Why Agility is So Crucial in Business Today

  • March 7th, 2012
  • Dan Bischoff

Note: This is a guest post by Mike Richardson, author of the new book, “Wheel$pin: The Agile Executive’s Manifesto – Accelerate Your Growth; Leverage Your Value; Beat Your Competition” (No Limit Publishing). This is based on the Preface and Chapter 1, “A Sense of Void & Filling It.”

Why Agility is So Crucial in Business Today“Wheelspin” can cost us a fortune in avoidable costs and opportunity costs.

In the face of an ever-changing business world, which is accelerating all the time, it is easy to lose traction, suffer “wheelspin,” and pay the price — sometimes with life and death consequences.

The life and death of our business depends upon our agility as an organization.

In this new age of increasing uncertainty, turbulence, and volatility, with the speed of business and the pace of change accelerating all the time, we aren’t sure what is going to happen next.

When there is less and less we can count on with any certainty, we must be able to count more and more on our agility to cope, whether we are a manager, and executive or a CEO. Whatever happens next, we must have the agility to deal with it.

In this new reality, organizational agility is the core differentiator among businesses, whether they are competitors or not.

Agility determines the winners and losers, the victors and victims, the first and the worst. It determines which organizations survive and thrive, and which don’t. It sorts the best from the rest, separating those businesses which are accelerating their growth, leveraging their value and beating their competition, from those which are not.

Organizational agility has always been a determining factor, among many others, but now it is becoming more critical than ever.

As managers, executives, and CEOs, of any kind of organization, our responsibility is to be in the Driving Seat of our organizational agility. Individually and collectively, like never before, we must be fully filling that seat.

Any shortfalls are increasingly likely to become evident very quickly, very fully, and very finally, with few second chances.

Look at the carnage we have seen in business in recent years. Banks, retailers, and automotive manufacturers are amont many others you know of who don’t make the news.

Even Toyota, with its 2010 safety issues, recalls, and crisis of public confidence, was affected. Toyota had been a source of business wisdom and best practices for decades. The 2010 British Petroleum (BP) Gulf of Mexico oil spill, cleanup, and aftermath caused its share price and CEO to plummet.

While organizational agility is a timeless problem, today’s reality is placing new and unfamiliar demands upon us and our skills. It is asking new questions of our executive strengths, which are being tested in new ways.

I urge you to begin recognizing and developing that agility as the core differentiator in business these days. Here are 3 ways how:

    1. Executive Agility as the core differentiator of managers, executives and CEOs from their peers, as those who possess the executive strengths to be filling their role fully In the Driving Seat of organizational agility.
    2. Team Agility as the core differentiator of functions, departments, or business units from their peers, as those that seem to execute more proficiently, adaptively, and dependably in a team context.
    3. Organizational Agility as the core differentiator of businesses from their peers, as the competitor in customer markets and/or financial market that stands out as the better bet.

From “Change Agents” to “Travel Agents”

You have probably been experiencing wave after wave of change washing over you in recent times, with an ever-shortening wavelength in between.

Have you noticed that?

The time in between major upsets seems to be getting shorter all the time, with things coming at us thicker and faster. Each wave seems to bring with it a new level of turbulence, uncertainty, and volatility.

That’s the new normal.

In the old normal, we used to refer to ourselves as “change agents,” leading and managing change from one fixed state to another fixed state.

Not anymore. These days, there is no fixed state!

Change has become a real-time unfolding dynamic journey on a shifting landscape in a constant state of flux. In other words, we have morphed from being “change agents” to being “travel agents” — our job is to help our organizations travel better, for which we need new driving skills.

Learning to Drive Again

Do you remember when you first started learning to drive a car?

We have all been there. When we first start learning to drive we are faced with an unfamiliar, overwhelming, and, let’s be honest, downright scary amount of complexity to master — especially if we are learning with a stick shift (which is typical in the U.K.).

But now we have mastered the complexity of driving to an advanced degree, fully filling the three dimensions of our role in the Driving Seat. We don’t have much choice but to achieve this level of mastery. Because, when we are driving our cars, any void can become very evident, very quickly, very fully, and very finally, with few second chances.

Think about it.

In the Driving Seat of our car, we are able to be strategic and operational, leaders and managers, long-term and short-term oriented, all at the same time, hardly giving it a second thought. While driving, we can change the channel on the radio, make a cell phone call (hands-free, of course), talk to a passenger, and think about life, usually arriving at our desired destination, safely, on time, and ready for what’s next.

That really is amazing.

So, we know that we have the skills to be In the Driving Seat of our car. The only question is, when we park in the lot outside our office and walk inside, what happens to these natural abilities? Where do these skills go when we need them In the Driving Seat of our business?

We need to develop new advanced driving skills for the new normal of business — the higher order executive strengths which add up to organizational agility. Those skills should include:

  • Execution Excellence
  • Executive Intelligence, Intuition and Resilience
  • Path-Finding

Cash is Not King

We used to hear the mantra a lot in business that “cash is king.”

Wrong.

Cash is not king.

Agility is king and cash is just a way of keeping score.

We grow cash flow by having the agility to reduce wheelspin and increase traction, for cents on the dollar. That’s right, for cents on the dollar.

This means doing simple, simple, simple things, which cost us next to nothing and can provide a huge payback in increasing agility, reducing wheelspin and increasing traction. And doing all this for cents on the dollar, thereby providing a very high return on investment (ROI) of improving and growing cash flow.

In my experience, and as I explore in my book, there are simple, simple, simple approaches we can and should take to launch the inception of a breakthrough journey, incubate it during its early stages, and improvise ways to build momentum.

These should come before incurring more significant investments in larger infrastructural innovations and institutionalizing bigger initiatives. Indeed, this “starting small and finishing big” approach is essential to compounding our interest in the agility required to architect the breakthrough journey we desire.

As Einstein said, “The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest.” Compound your interest in agility and you won’t be disappointed.

About the Author

Why Agility is So Crucial in Business Today

Mike Richardson

As an organizational Agility Pioneer and Management Innovator, Mike Richardson specializes in the strategy, execution and traction challenges of small-to-medium sized and fast-moving businesses, business units and corporations. He helps CEOs, Executives and their teams be more fully In the Driving Seat of their businesses and their lives, translating strategy and execution into traction. Mike is also an award winning Chair of peer groups with Vistage International and Vistage Speaker to other groups, nationally and internationally.

About the Author

  • Dan Bischoff

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