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Building an Agile Organization

Updated on November 9, 2014
Nature's Agility
Nature's Agility | Source

Agile leaders understand that we live in a world of constant unrelenting change and prepare their organization for this present reality. The military refers to a V.U.C.A. world, a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world of unrelenting change. Being able to facilitate an organization to change and change again and then change again is the real focus of building agility at the foundation of an organization. A key aspect here is to be able to rethink the past…what worked before will probably not work now…so, at best, use it as a frame of reference or a benchmark for creatively thinking through the problems of today.

An agile leader finds ways to include stakeholders and to bring them along, carry them forward, here is where being able to “connect the dots” for employees is absolutely vital. Agile leaders will simultaneously use past experiences and adversity to forge ahead into the bright opportunistic future while helping employees to do the same.


Today there is great turbulence and disruption in organizations like never before. It is, therefore, important for organizations to be nimble and agile. The definition of organizational agility is the ability for an organization to learn and apply data and information rapidly in order to change or adapt to the latest market conditions. In the Twenty-first Century, organizations will need to adapt to the entrance of new competitors, rise up to meet economic challenges, respond to rapidly evolving technological advances, and other sudden shifts in the business environment.

The term “agility” was first coined in the 1990’s describing manufacturing facilities’ ability to respond to new customer demands. The use of the term has now been expanded to include the ability of agile organizations to leverage and engage “volunteers” within the organization.

Because of the complex environment of the Twenty-first Century and the rapid pace of change, it is very hard for organizations to do more than react to their environment. This why there is such great interest in agility.

Leadership agility like so many other leadership terms refers not to a single capacity but refers to how Senior Leaders set up, refer to, and frame up important organizational initiatives and strategic priorities while being aware of the different stakeholder's level of agility as well as the agility that exists within the senior management team. Stakeholders within organizations often must understand what is coming next so that they can cross reference this current situation from the vantage point of their past experiences. Does the leader of the organization understand where each of his or her direct reports stands on different initiatives, the critical strategic priorities, and the need for alignment on the upcoming organizational changes? Will the team be able to execute in unison to move the organization forward?

Changes in Winter
Changes in Winter | Source

What is dramatically different from the Twentieth Century is the need for leaders to be catalysts for agility and change. There is no place to easily learn about being a “catalyst” and so it is important of agile leaders to surround themselves with other agile leaders and individuals in order to ensure that a catalytic reaction occurs within the organization.

An agile organization strives to make change part of the fabric of organizational life so that the organization is able to evolve proactively as needed. In this manner, the organization is able to be nimble and change as needed and as opportunities or market challenges present themselves.

An agile organization possesses the data and information necessary to be able to make informed decisions on the fly and to anticipate the possible outcomes and the inherent risks of the decisions. No longer is it appropriate to plan and then execute in sequence, an agile organization plans while doing execution work simultaneously all while continuously adjusting and evolving the plans and execution work as needed. Organizations can also not wait until they have 100% of the information / date needed. They need to be able to make quick and decisive decisions with 70-80% of the information or risk missing capitalizing on an opportunity or market shift.

After the Ice
After the Ice | Source

The strongest rationale for being agile is that even though some of the changes are unpredictable and complex, all change eventually elicits some pattern that is familiar enough that allows the organization to plow forward while leveraging all of its past experiences as well as its new realities.

Going back to the definition of organizational agility which is an organizations ability to learn and apply data and information rapidly in order to change or adapt to the latest market conditions, I would only add one facet and that is to ensure that organizations change and adapt in “productive and cost-effective ways” to the latest market conditions. Now you have the Twenty-first Century definition of organizational agility.

How has your organization created or leveraged its agility?

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