Can taking business risks pay off in a challenging environment?

5-minute read

When the business landscape is challenging, do you do things as you’ve always done them, or could it pay to do things differently? Some big business leaders talk everything roots to risk in our Figureheads podcast series. Read on for insight into risk or call us on 08001585149< for help taking your business in a different direction – like how to start selling online.

Figureheads.  Can taking business risks pay off in a challenging environment?

In a time when everything about running a business, of any size, can feel like a risk – doing something differently, keeping things the same, cutting back, investing – it might be of practical use (and some comfort) to hear from a business leader on the value of risk in business.

As part of our Figureheads podcast series, hosted by Warwick Davis, Alistair Spalding, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of world-leading dance organisation Sadler’s Wells, talks openly about the challenges of brand focus and the opportunities taking risks can open up.

You soon go rusty as a performer. Just acting, you know, learning lines. If you're not constantly doing that sort of thing, you kind of forget how to do it.

Warwick Davis, Actor and host of Figureheads podcast

Success in any role, in a business of any size, in any sector, relies on practice, dedication, expertise.

Just like actors learning lines and performers practicing choreography, small business owners with small teams, through to directors of HR, procurement, and technology, and CEOs of large corporate businesses, all need to do their day jobs – to keep their hand in, to learn, grow and adapt.

Never has this been more important than during a time that has forced some businesses to close for good, and others for weeks and months at a time. Many businesses across some of the hardest hit sectors - entertainment, retail, hospitality, leisure and events - have no real idea of what the future looks like.

The thing about dance is you can be focused on dance, but you can be very diverse about all the genres within it.

Alistair Spalding, Artistic Director and Chief Executive, Sadler’s Wells

Alistair’s advice is to focus on your core offering. It can be tempting to try a lot of new things in uncertain times in the hope that something works. But it’s important to know what you stand for, what your brand should be known for and what you’re good at, or better at than your competitors.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be diverse in what you offer your clients and customers.

For Sadler’s Wells, this means focusing on being a world-class dance and production organisation, and not also presenting theatre performances, for example. Instead, it means focusing on presenting world-class dance in all its forms, supporting a diverse portfolio of artists and genres in its programme, from ballet to hip hop.

For businesses in other sectors, this diversification or adaptation might come in the form of a new channel. So, the service you offer or the product you sell stays the same, but how people access that or buy from you changes. Going online is the obvious example.

During the pandemic many more people have started shopping online, out of preference and necessity. It’s no wonder some large businesses went online for the first time or significantly improved their offering in this area – supermarkets are a great example of this. And small businesses found opportunity to adapt too, setting up ecommerce websites at breakneck speed to allow customers to continue to support them.

Channel diversification can take a lot of work – there’s risk involved, especially if it’s developing in new areas or reaching new audiences in ways that you haven’t before. Alistair isn’t a dancer or choreographer - he leaves that part to the experts, so he can focus on his own areas of expertise. That is, supporting artists to develop and create new work, building a diverse and world-class programme of dance for Sadler’s Wells, and taking Sadler’s Wells to more audiences, in new ways and via new platforms.

For another business, that might mean continuing to focus on producing the best product, and leaning on experts to build your online presence, set up an online payment gateway so you can take payments online, or increase engagement on social media

When you're creating new work, it's a risk each time. But if you didn't do that, then you would be presenting the same Swan Lake or Romeo and Juliet that was made in the 1890s. And if that's the case, then the art form just dies.

Alistair Spalding, Artistic Director and Chief Executive, Sadler’s Wells

Sadler's Wells

Photographic credit: Rambert Rouge by Marion Motin

The key is to remain relevant in a world that is constantly changing. Ask yourself or your team ‘what’s going to work now?’. It takes energy and an appetite for risk to continually adapt. And, in Alistair’s words, you ‘have to let go a little bit as well; to give people space to do their own thing. And in that way, you create a more plural organisation, with different voices’.

Is diversity and inclusion important to business success?

Critically, remaining relevant means being inclusive. Making sure that you are actively inclusive in the way you hire, how you market to consumers, and how you connect and communicate with people. Diversity is critical to business and social success; including people of all genders, races, ethnicities, ages, sexual orientation, and cognitive ability in the choices you make as a leader, results in a more contented, productive workforce, and a loyal customer base.

In hospitality and leisure, this might be as simple as offering ticket discounts to local communities, who might otherwise not be able to afford to go to the theatre, for example. Or encouraging young people who may feel isolated by the prevalence and pressure of social media, to connect in real life. By being inclusive as a leader, and as a business, it’s possible to make sure that no-one feels alone. This is good for business, but more important for society, because everyone likes and deserves to feel a part of something.

Marc Pettican, our president, agrees that adaptation and being actively inclusive, are critical to success: "2020 challenged all businesses to work differently. We've seen what a huge effort and undertaking this has been and we've found their resilience and ingenuity very motivating.

We have worked with some of our partners in Sport, the Arts and Entertainment to share their business stories and lessons aiming to inspire us all as we move forward. These businesses have shown us that through hard work and determination, and an ability to adapt products and services to support changing customer demands, brands can continue to thrive."

“Perhaps even more importantly, I’m hearing diversity and inclusion considered up front in a lot more conversations, both internally and with customers. By having these conversations more frequently, we can all make sure that no one feels alone – as an employee, a friend, a colleague, or a consumer.”

Listen and subscribe to Figureheads on Apple podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

Are you ready to let experts help you adapt your business?

Are you ready to let experts help you adapt your business?

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