We live in a world of constant change — globalization, automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are rapidly transforming industries. Corporate departments are evolving to be more cross-functional, and the pace of work and information sharing is faster than ever before.
Organizations need to not only adapt to this change, but also harness it as an opportunity to quickly meet market and customer demands and “out change” the competition.
Therein lies the need for organizational agility.
While varying definitions of “agility” exist, a report published by McKinsey & Company defines it as an organization’s ability to “renew itself, adapt, change quickly …” and then thrive in an environment characterized by rapid change, ambiguity, and turbulence.
The report stresses that agility and stability are not incompatible; in fact, organizational agility requires stability. Becoming agile doesn’t mean throwing out all the structures and processes you’ve worked hard to build and refine — hang onto those. What your organization will need is a higher degree of flexibility at every phase—from concept to execution.
Here’s an illustration: Imagine that your colleagues are playing a basketball game on top of a high rise — with no barriers in place between you and a 300 foot free-fall. Would you remain agile and open to taking risks? Not likely! In fact, you’d be more likely to play harder and faster if you knew there were some boundaries in place.
In an agile organization, there are processes and structures in place that provide stability and consistency, while allowing the speed and flexibility to move around “full court” for competitive advantage.
To reshape your organization to be more agile, start by focusing on three key areas: people, structure, and process.
- People: Recruit a flexible, dynamic team
If increasing organizational agility is your goal, human resources is a good place to start, according to an article in the Harvard Business Review.
Simply put, most job requisitions and traditional recruitment methods don’t support organizational agility. Why? Because they optimize for hiring specific, narrow skill sets mapping to a discipline-specific silo (the marketing team, engineering team, design team, etc.).
A style of hiring that helps increase agility, according to the article, forgoes a skills checklist and instead seeks candidates who are creative, collaborative, and curious – and don’t easily fit into a box.
“These are the generalists with an entrepreneurial spirit,” HBR writes, “… the multi-faceted tinkerers who have specialized in a discipline like design but turn out to be pretty good coders.”
By taking this approach, organizations build a flexible, dynamic team that can quickly shift as changes occur to work or business priorities.
- Structure: A framework for informed decisions
One common approach to improving organizational agility: remove layers of complexity that slow down the business, and empower employees—at all levels—to make informed decisions.
Steve Denning, author of the Leader’s Guide to Radical Management, believes rethinking the role of manager is a critical first step towards organizational agility. He contrasts the roles of a traditional manager and a manager in a more agile organization as follows:
Traditionally, a manager’s job was to determine what needs to be done, assign employees accordingly, and then make sure the instructions are followed. A manager in an agile organization, on the other hand, clearly communicates shared objectives and metrics, then encourages team members—especially those on the front lines with customers—to make informed decisions about what needs to be done, and how — and to regularly seek improvements.
This approach removes the hierarchy that typically slows down an organization. However, this is only effective if there is process in place for making sure the right information is visible to those with decision-making authority — and also, critically, a way to communicate progress and insights back up the leadership chain.
- Process: Establishing scalable systems to drive visibility and information-sharing
Startups have a reputation for being agile, but they often suffer growing pains when a lack of process breeds chaotic workstreams and lack of accountability. Large, established companies are often on the other end of the spectrum—they have structures and processes in place, but have difficulty being flexible enough to quickly adapt to customer and market demands.
To master agility, organizations need to have core processes and systems in place that support the free flow of information, collaboration, accountability, and quick decision making, among other things.
These should evolve with the organization and strike a balance between agility and stability. They should also foster a culture of collaboration and learning, and change leadership from “command-and-control” to a combination of “top-down” and “bottom-up.”
As with everything, organizations should experiment in these three areas and build additional successes around what works best for their culture and organization.
Learn more about how Smartsheet can empower teams to execute with speed and accountability—and make better decisions, faster.