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How to Stay Agile in the Face of Uncertainty

How to Stay Agile in the Face of Uncertainty

Here’s how electrical distributors can stay competitive and agile in an era where uncertainty has become the “new normal.”


Staying competitive in the current B2B business environment isn’t easy. Not only is there a constant flow of external pressures to tackle (i.e., politics, tariffs, global competition), but the typical distributorship is also fighting its fair share of internal tensions (e.g., finding labor, developing future leaders, streamlining operations). Adapting to these external and internal pressures is difficult in and of itself; staying agile in the face of constant change has become a daily battle for most organizations.

“Companies don’t fail because of changes in the environment, they fail because their leaders are either unwilling or incapable of dealing with said change,” leadership expert Jeff Boss writes in Forbes. “In fact, companies don’t change. People do. Which means that to stay competitive in today’s environment warrants not only the skill and will to adapt to change but also the foresight to anticipate it.”

That foresight can mean the difference between running a distributorship that flies by the seat of its pants, hoping that its age-old processes and approaches continue to work as the rest of the world changes, or developing a more agile, adaptable organization. “We’re all living in an age of disruption right now,” says Dirk Beveridge, founder of Chicago-based UnleashWD and author of INNOVATE! How Successful Distributors Lead Change in Disruptive Times. “Any organization that wants to continue growing and thriving has to prepare for the future now.”

Preparing for the Future

If preparing for the future means knowing how many orders your company is shipping out the warehouse door tomorrow morning, it’s time to dust off your distributorship’s long-term plan and come up with a more focused view of the future. Admittingly, this can be difficult to do in an economy where business is brisk, labor is hard to come by, and online competitors are pushing the delivery bar up to new heights, but it’s still a necessary part of running a sustainable enterprise.

Beveridge says a good starting point for distributors is to assess the changes that are currently happening in their industries, and then look carefully at which ones could happen in the next one to three years. “What are some of the things that you can bet on, and that will change the way business is done?” Beveridge asks. “That’s the first step.”

Next, look at what’s not going to change. For example, an online retailer like Amazon Business knows that its customers are always going to demand convenience and speed of delivery. They want that now, and they’ll want it 10 years from now. “Because Amazon absolutely knows that,” says Beveridge, “it can invest for the long term around how to best accommodate those demands.”

One Chicago-based distributor that Beveridge works with frequently knows that its customers are interested in driving profitability improvements. A packaging supplier, this company knows that it can confidently invest in programs, technology, and value-added services for the long-term, and particularly if those initiatives help drive their customers’ profitability. “The distributor knows that’s not going to change,” says Beveridge, who uses the same strategies at his own company.

“I absolutely know that my market is interested in growth—not only current growth, but also the growth for future generations of owners/employees,” says Beveridge. “That allows me to invest in technology, programs, and services that help them achieve those goals.”

Fighting Generational Pull

When working with distributors, Beveridge says one thing he’s noticed is that too many of them are focused on short-term goals and thinking. Pressured to produce short-term results for owners, family members, and/or other stakeholders, these companies don’t take the time to prepare for the future. This is a major oversight in a business world where the current generation of ownership is going to be transitioning to retirement in droves over the next three to 10 years.

That transition is always creating stagnancy in organizations that need to be thinking about and preparing for the future. “We’re seeing a ‘pull’ between these two generations right now in the market,” says Beveridge. “The one that’s transitioning out has become more conservative and risk-averse, while the one that’s coming in is prepared to invest and innovate. This force is grinding the pace of change down to a snail’s pace in some organizations.”

Beveridge, who offers an online assessment for companies that are trying to figure out their own propensity for adaptation and change, says one of the best ways to offset the generational pull is by building out a like-minded team that can help take the company to the next level. “if you’re going to drive change, you need individuals around you who see the world as you do,” he explains. “So while we still need to be challenged by those who don’t think like we do, we also need like-minded individuals who are going to be driven towards the same vision.”

Finally, Beveridge tells distributors to focus on becoming “learning organizations” that aren’t afraid of facing both external and internal disruptions head-on, and that are continually adapting to both current and future market conditions.

“If you’re going to drive change, you have to commit to learning, training, and developing your team,” says Beveridge, who has seen multiple distributors send their teams to institutions like Texas A&M University and utilize NAED programs to help get everyone on the same page. “These are just some of the resources that can really help electrical distributors develop the kind of culture of learning that’s required for change.”


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Bridget McCrea  is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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