How Agile is your Company?

“Should we go agile? What does it even mean? Will it save money?”

For years, consultants and thought leaders have been spruiking programs to introduce agile principles. Yet much of the discussion still focuses on theory, rather than how to achieve it.

Our partner in Switzerland, AGILITYINSIGHTS, has spent the last 15 years researching and working with major global companies to identify an effective, practical approach to developing organisational agility.

The result is a simple model with a diagnostic tool to assess an organisation’s operating environment.

True agility = dynamic capabilities

Businesses today must contend with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, making yesteryear’s rules-based management toolbox almost redundant.

The comparably stable industrial era is gone, replaced with a new, creative economy with new challenges.

To win today, leadership teams in most industries must be agile – able to flexibly react to early signs and act on them quickly.

Yet it’s no secret that many well-established businesses are struggling to adapt. They’re introducing agile principles but struggling to integrate them with entrenched, inflexible leadership, systems and culture.

It isn’t easy for small businesses and start-ups, either. In the early days they can move quickly and flexibly, but those that succeed and grow often introduce systems for efficiency that eventually become bureaucratic (e.g. slow decision-making through committees; high costs due to involving everyone). When this happens, they lose their speed and nimbleness.

There are, however, organisations that have learned to master this tension between speed and stability.

This next generation of organisation has:

  • A stable ‘core,’ comprised of rules and routines that provide rigor, discipline and stability;
  • A flexible ‘shell’ made up of agile leadership skills, dynamic managerial practices and a shared sense of meaning.

The stable core makes organisations dependable and robust, and the flexible shell allows them to rise to new challenges and opportunities.

The combination makes them truly agile and positioned to thrive in today’s VUCA environment.

How agile is your organisation?

What is your organisation’s dominant operating mode? Is it predictable and efficient, or constantly fighting fires? Is it innovative and collaborative, or are there just lots of meetings?

Try this quick diagnostic.

For you, your team, or your organisation, to what extent do these statements apply?

1)      My organisation is well aligned to deliver what it promises to all stakeholders. It attracts the right clients, employees, and investors with a compelling strategy.HML
2)      My team shares the same intent, agenda, attitude and beliefs. It does what it says and releases productive energy to drive performance.HML
3)      All leaders enable trust through productive conversations on direction, purpose, expectations and boundaries. They rely on responsible people to get stuff done.HML
4)      Our infrastructure supports good leadership and decision making without too much bureaucracy throughout the organisation.HML
5)      Our policies clarify the rules of the game with the right balance between rigorous standards and enough freedom. They make people accountable.HML
6)      Our processes help everyone set the pace, and it raises the awareness for critical decisions with adequate control. They help us reduce complexity.HML
7)      All our controls help everyone focus on important things. They give people enough guidance on how things are to be done in a fast-moving environment.HML
8)      We/I freely collaborate and exchange information across organisational boundaries for high efficiency and leverage.HML
9)      We/I have reliable relationships and establish trust with key customers and supports within and outside the organisation.HML
10)   We/I have everything available that helps me/us find purpose, establish a clear identity, and fully commit to what the organisation does.HML


Mostly high: well done! You, your team or your organisation are on track for superior agility and people-centric leadership. Your task is to keep it up!

If medium dominates, it’s time to break out of the middle ground. Are your leaders focused on people, supporting true agility? A systematic check by experienced eyes can be helpful before you initiate critical and expensive change.

If there is a lot of low, immediate action is required. More detailed diagnostics can provide insight into the three to five critical things to improve for greater organisational agility.

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