‘Pivoting’ has quickly become one of 2020’s most popular business buzzwords. In fact in many industries, it’s now a necessity as companies roll up their sleeves and fight to survive.

The global landscape has changed, and businesses have realised they need to change with it.

When a business pivots, it’s essentially changing a fundamental aspect of its business. This could be its product, target market or the way it operates. Or it could be all three. During COVID-19 we’re seeing raw, primal survival instinct at its entrepreneurial best.

Although, in the current climate, pivoting feels like a last-ditch option, this may be the time for the best ideas. It's when creativity is encouraged, and no idea is seen as too ridiculous. Businesses are looking to reinvent themselves to save jobs, salvage a future and hang on for dear life.

Bold and fast

“Be decisive and make the tough, bold decisions,” suggests Australian entrepreneur and author Dorry Kordahi. “This isn't easy, and you won’t please everyone, but don’t procrastinate or dwell on the negatives. And don’t wait – these lost days, minutes and dollars could be the difference between sustaining your business or losing it all.

“It's time to get foundations in place and decide what the business is going to stand for. Although you may have to veer from initial business plans, be creative, decisive and open to moving with the landscape. It’s much better to operate at 20% than 0%.”

Dorry is following his own advice. His promotional merchandise company, DKM Blue, has transitioned quickly to offer essential products such as hand sanitiser, face masks and wipes.

“Procrastination is detrimental now more than ever,” he adds. “Those who can adapt and manoeuvre quickly while preserving their position are those who will have the opportunities once recovery starts. They can potentially grow and prosper in spite of the situation.”

Customer first

Customer service has become the new lens – businesses must anticipate and cater to the needs of clients as much as possible. And there is a focus on helping, rather than selling.

Hatted restaurants are offering home deliveries, cafes are opening windows and barricading doors to create takeaway services. Brick- and-mortar retail shops have created online platforms showcasing products and offering free or reduced-price delivery. Contactless deliveries are the new norm and product lines are discounted to capture the captive at-home market.

Adapting is king, as is innovating to stay afloat.

Corowa Distilling Co and sister company Junee Licorice & Chocolate Factory have teamed up to manufacture, bottle and supply 5,000 litres of hospital grade and WHO-approved hand sanitiser per day. And they still can’t keep up with the demand.

“Both our businesses are tourism and events focused. When the new regulations came into place, our onsite visitor experiences, restaurants, cafe dining and wholesale sales virtually dried up overnight,” explains owner Neil Druce (pictured above). “We had to think of ways to keep our 100 staff members employed. So we combined the two businesses labour forces to shift their focus towards making hand sanitiser. Everyone is learning new skills.”

Award-winning premium meat supplier Milly Hill Meat based in Armidale, New South Wales, has spent the past 14 years building a stellar list of clientele including Rockpool Bar & Grill and Buon Ricordo in Sydney. It specialises in lamb products, as well as beef, pork and chicken. With the hospitality industry now ground to a halt, Milly Hill has quickly pivoted to provide an online home delivery service.

Pivoting for the greater good

Likewise, the corporate world is restructuring operations to enable employees to work safely from home. Results of a recent study by Indian job site Indeed showed that 64% of Indian businesses are pivoting in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

HR policies are shifting and being rewritten, and technology is being adapted to make remote working efficient and effective. Indeed’s Managing Director, Sashi Kumar, commented on the trends: “Resilience is being displayed by many employers who are exploring new ways to ensure their workforce is able to function seamlessly and continue the business.”

For some businesses, pivoting is about more than survival. It’s about taking the initiative to combine their unique skills, existing facilities and reputation to help combat the crisis.

Globally distilleries are pivoting en masse, reprogramming their production lines to produce alcohol-based hand sanitisers and disinfectants. Clothing producers are making masks and equipment suppliers are making parts for Covid-19 test kits and ventilators. US automaker Ford has partnered with 3M and GE Healthcare to assemble more than 100,000 plastic face shields per week. It's also utilising its 3D-printing capability to produce medical equipment parts.

Likewise, Chinese electronics giant Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics manufacturer and maker of the Apple iPhone and iPad, is switching part of its production to manufacturing surgical masks. “In this war against the epidemic, every second counts,” the company said on social media platform WeChat. “This is not just Foxconn’s biggest corporate responsibility, but also our social responsibility.”

In the UK, Dyson and Grey Technology (Gtech), manufacturers of vacuums and other motor-driven airflow tools have responded to government calls for support. They've now pivoted their manufacturing to producing ventilators. In Gtech’s case, the company was able to respond producing 30,000 ventilators within two weeks while making its designs freely available to the manufacturing community.

Although pivoting and adapting is not a new phenomenon, the scale of innovation and change we’re seeing during this period is unprecedented. “A pivot is a change of strategy without a change in vision,” suggests entrepreneur Eric Ries, in his bestselling book The Lean Startup. Globally for many businesses and industries, the shared vision is to survive and to help, and by pivoting they’re able to achieve both.