One thing is clear, much of today’s business success depends on the ability of an organization to flexibly adapt to unforeseen circumstances, changing markets and new trends.
Accordingly, “speed, flexibility and adaptability to change” have consistently made it to the top of the annual Conference Board List of CEO Challenges in the past years.
With flexibility becoming more critical than ever, calls for an agile workforce are getting louder. The crux is, however, that more than just a flexible workforce is needed to adapt to change flexibly as a collective.
Characteristics of an agile organization
The key to an agile organization does not lie in its workforce but in how it systemically understands and structurally responds to its markets. The raw building blocks of an agile organization therefore are:
- Dedicated market focus: An agile organization displays a solid understanding of the current market and its development, paired with the ability to sense and predict market trends and changes.
- Profound awareness of the organization’s distinctive capabilities: What are the organization’s non-negotiables? Where and why does the business stand out? Which values make or break its identity?
- Organizational readiness to respond to and shape the emerging future: An agile organization responds to predicted trends and changes proactively and strategically and most of all as a collective. It excels in co-creating new markets and unique opportunities.
- Consistent attention to performance autonomy: An agile organization strives to be autonomous in its decision-making processes and performance capabilities. All other decision-making processes are dedicated to achieving this goal.
- Strong sense of fun, drive and organizational well-being. For an agile organization building blocks 1-4 are not a drag. Instead, an agile organization truly enjoys its focus on the market and its capacity to shape and lead the market with its unique capabilities. Thus, an agile organization exudes a joyous feeling. It is an organization that is fun to work with (rather than for) and that sparks a sense of well-being amongst its members.
The above mentioned building blocks are something the organization needs to provide through its strategic planning. The agile workforce will follow in return. In other words: If you want to be able to flexibly adapt to the ever changing market while taking your chances at impacting it simultaneously, focus on creating an agile system, not an agile workforce.
That said, to support their workforce, agile organizations usually strive to develop unique structures that align with their distinctive capabilities, values and success factors. These often circle around:
- Striking an effective balance between centralized and de-centralized structures.
- Putting non-negotiables in the center to have the local units be more responsive and adaptive to local markets and trends.
- Celebrating fun and distinctive organizational, team and leadership cultures.
- Creating unique adaptive operating models.
- Developing human capital strategies that build on the organization’s distinctive capabilities and values.
- Perfecting a workforce strategy that is always a step ahead of the curve in terms of acquiring the right skill set, know-how, and mindset for tomorrow’s trends.
- Fostering engagement, commitment, loyalty and a sense of well-being amongst employees.
- Sparking an on-going sense of curiosity and desire to learn and grow on an individual as well as on an organizational level.
- Providing feedback and performance – as well as value-based opportunities for development.
The difference between an agile organization and a business fad
An agile organization does not focus on being labeled or labeling itself as an agile organization. A truly agile organization focuses on one thing and on one thing only: the market and how it behaves within it with its unique identity. Aware of own capabilities, it strives to position itself in the current and emerging marketplace with all its force, uniqueness, and awareness of the difference it can make. It tries to live and breathe the market, be the market, shape the market, act in it, and, if necessary, react to it, without ever losing the intention of wanting to shape it and create new horizons.
An organization that loses that focus and becomes more concerned with claiming to be an agile organization trying to live something it is not, is just following a business fad – one that could be damaging in the long run.
The difference between agility and neuroticism
Agility happens naturally when strategies, procedures, design, goals and ambitions are laid out to focus on the market with the goal of deliberately impacting it on an on-going basis. The goal of an agile organization design is autonomy. Organizational neuroticism begins when leaders try to blame a lack of autonomy, strategy or success on the lack of a sense of agility in their organization. In that case, they may actually be trying to disguise their own inconsistent behavior and asking their workforce to make up for it.
Agile organizations have a very deliberate, strategic process and display consistent, transparent and intentional behavior. And this behavior is usually crowned with outstanding success. For organizations without these qualities and who are struggling to succeed, it may be time for a deep reality check.
About the author: Erika Jacobi is the Lead Change and Innovation Consultant at LC GLOBAL®, a consulting firm with presences in New York City and Munich, Germany. Erika specializes in utilizing theinterface of vibrant organization design, identity and branding. For more information logon to www.lc-global-us.com or follow us on YouTube.