Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Are You Agile Enough for the New Business Economy?

Prior to the recession, many companies and even startups were acclimated to prosperity, maybe too comfortable. We have now been through some turbulent times, but has your strategy really changed? All too many simply hunkered down to wait out the economy.

Smart entrepreneurs are making changes now, to be more agile in defining strategy, making organizational changes, and analyzing markets for change. The rebound may be here, but business will never be the same. Look for new volatility, caused by inflation or deflation, new government regulations, and of course new technology and even more determined competitors.

These volatile markets are already creating unexpected opportunities and risks – you must be alert and agile enough to spot them and adapt quickly to survive and prosper. Here are the key aspects of agility requiring focus:

  • Eliminating bureaucracy. Inflexible organizational structures can exist in small organizations, as well as large ones. Organizations, as small as a single person, are made up of people – and inflexible people are the real problem. Make sure your team consists wholly of people who are open-minded, empowered, and motivated.
  • Proactive pursuit of new markets. An agile business listens to customers and proactively embraces change, rather than waiting for the pain of competitors’ arrows. Because change is perpetual, make sure you have a process for innovation and an ongoing program to adapt to new opportunities.
  • Constant redefinition of roles. If your key roles and titles have not changed for as long as you can remember, they are likely obsolete. If any given person has been in the same role for as long as you can remember, that person is likely obsolete. Rotating good people to new roles keep both them and their new roles agile. Eliminate deadwood.
  • Plan to innovate. Sustainable innovation is really the only sustainable competitive advantage. But innovation doesn’t happen without a process, and requires commitment from every member of the team. Track results and measure ROI.
  • Speedy strategy to execution. Create a performance culture, rather than analysis paralysis. Once the decision is made, automate, and outsource functions that are not core to the business. If it routinely takes you six months to change a process, your company is still in the dark ages.
  • Quick to fail. If your new idea doesn’t seem to be working, don’t hang on to it forever. With innovation, we know many great new ideas don’t work out. Make sure you have a process in place to measure progress and success, or to discard untenable ideas, before you spend a fortune in dollars and time.
  • It starts at the top. An agile company starts with agile leadership at the top. It’s up to you to communicate the message, manage resources, and ensure fluid movement between people and projects. Managing change is not an element of your job as a business leader; it is the job.

Increasing the agility of your company is not a “big bang” one-time effort. It’s making hundreds of small adjustments every day to reduce costs, increase revenues, and penetrate new markets. All you need are profits that are two to four percent higher than the market average to stay ahead of your competitors.

Simply put, business agility means being proactive and quickly able to adapt to change. It can exist in any company at three levels at least; operational agility, organizational agility, and strategic agility. Where is your company today in this spectrum? The rebound is happening.

Marty Zwilling


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