the culture of an organization. Once you have people in the organization who are naturally adaptable, it is important to empower the team to take risks and to fail. Employees learn and grow by doing, and can quickly turn their mistakes into learning opportunities. While chaos may not be necessary in a business environment, by encouraging risk taking and freedom to make mistakes and learn from them, the organization is going to be more nimble, ready for change and can embrace a dynamic environment as it senses opportunity to succeed.