Embrace change management, build agility

29 Jun 2017

Responsiveness in a fast-changing world

author picture Article written by Vincent Halluent

Agility: buzzword or survival skill?

In a world where change is the “expectation rather than the exception”, agility stands out as a critical core competency. For many modern organizations, agility is a basic survival skill. So much so that the notion has quickly morphed into a buzzword. It has gained considerable ground in everyday conservations. Everybody talks about agility. But just as happens with seemingly self-evident notions, everyone has a different definition in mind. And just as happens with any buzzword, no one dares to ask what it means.  

When reality sets in, though, people get caught up in overlapping projects. And the bigger the pressure and workload, the harder the transitioning process proves to manage.

There is no receipt that can be applied across the board to “fix” flexibility and resilience issues. But there are some common features agile organizations appear to be sharing. In order to scratch below the surface, we will go back to the basics and explore a few benchmark studies packed with actionable insights.

Agility: what's in a word?

Agility conjures up images of athletic performance, explosiveness and velocity in dodging obstacles while racing towards the finish line. It is about transitioning fast and keeping the balance in the process. Agility is crucial for superior competitive play in many sports and the same goes for businesses in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment [otherwise known as “VUCA” world]. Internally or externally driven, changes are more fast-paced and cross functional than ever before. They span multiple departments, call for greater collaboration and overall responsiveness. Disruptive by design, contemporary changes usually imply tearing down internal barriers and pushing organizational boundaries further out. According to a PWC survey gathering more than 1000 CEOs [quoted by PROSCI], 76% declared that their “ability to adapt to change will be a key source of competitive advantage”. But agility comes at a price.

Leader in CM solutions, PROSCI has compiled the most frequent definitions of agility and uncovered at least six layers of meaning. For starters, it means a deeply engrained ability, part of the DNA of the organizations and businesses that qualify for the term (1). This core skill allows them to outperform competitors (2) by quickly identifying new market opportunities and turning them into effective responses for customers (3). Speed and flexibility using resources in the face of change, all in an affordable way, is crucial and reflect the level of responsiveness (4) of an organization. Agility is also a mix of proactivity (planned) and reactivity (unplanned) (5), meaning that changes are usually combined into compound portfolios. Whichever the case, it is of utmost importance that the process of dealing with the change not stop the organization from living up to its performance standards. Agile transitioning thus entails fast and effective moves without getting derailed or side-lined (6).

10 "Agility" attributes.​

So how flexible, resilient, adaptive and responsive would you say your organization is? Our partner PROSCI has listed 10 questions that help provide an overall assessment.

·       Do you anticipate and plan for changes? First things first, does your team have an eye for identifying trends and market opportunities?

·       How fast are you at decision-making? This one is pretty much self-explanatory and requires taking a hard look at the decision-making processes across all levels/ departments of your organization.

·       Do you effectively optimize your change portfolio? Think “ranking”, “prioritizing” and “funding” projects.

·       Do you effectively initiative change efforts? Do you start with the end in mind to engineer the change, creating metrics and allocating the right amount of time and human resources?

·       Do you have enhanced risk management practices? How much effort do you put into understanding and mitigating risks, whether procedural, technological, and organizational?

·       Do you have human capital strategies and practices that support agility? Talent hunting  is key and there is a fierce competition among big companies to attract the best players. Hire people who respond well in a fast-changing environment and be on the winning side!

·       Do you rapidly develop new capabilities? It all comes down to understanding the “moving parts” and responding quickly with new processes, skills, you name it. It “requires both a tool set and mind set”.

·       Do you have reduced silos? Breaking down barriers is usually a prerequisite for better collaboration.

·       Do you encourage cross-collaboration? A good example is the use of digital advances to create platforms promoting exchanges and enhance collaboration experiences.

·       Do you have an embedded CM capability? If not, it is time to step up your game and switch from a project-to-project approach to infusing the organizational structure with CM skills.

The graph below summarizes results from a poll by PROSCI. Interestingly, very few respondents ranked well on the “embedded CM capability” attribute, despite the fact that CM is often cited as one of the top agility enabler by the largest organizations (PWC, Accenture, ...).

illuENG_0.jpgToday, CM departments are mostly found in mature organizations. However, any step taken towards building CM capabilities – that is, bridging the gap between installation and adoption through managing the people side of change –, significantly increases your chances of delivering on time and staying on budget. There is no “quick fix” to becoming agile. It is a journey, one that requires a thorough understanding of the current state, a robust strategy to lead the change and a finish line in clear view. This is precisely where CM comes into play*.

*To further explore the why, what and how of CM, see previous blog entries on CM Foundations.

**This article compiles PROSCI’s literature review and research insights into organizational agility. ​See PROSCI (2016), Building Organizational Agility Webinar.


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