The path to successful innovation is rarely linear. In fact, it is generally unusual for an innovator to get it right on the first go. But when it comes to entrepreneurs, what often differentiates the successful from the unsuccessful is the ability to fail fast and pivot from their original plan. However, the pressure to demonstrate proof of return on investment is real as we are entrenched in a culture of celebrating successes rather than learning from setbacks.
Innovations in Healthcare recently released a white paper describing the challenges of pivoting and how best to address them, based on the experiences of four global health social enterprises implementing health innovation projects around the world – AccuHealth in Chile, Penda Health in Kenya, Salud Cercana in Mexico, and Swasth Foundation in India. For example, AccuHealth relied on the support of the central government in Chile to implement its innovative tele-monitoring program. Due to a change in the central regime after mid-term elections, AccuHealth had to pivot their project and build partnerships with the county governments from the ground up. AccuHealth believes that ultimately, these local partnerships will ensure better outcomes due to greater consistency in decision-making.
Underscoring every strategic decision to pivot is the fundamental importance of defining, monitoring, and measuring the right indictors to understand the issues, as well as to develop a strategy for pivoting. All the innovators in our study identified a pressing need to course-correct and redefine their project because of their efforts to continuously monitor and assess the performance of their project activities in relation to overall goals.
Broadly, the study revealed that reasons for pivoting can be either intrinsic to the organization or extrinsic ecosystem factors. More specifically, innovators are motivated to pivot due to internal, organizational factors such as ineffective strategies or business model to reach the target market. On the other hand, sometimes, innovators have to pivot due to circumstances beyond their control, such as an uncertain political or policy environment.
The paper highlights the key challenges that emerged from our conversations with the four innovators:
- Challenges associated with navigating and communicating the implications of the pivot for internal and external stakeholders with the organization’s needs,
- Delays in meeting milestones and targets, not just for external collaborators and funders, but also for internal stakeholders, and
- Difficulties that leadership face in finding trusted mentors to provide guidance through rough times.
To overcome these challenges and emerge successfully from a strategic pivot, the paper offers three practical recommendations to innovators considering a pivot:
- Have transparent and candid conversations with employees and funders early in the process, and communicate changes clearly to customers,
- Identify and measure key indicators to assess progress and further need for iteration, and
- Develop a cluster of trusted mentors and professional supporters, drawn from wide circles, and not merely restricted to a specific project or funding.
Finally, and importantly, funders can play a critical role in helping grantees pivot successfully. First, funders should recognize that iteration is a necessary component of innovation and therefore, need to provide flexible funding to grantees to develop and test scaling strategies. Second, funders can provide strategic feedback and guidance to innovators at a time when they are hesitant to ask for outside help for fear of negative optics around such a move.
Pivoting is a common step in reaching success and scale. Approaching the process with clear metrics, strategy, and communication can transform it from a painful and messy experience into an opportunity to learn, grow, and improve.