Building the agile organisation

Agility entails the ability to think, understand and move quickly and easily. An agile organization can therefore be described as an organization that can not only respond to but anticipate very quickly and easily, changes in the environment or the marketplace. In today’s business operations, the market constantly and with astounding rapidity, throws up new alternatives (read competition), technologies, socio-economic realities sometimes resulting in change in government policies and direction, new knowledge in product development, shift of value (and consequently, flow of reward) and customer preferences. To stay afloat and thrive therefore demands an organization that cannot afford to atrophy from the glories of past successes which usually lead to executive inertia, process rigidity and a general apathy to the realities of a market whose only constant is change! So, as an entrepreneur or leader of a corporate body, how do you transform your organization from the monolithic, typical everyday routinized work environment that sees change as a threat and something to panic and throw tantrums about to one that can begin to strategize for change even before it happens and consequently embrace it before it chokes your entity?

The first quality you must build into the culture of the organization is Adaptability.

Today’s operating environment is in a flux. Consequently, ideas, products and services are constantly shifting the value goal-post. As if that was not enough, in 2020, a pandemic named Covid-19 struck globally, taking the entire world by storm and surprise. Till date, the whole world does not have a definite answer to the virus beyond vaccines which are said to provide only partial protection against it. Bringing entire national economies literally to their knees, many businesses took a hit, went into bankruptcy and have not recovered from the aftershock of the pandemic’s lethal waves and mutations. Particularly left holding the short end of the stick are organizations that have built their operations around brick and mortar. Those who had earlier embraced technology that de-emphasized perpetual daily physical office presence simply amplified that and moved on. They bounced back sooner than companies sheltered in brick and mortar. Organizations without an inherent culture of adaptability will eventually fossilize and be left behind with only memories of the mythical “good old days”. To remain relevant and adaptable, the organization must, in the face of change, learn to rethink its position, re-evaluate its strategy, re-engineer its processes, retool in terms of upgrading or junking a technology as the case may be, resize if current structure is no longer serving the vision and then re-launch with renewed vigour.

An agile organization must have the capacity to harness the energies of all stakeholders to grow together. Growth is one of the characteristics of every living thing. It is not enough to garner resources to build an organization into a behemoth with huge buildings and an extensive distribution network. It must deliberately grow the people involved in the growth of the organization through the institution of a learning culture that makes transition where and when required, as seamless as possible. The organization only sustains growth when the people involved in its operations grow. In a time of change, an agile organization must be people-focused if it had neglected this vital dimension before. Personal development for staff at all levels must be prioritized above any other thing. No matter the degree or magnitude of change, it will require a peculiar mindset and skills set to drive it. Unfortunately, far too many organizations make staff training and development the first casualty of every curve of change. They want to save money to cover other costs while neglecting their most important asset, people. Costly error!

It is foolhardy to continue doing things the same way while expecting a different outcome. To build an agile organization, you must learn to question paradigms and boundaries that set the limits for current operations. The phrase, “professional opinion” can set limits and ceilings over an organization. Everyone who expresses it only does so within the limits of their expertise, exposure and experience. For this reason, a culture of Innovation must be deliberately embedded in corporate ethos. Ideation sessions must be a regular feature of its meetings especially at the leadership and management levels. In such meetings, current thinking is challenged and new possibilities are thrown around the room. During ideation sessions, all ideas are welcome, no matter how outlandish they appear or sound. This is because more often than not, great innovations are products of what could have been regarded as crazy thinking! This goes beyond the Japanese concept of Kaizen which is just an improvement upon an existing idea.

In moments of uncertainty, an organization needs strong and focused Leadership. Leaders find a way when every other person is simply churning out excuses. Navigating change does not require transformational leadership that only thinks outside the box. It requires leadership that recognizes no box! No matter how high the skills level of personnel, it would require strong leadership to harness the energies as well as the diversities and channel them towards a desired outcome.

Apart from the people in the organization, the management of resources in times of crisis demands leadership that is resourceful and can think on its feet. An agile organization should be led by a team that can take tough decisions in the overall interests of the corporate. The agile organization cannot afford to spend endless hours in meetings that generate much talk but little meaningful outcomes.

Management of activities should be such that lead to maximum results in minimum time. The time factor in the management of process and turnaround cycles is of critical essence so that effectiveness is not sacrificed for efficiency.

Over the years, there is hardly any field of endeavor where anyone can consistently maintain a monopoly for more than a year before he is challenged by a competitor who may be more powerful and who may have more resources to reach a wider market. An agile organization must, as part of its process of evolution and transformation, stop benchmarking itself with competition, no matter how fierce or strong. Competition may force a thinking process that reinforces the need to do things differently but it should go beyond that. Rather, even in the midst of sharks, you can always seek a Blue Ocean, a space of operation that puts you ahead of others. How? Channel the organization towards an overarching vision piloted by a strong, unassailable value system. Distinguish your organization from competitors through a culture of Excellence that is reflected not only in the quality of products and services but in the quality of service delivery that reflects the strength of your core values. Customers determine the market share of any business. They are the oxygen that successful businesses breathe.

Instead of focusing on what someone else is doing or not doing, do your utmost to create “Waoh!” moments for your customers. At the end of an encounter with a product or service, the customer will give one of two possible reactions, either an “Arrgh..!” that connotes disappointment or a “Waoh…!” that means satisfaction. When they encounter your product, which one do you want to hear?

Focus on delivering that!

Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!

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