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How important is organizational agility in an economic downturn?

In this article, learn how agile organizations adapt quickly to change and foster innovation to survive and thrive in uncertain business environments.

Published by Orgvue 

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Organizations face tough economic times in the year ahead. Not only that, the pace of change and frequency of disruptive business conditions is unprecedented. It seems there’s a new crisis every few months that leaders need to navigate.

Not surprisingly, being able to adapt and pivot without warning is becoming increasingly important to avoiding the worst of the fallout. This explains the surge in interest in organizational agility.

A study by McKinsey found that agile organizations have a 30% chance of outperforming their rivals. These organizations are also five to ten times faster at driving change and decision making.

This is because agile organizations have a simplified operating model that enables them to adapt quickly, and empowers them to experiment and learn from their mistakes. Organizational agility also encourages innovation and continuous improvement, which leads to competitive advantage.

What is organizational agility?

Agility refers to an organization’s ability to effectively respond to changes in its environment, such as shifting market conditions or technological advancements. An agile organization is characterized by a level of flexibility that enables it to adjust its strategy, processes, and structures quickly to meet new challenges and opportunities.

This is increasingly important in today’s uncertain business environment, where black swan events and sudden changes in customer behavior have made it necessary for organizations to be able to pivot at a moment’s notice to stay competitive.

When better equipped to identify and capitalize on new trends, mitigate risks, and overcome obstacles, businesses are on much more stable ground to survive and thrive through economic difficulties.

There are three main components to agility, these being strategy, operations, and culture. Achieving organizational agility requires a holistic approach that addresses all three:

  • Strategic agility is an organization’s ability to quickly adapt its strategy to deal with new threats. This requires a deep understanding of the market, the customer, and its workforce, as well as a willingness to take chances. Businesses that are strategically agile are constantly scanning the market to anticipate challenges and opportunities, so they can adjust their strategy accordingly.
  • Operational agility is an organization’s ability to quickly adapt its operations in response to changes in the market or customer needs. This requires a flexible and scalable infrastructure, as well as agile processes and workflows. Businesses that are operationally agile can quickly pivot their operations to meet new demands, such as restructuring their workforce to manage changing customer behavior during a recession.
  • Cultural agility is an organization’s ability to foster a culture of agility and innovation from within. As well as being receptive to experimenting and failing fast, businesses that are culturally agile encourage their employees to think creatively, take risks, and challenge the status quo. This approach can lead to breakthrough innovations and a competitive edge in the market.

How can organizations become more agile during an economic downturn?

We don’t underestimate the fact that cost pressures arising in the face of recession inject an urgency into decision making and that business leaders need to take action quickly to limit any damage to the organization. That said, we believe making decisions that are exclusively short term is not the way to tackle a downturn.

The core principles of agility can offer organizations a way out of short-term thinking that keep one eye on the future. By beginning to introduce these principles, businesses can benefit from the responsiveness and adaptability that organizational agility brings.

There are several factors that contribute to organizational agility that business leaders can begin to encourage and endorse. These include:

  • A focus on innovation: Agile organizations are characterized by a culture of continuous learning and improvement. These organizations often have flatter hierarchies and more flexible structures, which enable them to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and experiment as they go.
  • Data and analytics capabilities: In order to be agile, organizations need to be able to quickly gather, synthesize, and draw insight from data about their workforce. This requires a strong data and analytics infrastructure, as well as a culture of data-driven decision making. See how Orgvue helps organizations use data to drive agility in our Agile organizations solution brief.
  • Collaboration and teamwork: Agile organizations prioritize collaboration and teamwork, since they recognize that cross-functional teams are often better equipped to solve complex problems than individual teams working in silos. This also gives leaders a clearer view of the talent and skillsets they have at their disposal.
  • Flexible and scalable infrastructure: Organizations increasingly invest in technologies and processes that allow them to pivot their operations quickly to meet new demands. This can include cloud-based systems, agile workflows, and modular production lines.

Creating an agile culture

It’s important to recognize that agility doesn’t happen overnight but that you can begin small. Fundamentally, agility a different culture and mindset that needs the right environment for it to thrive, rather than it being a box-ticking exercise.

To become a truly agile organization requires a combination of the core principles, such as innovative thinking and quick, effective decision making, alongside data-driven processes that enable actionable insight. This combination will enable businesses to model scenarios that might arise during periods of economic uncertainty and act with confidence to ride out tough times.

Agile organizations

Successfully build, run and sustain agile structures.

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