How can scaling firms continue to grow through adversity?

Business Chief talks to Andrew Jones, CEO of Agility in Mind about the challenges business leaders face over the next six months and how to address them

Fluctuations in demand are something every business executive is tasked with dealing with. However, the last year has thrown unprecedented challenges for UK businesses which are set to intensify as the cost of operating rises even as consumer spending falls.

But, does the UK’s uncertain economic outlook mean businesses have to scale back their ambitions for growth?

Not according to Andrew Jones, CEO of leading business agility consultancy, Agility in Mind. Andrew believes whilst UK companies should be mindful of external economic pressures and shifts in demand, businesses should still position themselves for growth.

This means maintaining an emphasis on productivity, team engagement and digital transformation.

The past decade has seen an abundance of fast-growth start-ups and challenger brands, powered by record amounts of equity investment, entering markets with new propositions and technologies. What’s more, many more established companies across multiple sectors have embraced transformational changes in the way they do business to keep pace with the start-up revolution.

But what are the numerous challenges scaling companies face during economic uncertainty, and how can businesses continue on a growth trajectory as they address them?

Here, we talk to Andrew Jones, CEO of Agility in Mind, to find out how.

Effectively scaling a business is never an easy feat. What are some of the new challenges leaders are facing in the UK over the next six months and how can they address them?

Businesses are facing a plethora of challenges from supply chain delays, rising operational costs, and changing norms around the way people work. Focusing on productivity through volatile times is often easier said than done, but there are several core actions managers can take to help this process.

They should move into the mindset of seeing things from a value perspective and foster a culture of finding a better way of doing things. They should listen to those close to processes they largely oversee, such as on factory floors, who might have simple yet effective ways of streamlining their processes.

Can you give me an example of companies that have done this well in the past?

One leader who I would call out here is Mark Wild, the former CEO of Crossrail, who celebrates honesty within the business and acknowledged the company’s cultural problem of hiding problems. In other sectors, such as aviation, the onus is firmly on voicing problems so that they can be fixed. Health services, for example, could learn from this cultural shift when tackling backlogs of patient waiting lists and look honestly at what hasn’t worked in order to find ways that can.

We’ve seen lots of fallout in the tech sector with widespread redundancies; is cutting staff numbers helpful for continued growth?

Dominating news in sectors like technology are the sweeping waves of layoffs businesses are currently making within their workforces. From Tesla to Netflix and tech darlings like Klarna, companies are often shedding up to 10% of their teams to tackle dips in valuation caused by myriad difficulties from supply chain issues, reduced demand, and the cost-of-living crisis.

But what this really represents are huge, company-wide knowledge losses with short-termism taking priority over embracing both peaks and troughs to consider how the organisation might – and should – evolve over the next few years.

Losing significant numbers of staff nearly always results in lower business capability. Consider the example of baggage handlers in airports where large numbers of the team were laid off during the first two years of Covid to save costs. Not only did this mean travel was to become far more arduous for those using the airport, but these employees were highly trained from a security perspective to recognise situations that may be detrimental to people’s safety. In this way, hiring new baggage handlers later on took a large investment of time and money to get them up to speed.

Learning from this, leaders might look to save costs in other areas such as through automation and, by embracing an agile business approach, make incremental changes towards a new vision for where the company should be in two years’ time.

You mention the perils of short-termism when it comes to strategic growth, how can managers make sure they are making decisions with the right perspective?

Managers must keep their sights on the vision of where they want to get to. It doesn’t mean they can’t make some tactical shifts as they still need to inspect and adapt, but if they do this at the expense of compromising on what is of value to help achieve their goals, then others will begin to do the same and who knows where they’ll end up?

If leaders are not sure what their vision is, then they must be sure to prioritise creating it and pin it to the wall (even if it’s a virtual one) for all to see.

What impact is this having on teams and how can managers catch problems early?

With so much disruption to the way we work and live, coupled with the growing cost-of-living crisis, managers should also be extra vigilant of how their teams are faring. Key to ensuring that their workforce remains productive despite pressures outside of work is to talk to them about what’s important to them and what gives them a sense of purpose.

By understanding what makes someone happy at work, leaders can empower employees and engender a working culture that tackles the difficult business climate head on.


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