Coyote business guidance
Coyotes: Humans find them mysterious, cringe at their chilling howls and largely misunderstand them. What could they possibly teach us that would be relevant to our businesses? Well, a lot actually – about flexibility.
The coyote is known for his ability to observe, take in information, problem solve and adapt. That’s basically a definition of flexibility, right? Flexibility benefits any business when it equals reductions in time and effort to meet dynamic customer demands. To achieve those benefits you need to observe, take in information, problem solve and adapt. Just like a coyote.
In business, flexibility can come in many forms. It can come from physical assets that are designed to easily adjust as demand flows in. It can come from smart processes that can observe or take in information as demand moves through the operations and adjust as needed. It can come from a mix of fixed and variable elements, such as fixed workstations with variable staffing, or fixed skill sets with variable capacity.
Productive flexibility is not the kind that requires a mad scramble every day to push through a special request or multiple exceptions. It requires a system that can adapt – or that can enable the people working for you to adapt as conditions warrant. Companies often claim flexibility as they try to solve every need uniquely, even when it’s unnecessary. As one example, I know a company that had thousands of envelope SKUs. Laying them side by side, you would be hard pressed to call out more than a half dozen differences. And that was just one of hundreds of product lines. That is not flexibility – in fact over time, accommodating all those ‘unique’ needs actually limits the ability to adapt and change to address more valuable opportunities. Endless product variation running through your lines without some way to manage the complexity becomes a burden that is hard to unwind. The customer is often blamed for this complexity when, in reality, they aren’t even aware of the gyrations the company has chosen to undertake ‘on their behalf.’ Companies that find themselves in this state certainly have a service orientation – or high desire to solve a need for a client, but they haven’t set up a truly flexible operation that can benefit the customer, their employees, and their bottom line. They could use a few tips from our friend the coyote:
Observe and listen—intently. Exceptional observation skills are critical to flexibility. For a coyote, observation and intake of information can mean the difference between life and death. For your business it can mean the difference between a little and a lot of profitability. For example, when was the last time you really completed a detailed process study of your operations – from beginning to end? Just take two days – observe, listen and capture information. Be disciplined about it and the information you gather will reveal all kinds of opportunities for adjustment, or outright change. As the information is collected, the key is to note what contributes to and what restricts flexibility.
Adapt to your surroundings. Coyotes adapt to the resources available to them. That may mean surviving on berries in the wild or scavenging for food in the city. Is your business that adaptable? Do you do more than just track shifting market requirements – do you have mechanisms to naturally integrate them into your business?
Smarts over strength. Instead of relying on sheer numbers or scale, outthink your competition by focusing on specific areas where you can make the biggest differences. There is a reason innovation typically comes from the small players – or new players – in an industry. Like coyotes, they use their smarts to persevere and find the weak spots the big guys completely overlook or take for granted.
Move swiftly and steadily. The coyote survives by enduring. The need to move quickly is there – but so is the need to move consistently, in a smart way, over time. For example, do your staffing and skills development practices encourage creative problem solving or restrict employees to set work standards? If your answer is the latter, what can you do today to start moving toward the former?
Flexibility is hard to establish in the first instance and even harder to introduce in an established culture. That is why it is so important and so valuable. The ways to do it, however, are right there in the behaviors of a coyote: observe, listen, take in information, problem solve and adapt. What can your company start doing today to act more like the coyote when it comes to flexibility?
Pragmatic optimist with over 20 years of leading meaningful change. Sees every performance chain through lenses of speed, predictability, flexibility and leverage. Gets excited when smart decisions align with what customers value and generate stronger business performance. More about Chris.
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