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Agility fosters strategic change for established players and startups

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Two company leaders share how agile innovation, change management and revamped supply chains helped unlock growth.

Successful companies have the agility to change direction and embrace new opportunities, whether they are a startup or established corporation. How have two companies at different stages of growth adapted their strategies in recent years? While in very different businesses, the steps taken by medical instrumentation company Agilent Technologies and self-cleaning litter box maker Whisker are surprisingly similar.

Embrace agile innovation

Agile decisions about where to invest internally — particularly during periods of uncertainty — are key. Companies need to decide whether an innovation can cross over to a broader market or is merely favored by a handful of early adopters. “How do you know when you have crossed that chasm, and what are those signals?” asks Allison Ballmer, Senior Vice President of Strategy & Corporate Development, Agilent Technologies.

At Whisker, implementing an “Innovation Day” allowed employees to step back from their daily work and contribute to what’s next. “The ideas we came out with from that day were incredible. It set the table for so many new products,” says Jacob Zuppke, President and COO, Whisker.

Actively manage change when adjusting strategy

Agilent is developing a broad new corporate strategy to focus on long-term growth for the enterprise. The company needed to identify incremental growth outside each business unit’s core, which has become less certain in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical tensions. To help get people on board with that change, there’s nothing like authenticity, Ballmer says: “You have to really believe in your vision. ... Then it’s much easier to get your stakeholders aligned with your vision.”

Whisker is urging management to think past the current quarter or next quarter and to adopt a longer view. “We’re trying to start thinking about a very clear three-year road map,” Zuppke says. “We have to think about ourselves a little differently.”

Go deep to find creative supply chain solutions to unlock growth

Working more deeply with the supplier ecosystem is key. As demand for devices used in vaccine development and clinical trials boomed, Ballmer says, “We went not just to our vendors to manage supply, but we had to go to their vendors and their vendors and their vendors.”

Partnering with suppliers was also essential for Whisker, which did not have the size to command the supplies it needed at a time when demand for its product was surging. “We were working in the weeds alongside all of our suppliers, trying to solve problems with them. It was a unified effort,” Zuppke says.

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Corporate agility was the focus of a recent EY workshop, where the leaders of an established company and a startup shared how agile innovation, long-term strategies and an advanced supplier ecosystem led to greater growth.

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