Hearing the word ‘agility’ often brings back memories of my high school football days.  Coaches were fond of “agility drills” designed to improve our ability to change direction and accelerate while in motion.  We would run and pivot around plastic cones, weave through the agility ladder, and high step through the ropes – all while coaches softly whispered words of encouragement.  Well… perhaps the volume of their voices was just a little louder than a whisper.

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, has declared, “Speed is the new currency of business.” Yet if inertia prevents an organization from quickly changing direction, you may find yourself moving swiftly to the wrong destination.  That’s where agility comes in.  ‘Enterprise agility’ is simply the ability of an organization to change direction and accelerate while in motion.  The increasing unpredictability of our world demands that companies become progressively faster and more agile for continued success.

Increasing agility does not require introducing chaos into your environment.  Just as a running back cannot unexpectedly change directions in mid-air, your company cannot pivot without a firm foundation.  In fact, McKinsey found that “truly agile organizations, paradoxically, learn to be both stable (resilient, reliable, and efficient) and dynamic (fast, nimble, and adaptive).”

The extent of agility is determined by the degree to which you can change course and the speed at which you can achieve this change.  The ability to sense upcoming changes enhances enterprise agility even further.  For example, when a running back in the open field senses a defensive player closing in, he may be able to take quick action to avert being tackled.  Of course, sensing the need to alter direction does little good if the decision to change is prolonged or you are unable to act on it.  Forrester emphasizes that agility requires awareness of a changing environment as well as the ability to execute on decisions to respond.

Increasing Speed and Enterprise Agility Needed

It seems intuitive that a company which is faster and more agile than its competitors gains competitive advantage.  But in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world, continually increasing enterprise speed and agility is no longer an option.  Jack Welch said, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”  And what executive today truly believes that their company is moving quickly enough?

However, continually increasing speed and enterprise agility is not a trivial matter.  The right combination of acceleration and balance must be attained.  A football player leaning forward to run at top speed may fall to the ground if an abrupt change is attempted.  For example, if your business processes and technology operations are not stable and efficient, you likely do not have the base needed to support an enduring change effort.   Conversely if your efficiency is a result of rigid, arduous processes, any changes will be severely restricted.  And if you invest to radically increase execution ability yet retain an extremely slow decision-making process, the return on investment will be limited.  Is it a surprise to learn that one study found 84% of companies to fail at transformation?

You know that it is critical to move much more quickly.  Yet sufficient agility is also needed to avoid obstacles and take advantage of the opportunities presented by our VUCA business environment.  But how much faster should you go?  How do you measure your agility? How do you find the right balance? And more importantly, what improvement activities should you be taking?

The Digital Enterprise Readiness Framework developed by the Institute for Digital Transformation provides a holistic, objective measurement of an organization’s appetite and ability to achieve the speed and agility needed for success.  It addresses:

  • Operational Sustainability – gauging the stability of your operational foundation
  • Operational Agility – determining the extent to which your organization can quickly pivot when directed
  • Strategic Agility – measuring your organization’s ability to rapidly sense opportunities / threats and then reshape the direction to take advantage of the opportunities or diminish the threat of competitive disruption
  • A “Disruptive” Culture – evaluating your organization’s receptiveness to implementing change

This tool provides a determination of transformation readiness in all areas of your organization.  A trained executive change agent can use this information to help you call the plays needed to keep gaining yardage toward your goal line.  Periodic use of the tool shows attained progress and more importantly, identifies the next area(s) to be addressed in your continual transformation journey.

Today’s football team relying solely upon “three yards and a cloud of dust” finds itself easily outscored by high-octane offenses with a multi-pronged attack.  Similarly, companies depending totally upon incremental improvements will be buried by competitors who are becoming increasingly faster and more agile.  The time for action is today!

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