The need for an agile organisation, one that is capable of adjusting to continuous change has never been greater. The current turbulent times and the ever-changing markets of today are exerting constant pressure on organisations to reinvent themselves in order to survive and succeed in a battlefield where new trends emerge and where competition is global and fierce. An agile organisation is the one that can move quickly, decisively and effectively to anticipate, initiate and take advantage of change in a timely manner without losing the big picture. It exploits opportunities, avoids major collisions, absorbs and reacts to major disruptions and sustains performance over time as the environment changes.
Although planning for the unpredictable may seem an impossible irony, many firms appear to recognise that in a period of turbulence, an organisation’s ability to flex and respond is critical for sustaining growth. Today, more than ever before, Organisational Agility must be recognised as a core capability. Agility is very much concerned with alertness to changes and the capability to use resources in responding to changes in a timely, flexible and assertive manner. The challenge most organisations face is how to improve their capability to anticipate the upcoming changes and how to respond to these changes in a timely and assertive way.
But, who is responsible for identifying the emerging changes and for responding to these changes? The answer to that question is ‘people’, the human capital of the organisation. They have some sort of strategic foresight that allows them to anticipate discontinuities in the business environment and in the marketplace, threats and opportunities in the extended enterprise chain, and impending moves by competitors.
Agile organisations constantly monitor the environment for signs of change and encourage a collaborative and creative culture which enables people to consider interconnections between the organisation’s capabilities and emerging market opportunities that are identified. This type of culture also allows them to identify and consider alternatives that can be exploited with their resources and competencies. People in agile organisation have to a certain extent a systemic insight of their organisations and the environment in which they sail. Having the right recognition, rewards and talent management strategies is fundamental to have a motivated and agile workforce.
Gearing up a Faster Response
However, Agility is not just about being able to anticipate and identify the changes that might lay ahead; organisations must be able to respond to these emerging challenges in a timely and assertive manner, but in order to do so, they need to have an organisational structure and operating model that allows them to react quickly to whatever is required of them to succeed.
The typical obstacles to an agile business response are slow decision-making, conflicting departmental goals and priorities, risk-averse cultures, silo-based information and cumbersome processes which can slow-down or even stop people from delivering or making things happen. When necessary, leaders and executives should exert the required leadership authority to break down the political status quo and change organisational structure so that processes and systems can be realigned to execute the desired strategy. Redefining roles and responsibilities sometimes is part of this task.
As indicated by a study done by The Economist in 2009, flatter hierarchies and resources breadth may facilitate better information flow and, in turn, speed decision-making which is a key enabler of organisational agility. In addition to this, business leaders can improve collaboration inside and outside their enterprise and better align departmental goals and performance measures with the overall strategy by reducing silos and stream-lining key processes by using techniques such as Lean and Business Process Re-engineering (BPR). Agile organisations focus their time on standardising the processes that won’t change, freeing up resources to develop value-added features that do respond to changing customer needs.
Technology can play an important supporting role in enabling organisations to become more agile. Technology should function as a change agent in the use and adoption of best-in-class knowledge-sharing processes, so companies can improve their use of critical data. The ability to transform information into insight which enables a more timely and assertive response to emerging changes is core to sustainability.
Resistance to Change: Human Nature
But what to do if it is the people who are resisting to change? In some organisations agility is not about having the right structure, technology and processes in place. In some cases it is about getting the workforce to embrace the change and deliver the chosen strategy or response. Resistance to change is a universal behaviour that if not tackled could become the cause of failure of any initiative. Resistance to change may be expressed in different ways and may require different levels of effort to overcome depending on the environment.
Agile organisations use a series of tools and methodologies to overcome the natural resistance to change. A readiness assessment is one of the first steps they take before deciding to embark on a complex change initiative. If the organisation is not yet ready any efforts and resources put towards the change might be wasted. Secondly, if leadership is not actively sponsoring and participating in the change, then the probability of being able to create a more effective organisation will be low. Leaders should not be only able to adequately communicate the change but to coach and enable people to succeed; training people to make them able to cope with the change is a critical factor of success.
Having a clear vision of the future is also an important element of the equation. Ensuring that all key stakeholders share, agree and understand the future aspirations of the business is somehow a guarantee of success. Stakeholder Management therefore becomes an essential tool to succeed.
Our Organisational Agility Approach
The organisational agility model is quite simple: Listen to the signs of change, choose a response and articulate that response in a timely and synchronised manner. The synchronized participation of the entire workforce is vital, if the entire workforce is not going in the same direction at the same time they will be as strong as their weakest link. That is why once leaders and visionaries have identified the response they also have to ensure it is synchronized and supported across the entire organisation. Change management techniques and employee engagement methodologies then becomes the final component of the equation.
Organisational agility is a core capability, but organisations have to work their way to attain and sustain this capability. A creative culture that embraces change, innovation and collaboration is a critical factor of success.