Sunday, July 8, 2012

Business Agility: A Model for Improving Responsiveness – Pt. 2

This post concludes the series on business agility which I first explored in the March 25 post.


Rely on A Good Compass, Not Maps
Today’s business environment changes too rapidly for a detailed and rigid business construct to remain viable for very long.  No matter how detailed you try to make a business map it will eventually mislead you.  Developing a “compass,” however, allows you to navigate territory with a sense of direction, purpose, and by using currently available intelligence and resources to create a path forward. Here again, emphasis is placed on organic strategy, one that anticipates changing opportunities and risks, is purposely alert for their signals, and which allows for mid-course corrections. 

Cultivate Resilience Instead of Strength
Organizations that try to resist failure at all costs view doing so as a strength, often touting that this preserves resources and improves efficiency.  That may indeed be true, but it also limits the amount of experimentation constituents feel empowered to undertake, which in turn can limit the acquisition of knowledge and discovery of opportunities.  There is also the issue of speed.  High intolerance to risk requires than any new initiative or idea be thoroughly vetted by all levels of the organization before approval to proceed is granted, thereby delaying benefits of the initiative (assuming it does not die on the vine in the process).  Entrepreneurial organizations take a different approach entirely.  Here, “failing early and often” is viewed as a learning process that increases knowledge and contributes to future success.  While no one would suggest that all organizations should be entrepreneurial in nature, it is fair to suggest that those which are strongly oriented in the risk averse direction consider the costs of their stance.  Focusing on organizational structures and governance that improve resiliency provides the ability to accept reasonable risk with the assurance the organization can recover when needed.  This generally means a less autocratic structure with “check, plan, communicate, act” systems in place to speed response at the tactical level.

Pull Instead of Push
One common attribute of agile organizations is that they invariably share robust networks.  Social connections among participants provide access to intelligence and resources.  Affect networks are based in shared motives, expectation and business or operational norms.  Cognitive networks focus on shared understanding, common definitions of work, and supportive systems for doing the work.  These networks do not act alone.  While each has its own core there is significant overlap, allowing each type of network to influence the others.  Information, resources, strategies, and operational norms are all shared with trusted partners making resources outside the “home” organization available.  Leveraging these networks can provide opportunities for increasing flexibility and better aligning resources with the need of the hour.  For example, a company may choose not to fully staff and thereby consume labor resource funds when work is fluid and requirements shift.  In this case a company may choose instead to maintain a funding pool which allows it to procure specific skill sets and knowledge on an as-needed basis exactly when the need exists.

Business agility strives to create an environment at all three levels (strategic, operational, episodic) that promotes responsiveness to changing business conditions while avoiding the chaos and trauma that can paralyze an organization undergoing change.  Making increased sensitivity to conditions and robust responsiveness characteristic creates an environment where change is expected and less threatening.  In today’s shifting landscape those are valuable traits, especially in the FM arena.

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