4 Companies that Knew How To Respond To Change

4 Companies that Knew How To Respond To Change

People tend to have an appreciation for the old ways of doing things. It’s called our “comfort zone” for a reason. But, the reality is, growth and comfort rarely coexist. For businesses and individuals alike, sticking around the metaphorical comfort zone for too long can lead to some very real risks. 

While history is littered with examples of companies that failed to adapt, there are some who managed to respond to change… the right way. 

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1. John Deere

Nothing runs like a Deere. True to their tagline, American equipment manufacturer Deere & Company has been running steadily for nearly two centuries, profiting massively from a prolonged boom in American agriculture. 

Founded in 1837 by the company’s namesake legend, John Deere catapulted the company to success and acclaim through a blend of engineering innovation and sharp salesmanship. In due time, the iconic brand became inextricably intertwined with the lifestyle of the humble American farmer. 

There’s no question that John Deere is a household name, with a level of brand recognition envied by many— even still, Deere has been forced to continue evolving, proactively maintaining their status as leaders.

What They Did Right 

With a rich legacy like John Deere’s comes a deep entrenchment of legacy business practices. Resisting change, clinging to traditional techniques, and old ways of thinking might as well be in the manual. However, if John Deere can teach us anything it’s that innovation can start with just one individual. In this case, it’s a software engineer named George Tome.

Tome began to gradually incorporate agile practices, quietly optimizing the inner workings of Deere’s information architecture. As his colleagues began to recognize the value of these practices, agile gained acceptance across the company. After being picked up by the company’s R&D group, Deere’s Enterprise Advanced Marketing group trimmed project cycles by as much as 75 percent. 

Tome’s efforts as an agile advocate cascaded throughout the company, and to this day, Deere executives credit this change as the primary catalyst for the industrial giant’s sustained success in an increasingly digital era.

2. BP

If there’s one thing to understand about radical change, it’s that it can come from anywhere, good or bad. The 2010 BP oil spill came with an endless flow of controversy and heartbreak— photos of damaged wildlife, sensational scorn from environmentalists, and a fierce flurry of lawsuits and fines. By the end of the event, BP had racked up over $61 billion in expenses, and it became all too clear that a sweeping transformation was the only option. 

Company executives jumped on the opportunity for introspection, embracing agile as a means for changing the way BP does business.

What They Did Right

Conglomerates of this size tend to encounter difficulties with orchestrating transformation at scale, yet BP has done a remarkable job of incorporating agile at every level. One of the most significant changes has been the introduction of a team of Agile Coaches— charismatic leaders who can act as agents for change across the company. Most importantly, their efforts span a multitude of disciplines, fostering an appreciation of agile across dozens of different roles and specializations. 

This embrace of agility and cross-functionality has yielded a fair share of compelling results. One cross-functional team used agile to optimize vessel surveys, saving BP a sum of $60 billion, while another group transformed investment decisions to help trim capital costs by over $1 billion. These innovations have helped BP build a more sustainable future, putting the company on course to go “net zero” within the next 3 decades.

3. Cargill

In many ways, food is the backbone of our economy— the fuel that we all need to live and work. Cargill has been a cornerstone of the American food industry for decades, scaling to serve the entire nation and becoming one of the largest private companies by revenue. Managing an empire of this size comes with many challenges, and Cargill has consistently grappled with the complexities of a multinational supply chain. 

As shifts in technology and trade continue to shape the state of affairs across Cargill’s operations, employee education has become a central focus in unlocking value.

What They Did Right

It all began when Cargill’s learning & development team began to think outside of the box, borrowing techniques from other parts of the company. Julie Dervin, the company’s L&D chief, recognized that the principles within DevOps— a popular engineering framework for unifying development and operations— could help unlock value in learning systems as well. 

Utilizing corporate hackathons and iterative, agile development, the L&D team created a platform that could quickly match employees with relevant learning materials. With this revamped system, Cargill was able to accelerate the typical training timeline from 6-10 months down to just 6-10 weeks, unlocking an enormous leap in education and productivity. As agile principles become increasingly ingrained into Cargill’s DNA, these cross-functional synergies will only continue to grow.

4. Spotify

From the very beginning, Spotify sought to “turn the music business upside down.” In an industry dominated by well-financed record giants and powerful tech elites, this spunky Swedish startup boldly charged into hostile territory. Their business model was especially audacious— as a ‘freemium’ music platform, the company was forced to carefully balance ad revenue with the price of premium subscriptions— not to mention the platform owed artists royalties with every listen. 

Despite challenges, Spotify eventually encountered enormous success, commanding a monthly active user base of nearly 350 million worldwide. Managing a juggernaut like Spotify is truly a technical, economic, and operational feat, and reportedly, they owe much of this success to a unique adaptation of agile methodologies.

What They Did Right

As documented throughout their evolution as a business, Spotify has largely thrived thanks to a strategy affectionately referred to as the “Spotify Tribe.” With this team architecture, Spotify enabled a sense of “startup incubation” within the organization itself, encouraging small cross-functional teams to collaborate with peers in other specialties. This customized hierarchy helped Spotify maintain a level of dynamism and autonomy across teams, while at the same time giving contributors an appropriate amount of structure for day-to-day interactions. 

Dozens of businesses have picked up on this “Spotify model” for scaling agile but be warned— even Spotify’s agile leaders have noted this structure may not work for everyone. Instead, they advise companies to imitate Spotify’s culture of experimentation, iterating on processes that are geared to support the unique needs of their business. 

Responding to Change… The Right Way

It might be a little uncomfy, but change is an important part of both life and business. If you don’t work to better yourself, your competitors will undoubtedly outpace, outprice, and outcompete you. Recognizing that you can (and should) continue improving, and taking innovative steps to scale your company, is a brave and crucial effort— but it’s only smart if it’s done right. 

Implementing agile practices is no trivial feat, and frameworks like Scrum require more than just reading a few articles to master. Consider partnering with an experienced team of agile experts who can help ease this transition, offering you the guidance you need throughout this pivotal strategic shift. 

Responsive Advisors can be that partner, with a seasoned team of Scrum experts and a robust catalog of online and in-person training. If you’re working towards transforming your business into a more adaptive, agile enterprise, Responsive Advisors is your soulmate. 

Robert Pieper

Robert Pieper has been a licensed Scrum.org Professional Scrum Trainer since 2014 and National Public Speaker since 2013. Robb holds an MBA from Marquette University and an Electrical Engineering Degree from Milwaukee School of Engineering. Robb has 15 years of professional software development experience with a passion for making Scrum work delivering real products and services
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