The snake which cannot shed its skin, must die. That’s according to the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. Writing in 1881, Nietzsche wasn’t concerned with snakes, but he was making a point about the ability to change. Or rather that those who refuse to adapt are resisting the inevitability of change. Sometimes with disastrous consequences.

Regardless of the need for snakes to shed their skins, or how well that analogy works in the business world, the issue of change, and more importantly adaptability, is extremely relevant.

Every organisation needs a solid strategy that establishes clear goals and creates a framework for measuring progress towards them. But unexpected developments can disrupt even the most carefully created plans. At which point both you and your strategy need to be able to cope.

Will you remain open-minded and flexible enough to react to changes and seize opportunities as they present themselves? Or will you be like the snake that refuses to change its skin, clinging to a strategy that’s been wrong-footed by events?

Culture comes first

Flexibility and open-mindedness are key cultural attributes. They are an outlook. A mindset and an attitude. And like all aspects of corporate culture they are essentially the day-to-day expression of the vision and mission that must be set by the leadership team.

Some people say they are hands-on or hands-off managers. While I think we all know what’s meant by those terms, I don’t believe you should aspire to be one or the other. You need to find a balance. You must be whatever the situation needs you to be, whatever your people need you to be, whatever your customers, partners, investors need you to be.

You have to stay true to your vision, and the overarching goals, of course. And you must always be the most authentic version of yourself. But there needs to be space for you to adapt when needed.

As an example, when you enter a new market you have to be ready to build from the ground up. You can’t go around thinking you have all the answers, that one size fits all. You have to be willing to learn if you want to succeed. Something we do in the UK won’t necessarily work in the Middle East. Something that works in the UAE might not work in Africa, and so on.

Focus on outcomes and goals

Open-mindedness and flexibility allow you to be receptive to new ideas. You can respond to new opportunities and you can stay more focused on the long-term goal, because you are less hung up on the incremental progress you’re making.

When you acquire a new business, you can’t integrate everything. Nor should you. Don’t get swamped by the minutiae. Focus on your goal. Why did you make the acquisition in the first place? It wasn’t simply to identify as many potential efficiencies in the shortest time possible. It was to acquire new people with new skills and ideas. To acquire new technology. To build new capability, to develop new services that will delight your existing customers and attract new ones. That’s your goal. Not merely an integration for the sake of it.

Limited integrations give you access to the agility and nimbleness of the business you acquired. Yes, support them with your systems, but let them do what they do best. The whole organisation can benefit – especially if you are always looking to identify synergies and encourage people to work more closely together. If you want to know how well things are going there are plenty of outputs you can measure. But it’s important to look at the impact on your people. Are they still able to focus on their priorities? Are they still productive? And do they still feel valued?

Whatever you do, don’t ignore problems. Don’t rush to greet them either. Allow yourself the strategic space to solve or even avoid them instead. Similarly, don’t ignore opportunities just because they seem to run counter to your plans. Your plans are there to serve a purpose – to keep you on the path to success.

Stay on the path, but make sure you are taking in the scenery as you make progress. You never know what you might find.


This article first appeared in Gulf News.

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