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Agility has long been regarded as the secret to managing disruption and operating effectively in our dynamic business environment. The importance of agility has been illuminated by 2020’s crisis. This year, as companies battle through the ever-changing, unprecedented nature of the pandemic, agility and adaptability are being praised as the common thread between organizations that have emerged from the murkiness with re-imagined business models and heightened performance. In our new world, agility is no longer a means for success as much as it is a means for survival.

Companies are recognizing the benefits of an agile operating model and acknowledging their need for change. Though only 4% of companies have undergone a full agility transformation, 37% of enterprises report that they are embarking on one.[1] The next frontier is ripe for renewal — of business models and ways of thinking and interacting. Evolving into an agile organization is a journey. Getting started requires you to move from the inside out, reinforcing your strategic core, restructuring operations, and reinventing your business architecture.

Define your core

Agility starts with stability. The ability to quickly mobilize relies on a stable team who can move in tandem to accelerate action. By connecting employees to a shared purpose and vision, individuals unite as one dynamic and nimble unit, taking calculated risks, making informed trade-offs, and innovating while remaining in-bounds of the organization’s core fundamentals. In beginning your journey to agility, revisit your purpose, vision, and principles and let your strategy’s core shape your team’s interactions and decisions.

Establish nimble teams

After anchoring your organization to its strategy, you must revisit the structure. How does your current structure empower or inhibit your enterprise from being fluid, opportunistic, and flexible? For example, bureaucratic structures are expensive, limit employee creativity and innovation, and decelerate decision-making. Transitioning from a hierarchy to a flatter, teams-based organization allows for clear definition of roles, responsibilities, and decision rights.

Additionally, collaborating in small strategy teams (S-teams) distributes responsibility for business outcomes across small groups who can quickly act and pivot. By engaging a broader group in the strategy through frameworks such as IARs, teams are engaged in setting high-level Initiatives, defining short-term activities, and ultimately achieving desired outcomes. While transitioning to a new structure can be a process, start by understanding:

  • a. Are there layers of middle management that can be eliminated and redeployed to other parts of the business?
  • b. Can we form teams to plan and progress strategic business initiatives?
  • c. Do we have a strategy process that engages employees throughout the organization?

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Streamline and standardize processes

In order for employees to think about the strategy and prioritize dynamic moves, they must have the space, time, and freedom to explore alternatives. If employees are too bogged down by the minutia of the day-to-day, it will be difficult for them to commit to the agility transformation. Therefore, businesses should invest in synchronizing and standardizing the processes and activities to increase efficacy and efficiency. When the units work in a streamlined fashion, the business has leftover time to allocate to strategic activities. Standardization is achieved through:

  • a. Evaluating processes and identifying best practices,
  • b. Providing the education and training to ingrain best practices as capabilities across the enterprise,
  • c. Optimizing technology to enhance automation, communication, and collaboration

This should be an ongoing effort dedicated to understanding how to optimize operations so your people and business can do more with limited resources.

Implement a feedback loop

Reaping the full benefits of an agility transformation requires organizations to commit to continuous learning and adjustment. Agility requires adaptation. As the market evolves, as should your organization’s ways of working, technologies, and teaming. To stay dynamic and relevant, gather real-time data on what is working and what needs adjustment. Incorporate your learnings to fortify your agility business model. By keeping a pulse on operations, anticipating necessary changes, and seizing opportunities, your organization will emerge from the crisis with a fluid, flexible, and resilient leader of the pack.

[1] Wouter Aghina, Christopher Handscomb, Jesper Ludolph, Daniel Rona, and Dave West, “Enterprise Agility: Buzz or Business Impact?”McKinsey & Company, March 20, 2020.

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