The Art Of The Pivot: 6 Ways To Make A Big Change

How do you reinvent your company or yourself without dinging your credibility? Here are the moves that make up a successful pivot.

Sometimes in life, it becomes clear that you’re on the entirely wrong path.

Whether it’s a business that’s floundering or a career that is increasingly intolerable, your gut is telling you that something has to change—drastically.

But how do you reinvent yourself if you’re making a dramatic career change or moving your business into an entirely different sector without seeming flaky or unreliable?

"From a purely evolutionary standpoint, pivoting is necessary. It’s how we got to where we are. We stay with systems until they break—jobs or relationships that are terrible—because we feel the pain of loss more than the pleasure of gain. When the break happens, we change," says Tricia Emerson, coauthor of The Change Book: Change the Way You Think About Change and founder of Emerson Human Capital Consulting, an Alameda, Calif. human resource consulting firm.

There’s a process to pivoting that both increases your chances of success on your new path and preserves your reputation as a visionary rather than being branded a dilettante. Here’s how it works.

Be resolute.

You’re going to know when it’s time for a pivot and you shouldn’t let other people dissuade you, says Erica Ariel Fox, author of the New York Times bestselling Winning from Within: A Breakthrough Method for Leading, Living and Lasting Change. When you make a big change in your life, it’s likely you’re going to get some pushback. But you have to be confident enough in yourself that you project that to the outside world. Apologizing or acting defensive is just going to encourage negative interactions with others and make the transition more difficult, she says.

Find parallels and transferrable skills.

Stacy H. Small, founder of Elite Travel International, a Los Angeles-based luxury travel firm was a magazine journalist by training. She was covering the travel sector and using her knowledge to help others plan trips, which was something she found she loved more than reporting on them.

She looked into becoming a travel agent. Her knowledge and reporting skills actually gave her an edge over other newbie agents and soon she began growing her own network of consultants, which now total nearly 20. Small was named Most Innovative Travel Advisor by luxury travel advisor network Virtuoso.

Time it right.

From the moment your pivot plans become public, you have 90 to 180 days to make it work—or, at least, gain some positive momentum, Emerson says. Once you tell people about the change, "they immediately start judging you," she says.

So, it’s a good idea to do your information-gathering and planning on the down low, at least initially. Once you are sure about the change and have made up your mind, hit the ground running to silence the naysayers and keep your credibility intact.

Use a four-point manifesto.

Your pivot has a story. Emerson suggests answering the four points that define your story, both as a touchstone for yourself when the going gets tough and, in cases where you’re making the case to others such as employees, investors or customers, to keep your messaging consistent:

  • Reason for the change:
  • Why you want to change:
  • What you’re going to do:
  • What you expect to happen:

So, one story may be:

  • I want to change because I’m unhappy.
  • I want to be more in control of my life and do more creative work.
  • I’m going to leave my job as an investment banker and open a pastry shop after I take some classes.
  • I expect to have more time for myself and be more fulfilled working in a more creative way.

Anticipate objections.

While some pivots just require force of will, others require buy-in of others. If you need family members, investors or others to support your pivot, you have to anticipate their objections first, Fox says. Think through what they’re afraid of losing and how you can reassure them.

"Show them how you’ll keep the company going or how you will pay the mortgage. Discuss your plan so they see life is not going to fall apart. Show them the reasons and, rather than argue, empathize," she says.

Do it.

While making big changes can be scary, there are bigger concerns than what happens if it doesn’t work out, Fox says. Be more afraid of not changing or waiting until your business crashes because you did nothing, she adds.

"What’s worse, making a change that doesn’t work out or just waiting and doing nothing out of fear? Of waking up 10 years from now and seeing that you’re still on the same path because you were afraid to make a change," she says.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the sequence of events before Stacy H. Small became a travel agent, as well as the number of consultants in her network.

[Image: Flickr user Martin Fisch]

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  • Also, one good pivot deserves another. As a rebound relationship can often be as sour as the previous, where you land after pivoting may not provide the tastefulness you expected. Back up, where did the pivot not turn out correctly, re-engage and pivot once more.