Much like living creatures, organizations that can best adapt to their surroundings are the organizations that are most likely to thrive. For enterprises, that means being able to adapt swiftly to business and market conditions—and at the very least adapt more swiftly than their competitors. For years, building an agile enterprise has been the focus of the C-suite and the boardroom. Yet, regardless of so much attention and despite the potential agile payoff, according to this McKinsey & Company study, relatively few organizations can maintain above average capabilities when it comes to maintaining agility while also maintaining stability in the organization.
So how does an organization move from being rigid and unresponsive to changing market conditions to be more agile? It all starts at the top, and we’ve detailed some of the steps below. The five keys below are not meant to be all-inclusive, but a starting point for a team, business unit, division or enterprise:
Leadership must make the commitment to build an agile organization
When it comes to initiating an agile digital enterprise, building agility by focusing only within IT or development teams just isn’t enough. The commitment needs to come from the top, or any gains toward building a sustainable agile enterprise are going to be short-lived. Because change is difficult, and many people inherently are against any kind of change, sustained executive leadership is essential to push forward.
Sell the transformation
Because any kind of substantive organizational change is painful, it’s going to cause a lot of individual and organizational discomfort, conflict and arguments. The rest of the company needs to know why they are putting in the effort, and what the goals and designed payoff will be. To get universal buy-in, this requires sustained leadership and the setting of common goals, the aligning of interests and the accepting of feedback from the teams and incorporating what makes sense as efforts move forward.
Remove barriers to agility
Sometimes bureaucratic red tape is the biggest barrier to change. It’s not that all bureaucracy is automatically bad. It’s not. Bureaucracy often is put into place to protect the organization from some type of risk. An example could be something as simple as requiring sign-offs to provision new users to enterprise assets. Of course, this is important to protect the organization from fake user accounts being established, or users getting more privileges than they should be entitled. But something this simple and well-intentioned, when not done right, can create tremendous barriers to moving quickly: A user needs an executive sign-off to be added to a certain resource, but that necessary manager may be on vacation for a couple weeks.
Not good. But there are always ways to work through these barriers, if only a little effort is put in.
Rather than wait for a week in such instances, if the organization established an alternative sign-off to approve the new resources, and a notification is automatically sent to the vacationing manager for review later, the proper workflow is maintained without time lost.
A simple example, for sure, but most enterprises are loaded with such instances. Add a few similar hurdles in a new initiative, and agility gives way to rigidity. Whenever possible, automate away and improve the processes that create friction.
Deliver value with immediate, tangible wins
Nothing feels better than setting goals and achieving them. At the beginning of the journey, hitting these goals will create momentum—and the more success, the more momentum. Measure the improvements that can be identified in the new ways of doing things and showcase the results. These results, plus moving more quickly and making peoples’ lives easier in the long run, will help to flip non-believers into believers.
Of course, by measuring results and showcasing successes failures and disappointments will be uncovered. (No, really, they will!). And when guiding the enterprise through rapidly evolving market conditions, there certainly are going to be efforts that don’t go as planned. Too many organizations tend to recognize their wins and shuffle the losses and missteps under the carpet. It’s important to flip that around and encourage team members to point out what isn’t working so that it can be improved.