The term ‘agility’ means different things to different professionals. When you speak to an engineer, agility could refer to a methodology that applies to the way teams release a product, moving away from “waterfall delivery” to much shorter "sprints." When you speak to business leaders, agility means the ability to be responsive, and adapting to market changes, both internally and externally. Agility can carry a variety of meanings, depending on the context.
It is true that the only constant is change. Yet, change itself is different today — it is continuous, non-stop and increasingly complex. We even have new changes that spin off from a change in a never-ending sequence. Today's ways of thinking about change are radically different from those even as recently as 10 years ago. Now, almost everything is different.
Today’s volatile economy, as well as rapidly shifting market conditions, require people and organizations to display "dynamic" strategic behaviours. It is, therefore, no surprise that agility has become a very rare and desired competency. It exemplifies the importance of not being static but, instead, embracing unpredictability and aligning business practices to environmental changes. Superior organizations must possess this competency in order to thrive and deliver outstanding profitability.
Agility is a complex, multi-dimensional, and context-specific concept. It includes the ability to sense unpredictable environmental change and quickly respond, by flexibly marshalling resources, processes, knowledge, and capabilities. An example of agility would be a business development group deciding to quickly consolidate one of its key markets in order to favourably change its competitive position.
Agility relates to the interface between the organization and the market. It is more of an offensive approach.
Definition: Agility can be defined as a set of abilities for continuously identifying and meeting varied business requirements in a highly competitive environment.
These abilities include:
Opportunity seeking and alertness
Market analysis and responsiveness
Timely decision making
Communicating strategic position
Deployment of resources/change leadership
Characteristics of Agility as a Competency
Anticipating customer needs/requirement
Keys for Developing Agility
Change agility is not a skill that can be developed overnight; yet, identifying what its key elements are will enable you to embark on a grand journey towards your competitive edge. Here are a few key points:
Do not overlook what is happening outside your organization. Respond quickly to the strategic opportunities presented by your environment, sector and market.
Your production cycles should be reviewed at short intervals to make decisions as appropriate. In all scenarios, these decisions must be taken very quickly.
Integrate the voices of your customers and consumers throughout your strategy, not just in the marketing, sales and services aspects.
Keep an eye on risk management. Changing quickly does not mean putting at risk what the organization has already built.
Set up interdisciplinary project teams. The different points of views and perspectives in a project will help you find faster and better paths.
Encourage cross-management that allows you to eliminate organizational silos. Collaboration and networking are fundamental to implementing any initiative/project.
Make sure you have contingency plans that enable you to take on the changing environment. While you may not have all the answers, you can have a plan of action for the changes as they arise.
Use iterative project management practices to ensure the development of successful initiatives/projects.
Technological leverage: For obvious reasons, technology will be your ally; make the most of the advances and possibilities that this offers us, otherwise you will lag behind.
.The Five Types of Agility during Disruption
Managers of teams and organizations urgently need their team members to respond and lead the change that is required in disruptions. Here are the five types of agility required in order to thrive in future work scenarios:
Neuro-Emotional Agility – This is the ability to be aware of our own emotional state and that of others and focus on finding our contribution within the changing environment. Change, unpredictability and ambiguity put our already stressed nervous systems in a state of threat. This impairs our cognition and creativity, creates turmoil in emotions and behaviours, and impacts our outcomes. We can learn to intentionally shift our default emotions to calm down to a creative state.
Learning Agility – This is the ability to rapidly learn, unlearn and relearn based on new and changing situations. Our habitual patterns of thinking prevent us from fully capturing new information so that we can adapt to what is changing. We are now often making decisions in novel situations, where past expertise or best practices are limited. We need learning agility to see the new reality, question our biases, and shift our mind-sets. This meta-learning is not just learning a new skill, it is akin to growing a ‘new brain’ that increases the learning capacity and accelerates our ability to adapt. Since the future is unpredictable, we envision and prepare for the future by learning in the present moment.
Trust Agility – Where there is strong trust, teams are said to be nine times more agile. This is because team members are encouraged to openly share diverse perspectives, undertake ‘safe-to-fail’ experiments and challenge thinking. Leading in disruption requires quickly creating trust in complex teams. The teams of the emerging future will be fluid, globally distributed, multi-generational, often virtual, and span organizational boundaries. We need to build trust quickly to accelerate team performance and well-being.
Stakeholder Agility – The COVID pandemic has highlighted how interdependent we all are. Increasingly, we are solving problems that require shared ownership and action. Challenges like pandemic response, climate change, innovating to solve meaningful issues in our ecosystem, or opportunities that need a pivot in business models, require us to work with a newer and much wider set of stakeholders, than in the past. As we engage with stakeholders with varying and often conflicting needs, we need agility to align with this complex system and move towards solutions that work for humanity as a whole.
Growth Agility – This is our ability to grow ourselves and others through pivotal experiences and conversations. Human capacity and agility must be transformed at scale, if we are to urgently and effectively solve the problems that we are faced with. This requires each of us to grow ourselves and the people in our charge.
If an organization wants to continually win over its competitors, it needs agile leadership and teams. It must focus on striking an optimal balance between standardizing operations and pursuing innovations. Agility will involve focusing on the ‘why’ and ‘what’, but delegating the ‘how’. Customer engagement, based on concrete feedback and working solutions without resorting to excessive documentation and flexibility that permits prudent risks including testing of unconventional hypothesis, are some of the positive indicators of agility as an essential new-age competency.