Agility is essential for organisational survival

By Sam Bunting

Change is hitting us from all directions and at a blinding rate. It is hard to imagine a world without video streaming, social media, smart phones and Google. Yet none of these technologies existed just over 20 years ago. Netflix has reached 98 million users, 2 billion people check Facebook each month, 2.32 billion people own a smart phone and Google processes 3.5 billion searches per day. Many kids today have never owned a CD. They watch their TV through YouTube, play HD games online with their friends and post snaps of their lunch on Instagram. They ask Alexa to check if their maths homework is correct and when it’s due to be handed in. Their digital expectations as they grow older will be light years from today.

We cannot predict the next Netflix or Google (or Airbnb, Monzo, Tesla, Uber, and Deliveroo for that matter) but we do know that technological changes will disrupt organisations in ways we can’t begin to imagine. Organisations that are agile will adapt, survive and thrive. But what does it mean for an organisation to be ‘Agile’?

Consider the biggest challenges facing organisations over the next 20 years:

  • Increasing customer expectations – next day delivery, 24/7 multi-channel call centres and a personalised, consistent experience are all things we have come to expect. In a world of instant gratification, your customers will demand personalised and fluid customer service...instantly. We call this the world of Customer 4.0.

  • Technical innovation – we are no longer on the brink of the fourth ‘industrial’ revolution. Instead, we are elbow-deep in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and bionic technology. ‘iPhone’ means my phone and I are one, while ‘Android’ stands for the amalgam of human and technology. What are the biggest personal device makers telling us? Technology is fusing with the human. We’re already seeing AI beginning to tackle really complex problems that impact all areas of our lives including logistics, planning, legal reasoning, medical diagnostics, intelligent assistants, autonomous vehicles and many, many others.

  • Big collaboration – you’ve heard of “big data”? Well, be prepared for “big collaboration”. As organisations become truly global and more mobile, expect to see big changes to the workplace and how we communicate and collaborate with each other. Modern social media type applications are key to enabling organisations to build communities of remote workers through blogging, instant messaging and Facebook-like profile pages. Dell, for example, is aiming for 50% of all employees to work from home by 2020. As well as the cost savings involved, this arrangement leads to a happier workforce, with less stress and greater productivity.

  • Regulation and compliance – by the time you’ve read this article, something will have changed in the political landscape. What happens post-Brexit? What impact will the Trump administration have on regulatory requirements? Being able to respond quickly to a changing and unpredictable political situation will be a huge challenge for organisations.

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Organisations will need agility – the ability to change quickly and easily. In fact we need to welcome change. Change needs to be our currency. 

We define an Agile organisation as having the following characteristics:

  • A start-up culture – we’re not talking about Nerf guns, bean-bags, and free croissants for breakfast (though I’m sure this wouldn’t hurt), but rather the seamless integration of work and life. At PA we call this ‘x-tech’ (eg FinTechs, InsureTechs, Bio-Tech etc.). Where technology and the business work as one team. There is no blame. We are equally responsible for all profits and losses. An organisation that can encourage a start-up culture mentality will foster an entrepreneurial and innovative spirit where employees take ownership of company outcomes. This leads to better engagement and morale. Organisations of all sectors and sizes should embrace a start-up culture. These organisations would be wise to remember the words of Peter Drucker, the famed management guru: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

  • Simplified organisation – a simplified organisation and leadership layer can enable teams to make decentralised decisions quickly and expertly. Traditional command-and-control structures rarely work in professional services where creative thinking is required. A flatter organisational structure enhances agility and reduces waste by empowering employees to handle problems, processes and operations without an approval chain from managers. Communication and collaboration is improved where everyone has an equal voice and employees are self-motivated to excel.

  • Greater responsiveness – using higher-fidelity and lightweight processes, organisations find it easier to pivot their focus according to priorities and value. A responsive organisation is never on the back foot, always adapting quickly and easily to opportunities or challenges.

  • Shortening time to value – aside from being able to respond quicker to customer needs, it is also important to know which needs should be addressed first. Agile organisations deliver the highest priority requirements in short, evolutionary cycles that not only delight but also preserve elements that add value. This not only enhances financial performance but also leads to happier customers.

We live in changing times, but with great change comes great opportunities.  Digital is altering your customers’ expectations and nothing short of a workplace revolution will allow traditional companies to survive and thrive.

About the authors

Sam Bunting PA agile expert

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