The case against "pivoting" and why there is a better way ahead

2021’s word of the year could very well be “pivot,” and with good reason. If companies, and people, didn’t pivot in their professional and personal lives, they had a catastrophic struggle at hand. While pivoting was lauded as the savior for many brands, especially in the restaurant industry, there are times when pivoting becomes a pitfall. As time has marched on, the Pivot has maintained its stronghold as a powerful maneuver for leaders to activate. But I argue that pivoting is not a maneuver to be lauded. Instead, it should be scrutinized and questioned because when you boil it down, pivoting is an anchored movement in disguise as progress.

For the restaurant industry, pivoting was the key to realizing a reduction in losses at the very least. Pivoting in this industry meant embracing areas of the business that were traditionally given less importance. It meant prioritizing the adoption of technologies and service shifts in line with the consumer buying behavior shifts. Those who succeeded in shifting the various aspects of the business to realize a pivot saw returns and kept the lights, quite literally, on. But pivoting isn’t easy.

Pivoting requires critical, and oftentimes drastic, shifts to multiple systems and processes across all departments within an organization. For some leaders, pivoting is as natural as breathing. They were born for it. For other leaders, it’s a new skill set that fights against their core way of thinking and doing. Some leaders find pivoting to be almost a modus operandi. It’s their natural way of doing things. 

Pivot-happy leaders revel in the exhilaration of change. Usually, it’s in one area of the business and brand. They can’t help but turn knobs, make changes, and constantly ride the wave and perceived momentum that change can bring. However, that seemingly positive momentum is no momentum at all. It’s simply movement without progress.

The very definition of a pivot can be played out visually by thinking of its use in the game of basketball. When a player pivots, it prevents him from traveling penalties. Instead of getting penalized, they keep one foot planted while pivoting the other foot to get a better angle, shot, or pass. It’s movement, but with one critical feature: the other foot is anchored. It never moves.

In this way, pivoting prevents progress. When a leader is a chronic pivoter, they conflate movement with momentum. Eventually, the natural momentum of change wanes and sours. Team members see the movement for what it actually is: failure to commit and activate.

Pivoting becomes a pitfall when there is a lack of commitment and follow-through. There are many reasons why this may happen within a company. It could be a lack of support from leadership. Lack of effective communication from the top, down. Maybe it’s simply a lack of knowledge on how to bring the processes and platforms together. No matter the reason, the effect is the same. Teams burn out and lose belief in leadership. Once lost, it’s really hard to regain it.

Serial Pivoters can’t stop the chase for the new. New processes. New offerings. New services. While change for the better is far from a bad thing, change for the sake of it is. It’s usually the case that Serial Pivoters zero in on the same area to change. Maybe it’s the menu offering or marketing. Maybe it’s the whole concept of the restaurant altogether. The results are detrimental and deteriorating because just like pivoting in Basketball, while one foot moves the other stays anchored. And that anchored foot holds back any real progress.

Rather than embracing the term “pivot” I suggest a phrase in its place: course correction. A course correction implies progress. It’s a journey. Rather than pivoting, it’s a correction based on new information and data. Despite the correction, one still marches on, forward, with both metaphoric feet.

Correcting course is an action that should be praised as heroic. It requires the collection of clean data, the ability to analyze and disseminate those data into truths, then making critical decisions based on those truths. There is danger in this process. Danger of failure, of having misinterpreted what the data implied. Danger in failing to garner support behind the correction from management and leaders, and the overall team.

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