As we discussed in previous posts, Organizational Agility is the convergence of two very different capacities:

  • The responsiveness of the organization to trends, disruptions or opportunities in the operating environment, and
  • The relative stability or lack thereof, for the stakeholders in the organization – employees, customers and/or investors/board members.

Being too slow to respond or too disruptive for stakeholders will undermine the viability and sap the energy of the organization.

In this series we have been examining how this happens, what it looks like and what might be done about it. This week we focus on organizations that are highly responsive AND retain a sense of stability for their key constituents – they have Organizational Agility.

organizational agility

In previous chapters we talked about responsiveness – the capacity to detect, assess and respond rapidly to dynamism in the environment. Organizationally Agile entities do that without the upheaval of start-ups. They are distinguished from their less Agile counterparts by a commitment to structure, people and process that is unwavering in the face of their evolving responsiveness:

  • There isn’t much change in the structure. The boxes on their org charts tend to represent accountability and function – not territory and power.
  • Process is very important. Basically it answers these questions:
    • What works best?
    • How can we sequence it to serve our purpose and deliver our value proposition to our key stakeholders?
      (The orientation is to “what works best” not “what we usually do.”)
  • People understand what is expected of them, how they are measured and decision-making power is pushed down as close as possible to the customer experience.

There are companies across the sectors who match this profile. Google despite their extraordinary growth is an exemplar. Some of the engineers might dispute that characterization after the “defrag” of a few years ago. Google decided to focus work on products in specific locations. Prior to this decision, Googlers could choose what to work on from nearly any Google location. In fact it was an effort to stabilize the organization by locating workers by product rather than Googler interests or affinity. The former model had just become too cumbersome for a 50,000+ employee company to manage. In a very real way this huge cultural shift helped increase stability without slowing down Google’s responsiveness.

Amazon, like Google, has retained its dominant position by responding nimbly to its environment with such speed the disruption was experienced more by its competitors than is employees and customers. They have been keenly attuned to the adjacent opportunities to revolutionize retail often at the expense of their less agile competitors.

Both companies have shown a commitment to not only monitoring the environment but demonstrating the willingness to shape it through innovative products and services. Neither resorted to frequent or even periodic reorganizations. They have well-defined ways of working that align well to growth, value creation and shareholder returns. Both organizations consistently rank among the best places to work.

Organizational Agility is the best insurance against future failure. Organizations who build and maintain it will thrive and those who don’t – well, we’ll miss them. Take a moment with your team for a little self-assessment. How do you feel you are doing? Which dimension might bear the greatest fruit?

We’ll see you back here next time as we explore how build your Organizational Agility. Good luck!


Here are some questions you might ask yourself and your team:

  1. How do we rate ourselves in terms of responsiveness to the environment around us? (It’s best to identify specific examples – whether positive or negative.)
  2. What degree of stability do our key stakeholders experience at present? (Again – be specific.)
  3. How would we score ourselves on
    • Stability of our structure?
    • Our commitment to process?
    • The environment we have created for our people?
    • On which dimension might we focus to maximize ROI on our improvement efforts?)
  4. What could we do to increase our speed and increase our stability?

Please join us in Boston on September for Our Leading change Program on September 19-20 at the UMass club in Boston.  Check out the web site for more information!