As noted in recent posts, the rapid acceleration in the pace of change that has taken place within the business world over the past ten years has also accelerated the need for organizational agility in both thought and behavior.
Agility and change are inextricably linked. The goal in most change efforts is not only a change in attitude, but behavioral change.
But of course change is not always perceived as being good. In organizations of all types, people tend to look with skepticism at innovations and new methods, processes, policies and procedures; and people at all levels sometimes cringe at the suggestion that there might be a different or better way to do their jobs!
Yet without change comes stagnation and potential loss.
The first step in any change effort, and in maintaining organizational agility, is to help people develop the right mental attitude and understand that timely change is a constant part of long-term success — this readiness for change will require:
- Making continuous improvement a permanent part of the organization’s culture… getting people at all levels to change the way they think, talk, work, and act, and fostering a culture of open-mindedness and amnesty
- Establishing new perspectives on work, work processes and value-added work
- Effectively using various statistical tools to identify, analyze, understand and communicate variation
- Enlisting the help of people operating the work processes
- Quantifying how continuous improvement benefits all stakeholders
- Improving leadership and coaching skills that lead to increased employee engagement
Many people say they would like to make their organizations more agile, but few organizations have a formalized strategy to do so.
For many leaders, the planning and management methods mastered on their way up the ladder were designed and effective in a different time, when change moved at a much slower pace. Others, as noted in our previous post, might lean more toward the entrepreneurial side, exhibiting high-levels of vision and enthusiasm, but not the team-building or other managerial skills necessary to develop a truly agile environment; and others may simply fail to stay the course.
To gain agility, today’s leaders must incorporate these four “agility enablers” into their operating model:
- Fast and effective information flows so their enterprise can emulate Wayne Gretzky and “just skate to where the puck is going to be.”
- Strong leadership and teamwork to turn insight into action; people at all levels must be engaged, involved, and accepting of ongoing change.
- Relentlessly streamlined and simplified processes in order to handle the more rapid pace of implementation. If the processes that comprise the value stream are held together by patches, expediting, and human vigilance, or are full of inspection, rework, delays, over-specification, redundancies, excess inventory, complexity, etc. it will be very difficult to execute the necessary changes.
- Flexible investments, as acceleration of change makes acquired assets obsolete faster, so both the investment and hiring strategy should reflect the need for flexibility.
Our previous post summarized the rapid acceleration in the pace of change that has taken place within the business world over the past ten years, and how the speed of change in the markets, competition, and technological capabilities has increased desire for greater agility.
So, how might we define organizational agility?
Some tend to think of being agile as being synonymous with being entrepreneurial, because vision, leadership, rapid decision making, and an intense customer focus are all necessary for agility. But the concepts are really not the same, as many entrepreneurs are not overly agile. In fact, many tend to “go it alone” and fail to leverage their organization’s knowledge and capabilities to make the most of developing opportunities.
Organizational agility is the ability to identify the developing threats and opportunities to the organization’s mission, and to quickly align or realign resources to thrive in the new or emerging environment.
Agility requires these two components:
- The ability to see and understand the external developments and what they will mean for the organization
- The ability to quickly adapt resources to leverage the emerging opportunities and to avoid the looming threats
These two key abilities together provide a profound competitive edge in an era of quickly-accelerating developments, and enable an agile organization to truly thrive.