Finding the Balance Between Business Structure and Flexibility

Many years ago, leadership believed that a key goal for businesses was to have stability. A stable and structured business was considered a successful one — it was predictable, less volatile, and reliable. Today, however, things are a little different. The advent of the internet increased connectedness and heightened competition have all contributed to changing the nature of businesses. To succeed in today’s rapidly evolving world, businesses can no longer be as rigid as they once were — today, flexibility in business is of equal importance.

To quote an article on Due, “Flexibility is having the awareness that life is ever-changing, and adaptation is necessary. Failure comes quickly to those who insist on maintaining their position out of resistance or defiance of change.” However, too much flexibility in a business setting can quickly spiral into chaos. The solution is for businesses to find a balance between flexibility and structure — only then can they reach their full potential and maximize their impact in today’s marketplace.

Unfortunately, due to years of traditionalist thinking, few leaders know how to successfully balance flexibility and structure into their business operations. It is far easier to follow a “simplistic, outdated organizational model in which leaders dream up strategy, devise a corporate structure to support it, and install systems to make sure employees toe the line,” as stated in a Harvard Business Review titled, “Structure That’s Not Stifling.”

This traditional model limits company growth and can have a myriad of negative repercussions, including employee dissatisfaction, poor performance, and lack of engagement — all of which make for “a work environment as enervating as Calcutta’s heat in the summer.” So how does one go about finding a balance between structure and flexibility? Here are some tips to help you get started:

Assess Organizational Readiness

The changes you implement will never take off unless your organization as a whole is ready to do things differently. Organizational readiness is thus key to introducing flexibility to your business. As recommended by experts at Epilogue, to properly gauge whether your organization will embrace the changes coming their way, you need to start by identifying who the changes will affect and how. In this case, your new approach in terms of operations will affect every single employee and stakeholder.

Next, you need to measure change readiness by using relevant metrics and then assess the results. Usually, the five most common barriers to change include resistance, insufficient information, integration, competitive forces, and complexity. Once you’ve identified which barriers apply to your business, you can develop a thorough strategy to overcome them. Finally, considering the results of your assessments, you will need to build a plan to slowly introduce a new, more flexible way of working into the very fibers of your business.

Involve Every Level

If, for example, you are implementing true digital transformation into your company’s business structure, you are going to do need some thorough planning. Digital transformation, at its core is just that — a transformation. It’s a full and complete switch of processes and assets from manual to electronic and must involve every level of the organization.

One way to do so is to identify leaders at various levels of the company who can take charge of implementing change so as to set an example. In turn, this change should trickle down into everyday operations. Ultimately, the point of changing from a traditional model to a more balanced one with room for flexibility is to empower employees, and subsequently realize increased business success. However, this can only happen when every stakeholder is involved in the change process and can embody it in the required manner. 

Secondly, the identified leaders should roll out changes in increments — employees are more likely to accept change in small segments rather than being overwhelmed by a bucketload of new operational requirements. For instance, in terms of flexibility, you could start by offering employees the opportunity to “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device) to work. After doing so, you should track the progress of employees and see how they respond to this newfound freedom before introducing more change. If their productivity seems to increase, the next step could be allowing employees to occasionally telecommute, and so on.

Don’t be a Pushover … or a Tyrant

It’s easy to get carried away with too much flexibility, resulting in becoming a “pushover.” As a business leader, this is something you absolutely do not want for yourself or your business. As stated in the article on Due, “Some people consider flexibility “catering to other people’s demands” but that’s not what it’s about.” At the same time, being dictatorial in nature will not allow you to fully bring a more flexible way of doing things into your business.

One way to ensure that you stay on track is by following a business plan. Ohio University defines a business plan as a “tool that describes every aspect of your business, from the product or service you offer to your finances, management, and marketing plans. It’s designed to tell your reader — potential lenders, investors, and suppliers, for example — the goals of your business and how you plan to achieve them.”  A business plan is not static — it is constantly revised and updated as the business changes. However, it provides a backbone for your business that you can base decisions on. Referring back to your business plan will allow you to stay in line with overall business goals, while also ensuring that your organization doesn’t become “too flexible.” After all, a complete lack of structure is the gateway to chaos. Use the business plan as a structural guideline that allows for flexibility in various ways.

Changing your business operations to be more balanced in terms of flexibility and structure is no easy feat. However, when executed and managed correctly, a balanced business model will yield exceptional results. Use these tips to find the right balance, and implement effective change.

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