What is ‘Business Agility’?

In the long run, the only sustainable source of competitive advantage is your organisation’s ability to learn faster than your competition – Peter Senge

As the world becomes increasingly volatile and unpredictable, imagine the possibilities if organisations could develop the capabilities to respond quickly to changes in the business environment without losing momentum or vision and continue to meet customer needs.

Kodak – The battleship that didn’t turn

Kodak is an oft-cited example of poor business agility. The story is that the company was too slow, too complacent to react to the threat that digital photography presented to the film industry. This missed opportunity was the direct cause of Kodak’s decades-long decline as the new medium destroyed its film-based business model.

Today, as I share videos of my friends on SnapChat and pictures of my food on Instagram while neglecting the stream of pointless cat memes on Facebook, I wonder if the once-trailblazing social media giant might suffer the same unfortunate fate unless it innovates to meet more of my needs.

Creating adaptability, innovation, collaboration and speed

Agility is not just an organisation’s ability to change. It is the ability of the organisation to fundamentally reshape itself around highly nimble, engaged and resilient talent and learning experiences that deliver innovation to enable it to compete in a rapidly changing world.

Bersin helps us to understand that the role of HR in creating an agile organisation is not just to implement controls and standards but rather, to drive programs that create adaptability, innovation, collaboration and speed. Some of the core ingredients for success are:

Build a focus on continuous learning and learning culture at all levels

At the heart of a learning organisation lies the belief that enormous human potential lies locked and undeveloped in our organisations. It goes without saying that leadership is critical to the transition to becoming a ‘learning organisation’. In his 1990 book The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge talks to the notion of leaders as designers, stewards and teachers who are ‘responsible for building organisations where people continually expand their capabilities to understand complexity, clarify vision and improve shared mental models’. The decentralisation of the leadership role in an organisation enhances the capacity of all people to work productively toward common goals.

Facilitate the creation of self-organising teams that interact with customers daily and work together toward the same goal

Small teams are revered in the technology industry for their ability to adapt readily to changing business demands. Bill Gates and Google CEO Eric Schmidt among others have praised small teams as the ideal structure to get good work done. The key to success is empowering a team to set its own goals. With the ability and authority to make decisions the team has a greater sense of ownership and commitment and can manage its work as a group. The basis for a self-organising team is trust and respect.

Train your leaders to be coaches, not managers

Coaches empower teams to create autonomy by inspiring confidence and belief, supporting mastery and setting a clear purpose. They hold teams accountable for delivering results and regulate tension for innovation. These elements enable team members to taking ownership for their learning and to develop the skills they need to operate in a self-organising team.

Originally posted on 4 July on LinkedIn.

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