70% of agile companies are in the top quartile for organizational health. Organizational agility gives your teams the ability to quickly adapt to changes in the market, bounce back from failure, and develop new innovations so that you can stay ahead of your competitors.
According to McKinsey, business organizational agility requires two things:
- A stable foundation of things that don’t change
- The ability to quickly respond to changing situations and new information
In this article, we’ll dive into three actionable ways to create those conditions for your team or entire organization.
How to Create a Stable Foundation for Organizational Agility
Creating a stable foundation enables your team to be agile without becoming chaotic. To build stability, you need to:
- Build stable autonomy
- Create role clarity
- Maintain a collaborative learning culture
These three actions set clear expectations for employees and give them strategic boundaries that they can innovate within. Here’s how to implement those steps:
1) Build Stable Autonomy
The first step in improving organizational agility is empowering employees at all levels of your company to solve problems without permission.
Traditional leadership hierarchies hinder agility since managers often dictate what projects should be worked on, how they should be completed, and enforce other constraints that limit their team’s ability to adapt to their changing environment.
If you want your team to be more agile, you need to give your employees a stable range of autonomy so that they can quickly solve problems and try new approaches without waiting for permission.
Creating stable autonomy can be challenging since stability and autonomy are often considered opposing forces. To do so, you need to set highly specific goals and empower your employees to do whatever it takes to achieve them.
A company that excels at this is Ritz Carlton. They’ve empowered their employees do whatever it takes (within reason) to give guests a memorable experience. Here’s an example:
A guest called saying that their young child was distraught because they left their favorite stuffed giraffe at the hotel. Not only did the Ritz employees ship the stuffed giraffe back to the family, they also took pictures of it enjoying the hotel’s various amenities to support the parents who said the stuffed giraffe had taken an extended vacation.
The employees didn’t have to jump through hoops to get permission to do this. Their responsibility is to keep customers happy and they’re empowered to take special actions to achieve that objective.
2) Create Role Clarity
Every single one of your employees needs to have a solid understanding of what KPIs they’re accountable for and the range of actions they can take to achieve them. Many managers fail to create this critical form of stability by assuming that their employees know what they should do. However, in a Gallup survey, only about half of employees reported that they fully understand what’s expected of them at work.
Lack of role clarity hinders strategic agility since employees work on a variety of tasks without an understanding what they’re supposed to achieve.
To create role clarity, you need to assign each of your employees specific goals, give them a timeline and budget (if necessary) for achieving them, and share anything that you don’t want them to do. With those requirements in mind, give them the autonomy to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals - including testing innovative new approaches as long as they stay on track with their deadlines.
To maintain role clarity, check in with your employees regularly to see if they’re on track and confident about what they’re working on.
3) Maintain a Collaborative Learning Culture
Autonomy and role clarity empower employees to quickly respond to challenges they face. However, it’s a collaborative learning culture that encourages people to act on those freedoms and develop innovative solutions.
Though every successful culture has unique values and qualities that make it special, there are a few key elements that all agile leaders promote:
Reward Agile Successes
Everyone craves validation at work. When managers frequently praise people who proactively solve problems, make quick decisions that lead to success, and demonstrate agility in other ways, it reinforces that employees should constantly adapt to changes in their environment and solve problems.
Use Failures as Learning Opportunities
Agility requires employees to pivot often and test new approaches. Inevitably, some of those new approaches will fail. To encourage employees to remain agile in the face of failure, help them learn from what went wrong and share their insights with the team so everyone can improve their practices moving forward.
Encourage Cross-Team Collaboration
People often lack the expertise to solve unexpected challenges on their own. To improve organizational efficiency, agile cultures encourage employees to collaborate with specialists outside of their team. Not only does this solve problems faster, it also creates a stronger culture since employees feel connected to multiple parts of the organization.
Having a stable culture where employees are encouraged to learn from failures and one another motivates them to develop innovative solutions that drive your organization forward.
How to Empower Your Team to Adapt Quickly
Once your team is equipped with a stable foundation, they can quickly adapt to new developments without creating chaos.
Here are three ways you can encourage your team to tackle problems faster:
- Use strategic agility to shift your team’s priorities
- Instill learning agility to empower employees to solve problems
- Ensure your team has adequate support
These three practices, combined with your stable foundation will significantly improve your organizational agility.
1) Use Strategic Agility to Shift Your Team’s Priorities
A core principle of the agile methodology is to frequently shift priorities based on what best meets the goals of the primary stakeholder (client, your department head, etc.). This allows your team to work on the projects that will drive your success based on the latest data instead of what you thought would be successful six months ago.
Strategic agility involves carefully observing your market and organizational capabilities to set short-term goals that have maximum impact. To do this, you must develop an acute awareness of what factors may affect your team’s success and how. Once you’re aware of those factors, use them to continuously shift your team’s priorities.
- Create a backlog of project ideas that your team could work on.
- Commit to working in sprints of 1-4 weeks depending on how long it takes your team to complete small goals.
- At the start of every sprint, assign your team the goals that will have the greatest impact in your sprint period.
- At the end of every sprint, review the work that was completed, evaluate if anything that was done shifts your understanding of your project and goals, and decide to rollover incomplete tasks or start from scratch for the next sprint.
- Repeat this process every sprint cycle.
Working brief cycles allows you to continuously adapt your team’s priorities based on changes in the market and other factors that may affect their success.
To improve your ability to set strategic priorities, check out our article:
2) Instill Learning Agility to Empower Employees to Solve Problems
Unlike typical employees who rely solely on their existing knowledge to do their work, agile learners are constantly absorbing new information and using it to do their jobs more effectively.
According to the Korn Ferry Institute, agile learners are some of the most effective employees because of their impressive ability to solve problems and improve existing projects. Thus, cultivating learning agility plays a key role in driving your organization’s success.
Most employees have the ability to be agile learners. However, they lack the motivation and perceived freedom to learn freely at work. To instill learning agility in your employees, you need to tie their success to continuous learning. Here’s how:
- Challenge your employees to generate innovative solutions. When your employees come to you with problems, don’t immediately help them. Instead, encourage them to brainstorm a few solutions and offer to give them feedback on what they come up with.
- Constantly ask your employees “why?” Often, employees don’t learn because they think they know everything about their jobs. Frequently asking them why they make decisions forces them to think deeper about what they’re doing and identify gaps in their knowledge that they need to fill.
- Host post-mortem meetings. Agile learners are great at deriving insights from completed projects so they can repeat successes and avoid making the same mistakes again. After every project, ask your employees what went well, what went poorly, and what they’re going to do to improve on future projects. This turns every project into a learning experience.
- Give them the resources to learn. Though most of your team’s learning will be tied to their projects, some employees may want or need to access resources to learn new skills. If your company doesn’t already have a professional development program, find a way to give your team access to online courses, seminars, or other learning resources.
Encouraging your employees to think deeper about their projects and their knowledge gaps, transforms them into agile learners who are equipped to thrive in an increasingly agile organization.
To learn more about promoting learning agility, check out our article:
3) Ensure Your Team Has Adequate Support
A global productivity study found that the average office worker spends a third of their time on repetitive admin tasks including data entry/cleaning, scheduling, expense reporting, workflow management, etc.
If you want your team to respond to changes with maximum agility, you need to give your top performers support to offload those tedious tasks so that they have the time to focus on solving problems. Though assistants may be an expensive resource, they’re an effective investment in organizational agility since they empower your most innovative employees to produce better results faster.
If your company lacks the time and/or resources to hire and manage a team of assistants, consider leveraging a managed, outsourced provider. Hiring a managed service as opposed to freelance VAs provides you with greater agility since they offer several benefits including:
- An Engagement Manager who ensures your assistants meet your expectations
- Backup service so you never go a business day without support
- A strong security infrastructure since all VAs work in monitored offices