As outlined in previous articles, Organizational Agility is the optimal balance between the speed of responsiveness to market or other environmental conditions and stability for the key stakeholders – be they employees, customers and/or board members. How much is enough? Well, it depends.
We characterize fast-moving organizations as “start-ups.” Some, in fact, are not so new, but they mimic the behavior of young organizations free of process, history or governance that would make them more stable, but surely slow them down. These are exciting places at which to work. Big moves, rapid adjustments – lots of variety. And they can be exhausting to follow, adjust to and with which to keep up. Eventually either scale, stakeholder demand or inertia tend to slow these firms down. In the best of circumstances, these organizations thoughtfully develop practices and processes that give all stakeholders a more predictable, steady experience. In the worst cases, it’s “groundhog day” – which eventually drives up attrition, fractures partnerships and erodes investor confidence.
At the other end of the continuum are the “bureaucratic” entities. Often, because of their value proposition (banks, life insurance companies, mechanical service providers,) risk aversion, caution and responsibility rule. These entities struggle with noticing, interpreting and responding to changes around them – particular when these changes are sudden or driven by forces in conflict with the existing doctrine of the people in charge. The financial crisis and the banks’ responsiveness or lack thereof, to the new regulatory requirements, is just such an example.
What tends to happen at both ends of the continuum is organizations do what they have always done – harder. Sometimes it is packaged as “back to basics.” Other times it is given a new name, new campaign wrapper – but it tends to be the people in charge doing what they are most comfortable with and familiar – to the demise of the enterprise. What is called for is a more diagnostically driven, experimental reaction:

Systematically ask these questions:

  • Where is the pinch? What data/events/trends are causing us concern?
  • What is the pressure in the system that makes people (inside and outside our organization) act the way they do?
  • Do we understand what is happening? How does our understanding lead us toward or away from new possibilities?
  • How could things be made better and how might we move forward?

Experience tells us the asking of the questions is the important thing to do. Try it, let us know what you discover. Good Luck!