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Business Pivot During Covid-19

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

By Neil Pretty (As seen in June's issue of APeeling)

Pivoting during covid-19 didn’t scare me – if anything it has been a bit exciting.

For a person like me this is a time to really shine.

I had always been told to be quiet. It wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that I found out that it was my voice, my words, my empathy and the power of my mind that had value. As a serial solopreneur I was used to pivoting, creating something new and moving on. In-fact, even my journey to becoming a consultant and coach was an evolving, venn diagram of experiences.

I had businesses in landscaping, woodworking, live production, managed stores and companies in the sports industry and as an arborist, worked as a consultant on environmental projects and managed the rigging of a century old theatre owned a coaching and career development company, evolved to work in leadership development and more – many more little ventures creating products and supplying product and services I can barely even remember. I’d lived and worked in numerous regions in Canada and the U.S. Lead hundreds of teams, coached well over a hundred leaders and spoken at several events.

As part of the very earliest of millennials I had the opportunity to walk into kindergarten the same year the PAC bought two 7.5” floppy disc computers for our school. Shortly after I left college the first iPhone came out. Every year of my life there were technology shifts that rocked society, changed the flow of information and how we communicated. It changed our access to the world. It prepared me well for a life filled with pivots.

Covid-19 was no different. Pivoting wasn’t hard. It was my ready state.

I had already been involved with a pivot to lay the foundation for one companies’ response to the pandemic while continuing to provide service to their community. I was in the process of building webinars and services for that would help other companies in transition. Stay at home policies had not yet been put in place in BC.

On a Friday that was filled with meetings and solo parenting, physio and company coming for dinner (while that was still a thing) I got a call. My wife was being released form her training program. The race to get her home was on. Saturday, I drove from Nelson BC (where I live) to Calgary AB (where my wife was) to pick her up before a quarantine or lockdown trapped her away from home and left me as a solo-dad for an unforeseen period of time. Amidst the chaos I was stoic and resolute. I wasn’t scared. But the world was. Seven hours each way, stops for gas and espresso and not much else. We made it home. Together.

On the business front I was ready to keep providing value to my clients - I had done virtual facilitation using liberating structures, designed webinars and interactive sessions. Home office - Zoom account - I was ready. All of my services were ready to pivot no matter what came my way. I had several planning meetings in my calendar and kickoff meetings set.

A couple days later I had lost nearly my entire book of work.

Three years of developing my practice 5 years of developing myself, almost all of my clients - gone. Or was it?

I had a scotch. Ok - maybe two I took a breath. And I got to work.

Pivot #1 -I had been connected with a company that was an early mover in the Psychological Safety space. But had seen some issues. No way to guarantee their clients consistent service and nobody ready, willing and able to build the consulting division they needed. I approached the CEO and offered to build a consulting division for his company. With a family - I thought a little stability would go a long way. Maybe this would be the pivot that would ride this storm out and build a future that I could really value? We negotiated terms along with another consultant in L.A. who shared my point of view. We put our own practices on hold to get this new deal figured out. Together we would build a consulting division in the most volatile time any of us had ever seen.

But, after some miscommunication, some questionable moves and a significant amount of time we were starting to question the path forward. We started looking in the mirror and asking if we were just taking the worst deal possible for a little sense of security. My colleague from L.A. asked me one simple question.

“Is this your dream team?”

“No” came so quickly past my lips even I was shocked.

Even in a time like this we were connecting to our personal values and asking if it was the right thing.

Pivot #2 - So we stopped - realized we were going to take 6-figure contracts for a future we weren’t interested in. For a team we didn’t think had the elements needed to actually respond and pivot. We were about to give away a greater opportunity for one simple reason.

We actually were scared - just like everyone else. And we thought certainty would fix it. Losing almost your entire stream of revenue can have that effect.

We decided to do it ourselves - form a partnership, create an entirely new company to provide team, leadership and people development measuring one of the most significant factors for the success of an organization. Virtual or in-person across North America. A company that could meet the demands of any team, anywhere in a company of any size.

A company that acknowledged the world we live while providing everyone the opportunity to love their teams and win together - people AND business.

A partnership is similar to a marriage and I’ve always thought “marry for values because they change less than looks and always marry a person you would climb into a fox-hole with.”

We dug in. Even in a crisis if we don’t put a foundation in we are doomed from the start. What is our vision, our purpose, and our values? How do we want to communicate and track our progress? What are our sales processes and our policies for handling personal data? What is the best legal structure and book-keeping software? What is the company we want to have now? What is the company we want two, three and five years from now? How are we going to train and on-board talent? How do we want to on-board teams and clients?

We explored all the nuts and bolts of a company and the principals of how we want to work. Me as CEO, my new partner as COO. Places that played to our strengths as we formed the foundation of a start-up. Places of excitement as we stepped out of the wake of a paddle-wheeler and into a speedboat.

Within 5 weeks we had an entirely new entity ready to engage with the world. With prospects and proposals for organizations in LA, Boston, New York, New Mexico, Vancouver BC and more across Canada. We had pivoted and asked some of the most exceptional minds we knew to be advisors for business, process and science. We pivoted and created strategic partnerships with companies based in Vancouver and the Netherlands. We pivoted and created agreements with other people to provide training so they could become associates as we expand.

In a gun fight some think it’s better to have a bigger gun. But I’ll take a faster, more accurate gun with a more well trained, agile, expert pulling the trigger any day of the week.

The clients I had been working with were companies that could only see the old way of doing things. They have struggled during the pandemic because they hadn’t invested in people development earlier. They dragged their feet on developing the people that made the money.

The clients we are working with now understand that if people grow your business grows.

It’s not rocket science. Organizations want people to think and create solutions then provide environments that make it hard to do exactly that. We are now able to provide simple solutions for teams to enhance their performance while coming back from work in a healthy and productive manner. We can help create embedded practices and processes that create long lasting effectiveness. We can provide value and services ANYWHERE in the world FROM anywhere in the world.

If we keep this pace up, we’ll be hiring associates by the end of the year. Despite the global pandemic and all of the complexity that has come with it we have pivoted. We had created a company that combines decades of experience to respond to a unique event built on a solid foundation of trust and experience.

We went from solopreneurs to two, to five with global strategic partnerships. We were the team. We were the team that was going to make it happen. In 5 weeks we learned we were built to pivot.

But, it took saying “No” to a 6-figure contract to figure it out.

As this crisis has raged on I’ve been asked to be a partner with 2 different start-ups, advise another and take on mentees as I expand my network and acknowledge my capacity to take on ever expanding and larger roles.

Early on I was asked “How do you make covid-19 the best thing that ever happened to you?”

Despite the tragedy that so many people are facing. The stress, anxiety that came with the possibility of my family being split up, my community being forever changed, watching friends suffer along with the herniated disc in my back from too many hours at my desk.

I am truly grateful.


Neil Pretty is the CEO of Aristotle and helps leaders determine their team's psychological safety

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