You're never too big to be nimble: Lessons from 2014

One of the best TV adverts I saw last year was from a finance company that used the word nimble to describe their loan offerings. I’ve always liked that word, and hearing it in the context of business made me think.
According to my dictionary, the word nimble means either “quick and light in movement or action” or “able to think and understand quickly.” After further digging, I found the word’s roots. It comes from the old English nemel, and the even older Germanic niman, meaning “to take.” Combining these aspects, we could say being nimble means reacting or deciding quickly.
All of this may seem basic, but it gets more interesting when applied to business and finance.
For example, those of you who have been around awhile can appreciate the difference between working for a large company and a small one. Large companies often have multiple layers in the decision-making process. If the decision involves a large investment, there may be third parties involved, such as lawyers, banks and other advisors. All of this makes decisions cumbersome and time-consuming.
On the other hand, small or family-run companies are free to make calls on the run. Decisions can be made on gut instinct, or based on the wishes of a key person. Third parties may be consulted on certain matters, but this often happens after the fact, when decisions are being put into action.
In my experience, property transactions are one area where this difference is most noticeable. Over the last year, I’ve seen a number of large groups miss out on good property deals simply because their decision-making process was too slow. Too much second-guessing from various organisational “layers” caused the process to drag. On top of that, there was often a lack of appreciation for the steps required to implement a decision.
Smaller groups were a different story. They made greater inroads because they were nimble. Having galvanized their teams to be prepared and act quickly, they were able to act on opportunities faster. They exemplified a well-known quote from the Roman philosopher Seneca: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
If you plan for success and prepare for it, then you’re ready to take opportunities as soon as they arise.
In the current accommodation market in Australia, there are numerous groups wishing to either enter the market or expand. The trouble with some of these groups (particularly those from overseas) is that they are not structured to make quick decisions, and hence miss out on opportunities as they arise.
One transaction in particular comes to mind. Less than one week after the seller had released an Expression of Interest, one group had already conducted their due diligence and put an offer on the table. Meanwhile, another interested party—an overseas group—was still asking for an extension on the closing date.
Which group do you think the vendor had more confidence in dealing with?
Obviously, the advantage of taking swift action can’t be substantiated by a few cases—nor is it limited to property transactions. An article in the Harvard Business Review titled “The Transient Advantage” gives compelling evidence that the rules of competition are subject to unprecedented cycles of change, meaning that too much analysis and deliberation is a strike against companies in many sectors. It’s understandable that groups get used to making decisions a certain way, since that very approach brought success in the past. But since the marketplace has become so globally connected and mercurial, the constant adherence to old and slow decision-making processes has become a potential risk.
So how does a company identify their own weaknesses? How can it be quick out of the gate and quick to close, without being careless? 
The answer lies in experience. When a group is consistently losing out on attractive deals because other parties were more decisive, it’s time to examine the decision-making process. In many cases, an independent consultant can bring fresh eyes to the problem. Such a professional should be well-networked and decisive, and use these traits to the advantage of the company. Opportunities should be identified by the consultant and shared quickly. Most importantly, the necessary pathway and timeframe for effective action should be properly understood from the beginning.
I think that 2015 will, more than any other year, be the year of being nimble. Some groups will make changes on their own that keep them quick on their feet. Others will need help—not from a typical real estate agent or management consultant, but someone who truly understands the speed and mechanics of the decision being made, and can target the right people to make it happen.
Long-term plans will never be obsolete—but if a company genuinely wants to enter the property market, or expand within it, then learning the definition of nimble as it applies to business will be a key marker of success.
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