The pace of organizational change is the fastest it has ever been — markets change daily and what the consumer desires moves more rapidly than ever before. Organizations that are flexible and able to adjust strategies on an ongoing basis will be able to adapt to this change and will likely succeed. Those who can’t, won’t, or at least that is what we have been told to believe. Implementation, in reality, can also make becoming agile one of a company’s true nightmares.

What is Organizational Agility?

Agility describes an organization’s ability to adapt, learn from data in real-time and implement quick changes. Agile businesses have a risk-taking/fail fast philosophy at their core and view unexpected change as an opportunity to transform into something better. They lack fear of failure and are open to learning from their mistakes. According to research by KPMG, the majority of CEOs (59%) believe agility is the new currency of business. It definitely is one of the words of the day.

At The JDL Group, we have found agile organizations (in two words) are those who do something. The agile model is take your best guess, do something, gather quick feedback on how you’re doing, adjust, and then rinse and repeat.

These organizations must be objective, sometimes even painfully so, about their mistakes, to push through them and persevere. Organizations that admit, “We screwed up, now let’s figure out how to fix it,” will be more flexible and experience more growth as they face industry changes.

From a decision making standpoint, we’ve found companies that value both data and action are the ones that succeed. But, they have to value them at about the same level. If they want too much data, they will never make a decision, but if all they do is jump to action, there’s going to be a lot of time expended on trial and error.  There has to be constant tension between the two — a push/pull dynamic of speeding up and slowing down so both can get their way but not entirely.

That is where managers and leaders come into play. Agile leaders are those who are willing to try and fail. They create a culture where their employees feel free and empowered to do the same — they know they have to move forward, but they want to make sure they’re being smart about it, too. Further, these agile managers and leaders empower their employees to make key decisions and take action on risky or challenging situations. At The JDL Group, leadership is about getting employees to put aside their self-interests, for awhile, to work on group goals. As such, leaders are the main variable impacting the success (or failure) of a team’s agile effectiveness.

Barriers to Agility

The most interesting thing about organizational agility is most CEOs and executives say they want to be an agile organization and they’re going to do X,Y and Z to get there (after all, there is a multi-billion dollar training industry ready to take their money and teach them how to be agile), but what many organizations misunderstand is there’s not a way to just snap your fingers and become an agile business. Further, just because someone says “be agile”, that may or may not be what your culture is all about and it may not even be critical to the success of your brand or industry. For instance, is organizational agility really all that important to Jack Daniels, who makes the same central whiskey with the same central recipe and has been doing so for years?

KPMG’s recent Global CEO Outlook found 74% of the nearly 1,300 CEOs surveyed said their organization seeks to be a disruptor in its industry, but one of the biggest issues facing CEOs is the disconnect between their agile vision and the ability of their employees to execute in an agile manner. This aligns with the findings of The JDL Group’s own 25 year research history. We have found businesses are agile only when they are backed by agile people. Our research has revealed 60% of organizations want to be agile, but only half of these (30% of all organizations) have the managerial makeup and employee fortitude to be agile. The other half (the second 30% of all organizations) have some make-up in terms of an agile culture, but other pieces will keep them from succeeding. The final third, our research contends, likely should not be practicing agility and do not want to either.

For organizations with managers who are unwilling to take risks, or learn from their mistakes, no matter how much money is invested into agility training, efforts will never pay off. Many managers have been put into roles to create predictability and they like it that way.  Others simply will not take risks without having someone else to fall back on if their actions don’t pay off.  As such, they may be asked to do something they do not want to do and when under stress and pressure, their natural tendencies will take over and you have no agility.

How The JDL Group Determines Agile Fortitude

To us, the first question really is, “Should this company be considering an agile transformation at all?” With the second question being, “How easy will it be for them to make the transition?” Our research backed agile implementation processes start with putting data on the table and immediately engaging leaders in self, team and organizational reflection concerning “who they are”. Then, we use feedback and training to find the most efficient path to success. In the case of an agile implementation, this means using analyses to determine if managers and leaders even have agile fortitude in their beings and if the culture supports an agile framework.

  • Data. Our Whole Person Assessment process accurately predicts who in your organization has the attributes of an agile business professional and how to develop them and move them to the right spot in your organization.
  • Feedback. Reports associated with the Whole Person Assessment provide specific information on particular aspects of an agile make-up, how the respondent and/or team likely performs, and then provides clearly defined and actionable recommendations to improve or move more closely to an agile mentality.
  • Guerrilla Business Training Sessions. We actively coach high quality agile organizations on how to use their employee mindset better, and how to make decisions better, how to force a connection between the action and data tension line. Our quick-hit Guerilla Business Training Sessions speak to the agile world and offer easy behavioral modifications to get the most out of your employees from an agile perspective.
  • Backslide Prevention. Change is our business and we have created a proprietary Backslide Prevention module that practically guarantees a smooth and permanent transition to the new culture and directives.

At The JDL Group, we don’t believe in the wait and see approach; we help organizations understand who they are, if they are part of the 30% that have the propensity to be agile, and then we give them the tools to maximize their effectiveness in the transformation.

When Your Organization’s Leaders Are Not Agile

While agile businesses are what everyone is talking about right now, even if you don’t have an agile culture, you can still be successful with your authentic culture as long as you are deliberate. For example, perhaps the Whole Person Assessment reveals there is very little agility in your leaders and organization, but a majority are willing to be “fast-followers” who take the “new” created by agile organizations and make it better, faster and more efficient. In this case, if the organization realizes this tactical approach, they only have to look to the horizon for their next focal project.

why authentic and deliberate organizational culture outperforms the right culture every time

Be who you are, know who that is and manipulate it to your advantage. What works for one organization won’t necessarily work for everyone. Your organization might thrive on being fast-followers and that is okay. Not everyone can or should try to be agile and agility training cannot make an organization agile if the right organizational and personal makeup isn’t inherently there.

At The JDL Group, we do not judge culture or indicate there is “one best culture” out there. We do, however, help organizations understand who they are, what they could become, and how to maximize both. Growth and change, therefore, are informed and more deliberate.

Key Takeaways

Agile organizations are great, but they are not the holy grail of business success. Even businesses with agile employees will fail if they don’t know what to do with what they have and how to organize it better.

For those organizations who are agile, or have the DNA of a likely agile organization, The JDL Group helps speed up the process, identifies the right mix of people in projects, provides guerilla training to maximize the adjustment to an agile framework and ensures no backsliding. If being agile just isn’t who you are, then don’t waste energy trying to force an agile culture. Embrace your culture, whether it’s agile or not. The JDL Group can help you use your culture to its full potential, identify agile business professionals in your organization and do business smarter.

Contact The JDL Group for an agility pre-screen to set you up with the questions that will help answer whether or not you should embark on this change, and what it might look like if you do.

Related Reading: Leadership Development: Driving Fast Without Brakes Is Not a Good Idea