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Can You Stay Agile as Your Company Evolves? 3 Tips for Scaling Up

By Roger Price - October 4, 2016

Business_agility.pngTerms like organizational agility and business agility are all the rage nowadays.  Companies need the ability to rapidly react and respond to changing business conditions, whether caused by shifts in the economic environment, new competitive threats, evolving customer expectations, or increased regulatory requirements.

The question, of course, is how to increase agility, particularly at large, complex enterprises with hundreds or thousands of employees working across geographic, functional, or divisional boundaries.  

With that in mind, here are three tips to move any organization down the path toward increased agility:

Tip 1: Make Strategy Deployment Adaptive

Unfortunately, a key barrier that many organizations still face today in their efforts to improve agility is that the process by which they set and update their strategy is too static.  Too many enterprises still see strategy deployment as a "once a year" activity aligned to their annual budgeting process.  Then, once the strategy has been set, there is very little appetite or capability to modify the strategy through the course of the year because of the effort required to do so and the perception that any mid-year course corrections will be disruptive or leave the workforce with the impression that leadership doesn't know what it wants.

But this mindset is detrimental to the concept of organizational agility, which operates with the premise that the strategy will need to be adaptive to changing business conditions and that those changing conditions won't align with a point-in-time annual strategy setting process.  In other words, more organizations need to start viewing strategy deployment as an iterative and adaptive process, which means changing how strategies are communicated throughout the organization and how often their reviewed at each level for relevance.
 

Tip 2: Entrench Enterprise Business Processes

In order for an organization to be agile without devolving into chaos, it's critical to define vital enterprise business processes and standardize how those business processes are implemented across the company.  

To illustrate this point, let's use a sports analogy. In football, teams can adapt their strategy from game to game based on their opponent's strengths and weaknesses, the health of their players, field and weather conditions, and a variety of other factors.  For example, a team might decide in one game that they're going to rely on their passing game on offense in Game 1 because they have an elite quarterback and are playing in a domed stadium with perfect throwing conditions. For Game 2 they might need to be more run-oriented because their elite quarterback is injured and the backup is inexperienced and they're playing outdoors in cold, wet weather conditions that aren't conducive to passing.

However, regardless of the strategy for any particular game, there are certain fundamentals of good football that must exist all the time for any team to win consistently, such as good blocking at the line of scrimmage, strong tackling, getting in and out of the huddle on time, and not fumbling the football.  These fundamentals don't change based on the opponent or field conditions and, if they're not in place, the team will be unable to implement their in-game strategy.

Similarly, organizations that seek to be agile must first embed their fundamental enterprise business processes because they provide the operational stability and consistency necessary for agility. 

Tip 3: Stop Trying to "Manage" Change

We've all heard the old adage that change is hard, yet that doesn't stop thousands of people from waiting in line for days to spend their hard earned dollars on a new smart phone that will take 2 weeks to learn and configure when their previous phone was perfectly fine and already configured to their liking.  My point is that there are conditions at which it's not particularly difficult to move people through a change curve and it starts by making a strong case for the value of change. 

In fact, many successful organizations thrive in part because they've socialized the workforce not only to expect change, but to embrace it as an opportunity to maintain competitiveness (required to be agile) and/or even to pursue it as a means to differentiate competitively (sometimes called innovation).  

My point is that if the collective mindset of leadership shifted from thinking of change as a liability to be managed (i.e., something that has to happen even though everyone would prefer otherwise) to a core competency that delivers value (i.e., something inherent in the organization that employees can hang their hat on), that shift in mindset would fundamentally change the manner in which the workforce deals with change leading to a major step change in organizational agility.

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