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Flexibility: Its Use and Abuse

Flexibility, defined as the ability to change business plans to account for changing conditions and new information, is essential. Being a flexible manager requires talent, smarts, and the ability to create a future few others may see.
Being flexible allows tech companies, like Cloud4Wi, to step around huge roadblocks and better focus on “right now” business opportunities. Misused and misunderstood, flexibility can also be a refuge for managers and whole companies that are unable to make decisions and stick with them.
While we must always be flexible, deciding where the flex must end can be a real challenge. Being too flexible – wishy-washy even – is just at least as deadly as not being flexible at all.
Flexibility as Intuition
Flexibility can undoubtedly be learned. Over time, by trial and error, and with deep introspection, most managers can become better flexible managers. It seems evident that some managers naturally seem to see and understand flexible decision making and its consequences much better than others. Tech companies should seek to identify these “natural-born” flexible managers and use their wisdom when possible.
Developing a flexible culture is also essential. This starts with an understanding that once a decision has gained the support of key stakeholders, it is no longer “owned” by whoever suggested it. That means if the decision goes wrong, the consequences fall on everyone. A shared result is the only way flexible thinkers can be encouraged to offer their best ideas, without fear of disrupting their careers.
Uses of Flexibility
How tech companies respond to the changing customer environment and other external challenges can define success and failure. Both inflexibility in execution and change just for change’s sake can turn a tech company into a furniture liquidation sale.
Flexibility may be the tech manager’s most important personal quality. The ability to make a quick decision that doesn’t forego ongoing course corrections is what makes one manager a success and another “do you remember what’s-her-name?”
Gone are the days of strategic plans created months, even years, in advance and etched in stone. Still, we sometimes see weeks or months of immobility by companies confronted with bad news or new challenges. Decisions – good, bad, indifferent – are what drive a business forward. Remaining still rarely helps. Moreover, no choice is generally worse than a so-so call.
When in doubt: Do Something (But Not Anything)
Planning is a necessity but being in love with a failing plan is deadly. Tech companies thrive on short-term activity and flexibility that supports change when change is necessary. Timing can be everything.
When things are going wrong, the ability to understand the consequences of possible decisions is essential. A well-calibrated crystal ball view into the future would be helpful but is seldom available. Usually, a decision will be made based on the best available – if incomplete – information. Not making a dangerous situation worse should be a goal of the process, but the real purpose is doing something that gets the team and the business working to solve the problem. Even if later changes are required.
The Abuse of Flexibility
If too little flexibility is a problem, too much can be deadly. Flexibility can be the refuge of the soft-minded manager, swaying in the winds of indecision and trying to make a popular choice. Flexible managers have a calibrated sense of when change is too much and risks the goal.
Sometimes, however, only big changes – the “Hail Mary pass” of business decision making – has a chance of saving the day. At those times, it Is important tech companies don’t toss process to the winds. If yours is a “consensus decision” company, think twice before allowing a single manager or small group to decide. Likewise, if a single manager is usually the final decision maker, don’t allow the wash of conflicting decisions to ruin the day.
Three Times When Flexibility Matters Most

  1. Choose your core offering wisely. Be flexible in how you bring it to market.

Every tech company needs a motivating “big idea” or technology that staff, engineers, investors, and customers can rally around. There needs to be enough flexibility in how the big idea becomes a product or service that as the marketplace changes or roadblocks are encountered the big idea can be refocused on the new opportunity.

  1. Take advantage of hot trends, but don’t look like you are stretching the truth to appear “cool.”

Artificial Intelligence has made headlines recently. Tech companies should embrace AI to build cutting-edge products, as well as improving business processes. AI-driven digital marketing framework, for example, can help tech companies better identify potential customers and target them with tailored messages.

  1. Where not to be flexible: Company values

Many people got into the tech business with the hope of making the world a better place. Companies benefit from having solid values that remain constant when put to the test. Work to identify these and make them a non-flexible part of company culture. Stand up for managers who make tough decisions that give life to these values. The values can help guide your decisions and, when necessary, put edges around the range of flexible options being considered.
Cloud4Wi, a Flexible Tech Company
This article is a collection of what I and our Cloud4Wi team have learned – sometimes the hard way – from our combined many decades of experience. We’ve found that flexibility not only works, it may be the only path to success in many cases. We’ve also found that self-conscious flexibility, nervous flexibility, can be almost as bad as not flexing at all.
Please share the lessons of flexibility with those around you, especially your reports, and create an environment where people feel free to take chances for the good of the enterprise. Used wisely, flexibility always repays.
About the Author
With a massive experience of more than 15 years Elena Briola, currently serves as VP Marketing at Cloud4Wi and she is responsible for all areas of marketing and communications, including product marketing, marketing communications, corporate communications and internal communications.
Thanks to her competences, Elena has managed complex projects, supporting various national and international customers in strategic activities, from the business planning to the product planning and marketing. Moreover, she has written several articles and reports on new generation wireless technologies.
Elena started her career at Telecom Italia Labs in Turin, where she performed advanced Research & Development activities on mobile access networks. Then she moved to WiTech, where she served as CMO in the last period.She held a Degree in Telecommunications Engineering from the University of Pisa.