Know When To Pivot In Business

Tenacity is great, but in business you also have to know when to pivot.

I’ve had the chance to sit down recently for some intensive mentoring sessions recently with seasoned entrepreneur, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, and his close business collaborator and co-founder of their corporate consulting firm, Delivering Happiness, Jenn Lim. They shared with me ten vital, hard-won lessons that they’ve learned while helping dozens of other businesses, from Facebook to Audi, adopt the methods that helped turn Zappos into a multi-billion dollar company. I wrote about the last one here. This week, I share a new one. It can be summed up in one sentence.

Know When It’s Time to Pivot

How To Know When To Pivot

Our society tends to extol the virtues of persistence in everything from getting that first date to landing a business deal. But the thing is, sometimes persistence isn’t enough. Maybe the deal just isn’t meant to be. Maybe the relationship isn’t a good fit. Maybe the pain point isn’t as painful as you’d anticipated. And maybe it’s time for you to stop, evaluate, and change gears.

That’s okay.

Not every setback is a failure. Sometimes they are opportunities to grow in a different direction by changing course and trying something new. But how do you know when to pivot? There are a few ways to keep yourself up-to-date on what you should be aiming for:

  1. Set metrics. You can’t know whether or not you’re succeeding if you don’t know what success means to you. Figure out some quantifiable measures that illustrate where you think your company should be heading. It could be revenue, or market share, or number of subscribers, or number of retweets – it just has to apply to your definition of success.
  2. Track your data. If you’ve set your metrics, then you will need to figure out if you’re meeting them. Keep records, and actually take the time to review them. Look at what has changed, what hasn’t, and actions have contributed. This leads us directly to …
  3. Refine your actions. Now that you’re tracking data and understanding the correlation between your actions and their impact on your success, you can start to tinker. Pull back on things that don’t lead to your success, and tweak the ones that do to try to maximize their impact. If you know how to best direct your energies, you’ll be able to ramp up productivity in the right areas. If nothing you do is impacting your metrics, then it might be time to pivot. If that is the case, then you need to …
  4. Reassess the market. Look at your chosen market and figure out if it’s the place where you should be. How are your competitors doing? What are they doing that is different from you? Would you have a better chance in a different market? Make an honest assessment.
  5. Know your assets. Don’t get discouraged. Even if the market may not be a perfect fit, you may have a product that can be repurposed to solve problems in another area. You may have a responsive and engaged team that is willing (and able) to switch gears on a dime. You may have a healthy network that can offer advice or facilitate valuable new connections. Keep the positives in mind!
  6. Get weird. Open-minded may be a better word. Don’t be so quick to discount possibilities – you never know what industry or market you may end up in after some creative brainstorming and networking. When a good opportunity shows up, take it and run with it.

Have you made a clean break with one industry and wound up making it big in another? Has your business grown into something you would never have predicted 5 or 10 years ago? Did you have to go back to the drawing board? 

Start building your foundation for success. Download my newest book, The First Habit: The One Technique That Can Change Your Life for free.



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