The Case for Organizational Agility

Over the course of my career, I have created nine new organizations at various levels (four were my own companies); I have renovated four others that were under-performing; and I have redesigned two that were performing well enough, but were not properly tooled for the challenges headed their way.

From my experience, I can tell you that no matter what kind of organization you lead, I don’t care what kind it is, how big it is, what you do, or where you might fall in some larger organizational hierarchy, the source of every organization’s power—its power to be successful, however it defines success—comes from two things.

The first of those two things is how attuned they are to their customer.  Alignment is one level, and it is good; organizations that are well aligned with their customer are able to naturally meet their customer’s requirements.  Then there is symbiosis, which is a higher level.  Organizations operating at this level don’t strive to only meet their customer’s requirements; organizations operating at this strive to help their customer serve their customers—they understand their customer’s customers, and are able to create customer requirements to which any would be competitors would be compelled to respond.

The second of these two things is the organization’s capability to do what it says it is going to do—to honor its commitments.  This comes in two forms.  One is keeping the promises it makes—honoring its explicit commitments.  The other is meeting the expectations it creates—honoring its implicit commitments—because the emotional and psychological effect of a missed expectation is the same as that of a broken promise.

So, the source of every organization’s power to succeed comes from how attuned it is to its customers, and its ability to honor its commitments.  And it turns out that the organization’s ability to tune to their customer and honor their commitments are a function of two things: the effectiveness of the processes by which it does its work; and the health of the culture in which it conducts its work.  Both the organization’s processes and its culture must be highly reliable and highly adaptive to change—one without the other won’t work.

And if your organizational aspiration is one to create customer requirements to which your competitors will be compelled to respond, then your culture must be one of inquiry (versus obedience).  A culture of inquiry is one where:

  • The organization remains aroused to challenge (versus seeking a condition of ease).
  • There is transparency, and things are open to empirical challenge and adaptation.
  • There is the freedom (the expectation) that they will connect, create and surprise.

Unfortunately, in too many of today’s organizations: people’s time and the organization’s resources are squandered on bureaucratic nonsense and political crap; and their processes and culture are both afflicted with excessive, unnecessary friction.  As a result, the organization becomes bureaucratic, political, time-starved, resource-poor, and neurotic—work life sucks.  People in the organization feel like they are required to do their work in a way that is akin to being on a treadmill, with a sick idiot controlling the speed and incline.  Further, they feel like the work they are asked to produce is as if they are in a rut of mediocrity.  It is a joyless, too often a soulless, place—the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.

The Agile Philosophy can be an antidote to this organizational syndrome when it is designed into: the processes by which the organization does its work; and the culture in which it conducts its work.

Have you ever been told, “Work smarter, not harder?”  Well, here you go!  Work life doesn’t have to suck.  You’re the leader—fix it!

We’re agilityIRLWe help motivated leaders at all levels design agility into the leadership, management, and operation of their organization.


1 Response
  1. Kimberly Anne Johnson

    Pick up a copy of the book Team Talk and it is an excellent example of both project and organizational agility. I know the author through my work at 3M and the only successful Case Study in the book is 3M. However, through my new product development network I found out who one of the other organizations was and he confirmed that their failure as team was exactly his experience. It is a Case Study of Agile before the buzz emerged from the software development community.

    Creative regards,