A word that’s enjoying a lot of attention in boardrooms these days is “agility”.
But, while many executives are engaging in energetic discussions about it, their organisations remain anything but agile.
Agility in a business context involves a number of things, one of them being speed. Simply put, agile leaders and agile companies will move at a faster pace than those less agile.
It was Rupert Murdoch who said that big will not beat small anymore but that it will be the fast beating the slow. That’s why agility has become the new mantra for companies which are brave enough to ditch ego-driven leaders in favour of humble leaders who operate not on the basis of power but of influence – leaders who don’t take themselves so seriously that they have to consider a decision for ages because they are too afraid of failing.
Many companies will take themselves out of the game, not because they don’t offer good products or services, but because they simply aren’t able to move faster than, or as fast as, their competitors.
Few businesses understand what determines the speed of a business and what determines its agility. In a nutshell, the most fundamental determinant of a business’s agility is the speed at which it makes decisions – from top to bottom – AND the speed at which those decisions are implemented. Slow decision making translates into a slow moving company and vice versa. But fast decisions on their own are not enough. Decisions which are not implemented are of no value whatsoever. A decision is therefore only as good as its implementation.
While everybody talks about the need to move fast and to be more agile, the talk does not translate into action.
If you want to test the speed of your business, start keeping track of the time it takes for decisions to be made from when an idea, concept or proposal first sees the light of day. Then keep track of the time it takes for those decisions to be implemented.
In some cases, companies take months and even years to make decisions about something, then take a further number of months or years to actually implement the decision. By that time, the landscape has changed and the decision that was initially required has become irrelevant in the rapidly changing world of work.
Over the past three months, I have been engaged in conversations with a number of large companies with a view to helping their leaders become more agile. Their senior managers are very keen on the idea, are committed to it in principle but, when the proposal goes to the executive team ... nothing happens.
In the case of the companies I referred to, three months – a quarter of the year – have now gone by with no decisions having been made.
What influences the speed of decision making? There are a number of things. Here are just two of them.
The priorities of the leadership team play a major role in what decisions get made. Whatever is important to people gets their attention so, if something is not considered a priority, it doesn’t get the necessary attention and no decision is made. Boardroom talk about agility being important is therefore just that – talk. Those engaging in the “talk” obviously don’t really understand the priority of the need to increase their agility.
Fear of failure
Another factor that influences decision making is the fear of failure. Many leaders avoid making a decision simply because they’re afraid of getting it wrong – afraid of failing. Obviously, I’m not advocating that agile leaders should be so unconcerned about failure that they make reckless, ill-considered decisions which result in waste, loss and other setbacks. All decisions involve calculated risks. In the new world of work, however, one has to have a different mindset from the one that interpreted all failure as being the result of inefficiency or incompetence. Today, companies will experience a certain amount of failure simply because they have to try new things – things no-one else has tried. And when you do that, you’re going to find that some things don’t work out. So, the old cliché of “Fail forward and fail fast” applies.
If you want to start building an agile company, start encouraging your leaders to work at increasing the speed and implementation of their decisions.
Alan Hosking is the Publisher of HR Future magazine, www.hrfuture.net, @HRFuturemag. He is a recognised authority on leadership skills for the future and helps business leaders learn to lead with purpose and agility. He was named by US-based web site Disruptordaily.com as one of the "Top 25 Future of Work Influencers to Follow on Twitter".