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We are living in a time of great change. Bigger change. Faster change. More complex change. More cross-functional change. More multi-disciplinary change. At the same time, we are more connected and processing more information than we ever have had in the past.
To be successful in this environment of rapid, concurrent and never-ending change, organizations must grow their change agility not just to thrive, but to survive. In fact, senior leaders are starting to acknowledge how important agility is to their success. In a PwC survey of 1150 CEOs, 76% said that their ability to adapt to change will be a key source of competitive advantage in the future. A study by McKinsey found that 9 out of 10 executives said organizational agility was critical to business success and growing in importance over time. And the Project Management Institute's Organizational Agility Report introduced the following equation: greater organizational agility = better performance = improved competitive advantage.
The winners of the future will be those who can out-change the competition and the market. While agility is getting plenty of publicity, there is still a gap in understanding what agility really means and what attributes agile organizations share. This paper explores organizational agility to add clarity, shared understanding and direction for those who are committing to building this crucial capability.
What Does Agility Really Mean?
“Agility” has certainly gained buzz status in recent years. Across the literature, you’ll discover many different definitions of agility. Below are just a few:
- “The power of moving quickly and easily; nimbleness” - Random House Dictionary
- “The capacity to identify and capture opportunities more quickly than rivals do” - McKinsey Quarterly article "Competing through organizational agility"
- “Take advantage of change – whether planned or unexpected – without ever letting it sideline you” - PricewaterhouseCoopers article "How to build an agile foundation for change"
- “The ability to transform information into insight in response to market movements” - The Economist article "Organisational agility: How business can survive and thrive in turbulent times"
- “The result of integrating alertness to changes with a capability to use resources in responding to such changes, all in a timely, flexible, affordable, relevant manner” - Holsapple and Li article "Understanding Organizational Agility: A Work-Design Perspective"
- “Nimble organization: one that has a sustained ability to quickly and effectively respond to the demands of change while continually delivering high performance” - Daryl Conner article "The Characteristics of Nimble Execution"
- “An always present ability to manage multiple, complex portfolios of change” - Accenture podcast "Corporate agility, Working at the speed of opportunity"
- “The speed and ability of a business to identify and react to internal and external events that could and do occur.” - EYGM Limited article "Optimizing and balancing corporate agility for insurers"
Each of these definitions offer glimpses into the definition of agility, and there are some common themes that emerged across many of the definitions. Prosci synthesized these definitions to arrive at six definition components:
- Always present ability in the fabric of the organization
- Out-changing the competition
- Anticipating/tuned in to coming changes
- Increasing speed/quickness at change
- Both proactive (planned) and reactive (unplanned)
- Minimal disruption; not side-lining you
Prosci conducted a webinar on building organizational agility with over 500 participants. During the webinar, attendees voted for which definition components resonated the most for them. The results shown below indicate that three definition elements were favored: an always present ability in the fabric of the organization, anticipating and being tuned in to coming changes, and preparation for both proactive (planned) and reactive (unplanned) changes.
While there is not a singular view or definition of “organizational agility,” there is value and added depth to the “agility” conversation from exploring the various components of the definition to see which make sense and will resonate with your colleagues, coworkers and collaborators.
What Are the Attributes of an Agile Organization?
After exploring the definition, the conversation quickly shifts to: what attributes do agile organizations share that make them agile? As with the definition, there are various perspectives put forth in this arena. Prosci surveyed the literature and found a number of contributors who provided their own “pillars” of agile organizations:
- PMI provides 3
- PwC provides 5
- Accenture provides 9
- xPlane provides 8
- Conner provides 7
Based on this collection of input, along with our own research and experience with clients, Prosci created the 10 attributes of agile organizations.
We wrote these 10 attributes as “we” statements to provide a certain context as well as enable evaluation in an Agility Attributes Assessment. At the simplest form, consider each statement and rank your organization on a Strongly disagree – Strongly agree scale. The result could look something like what is shown below:
During Prosci’s “Building Organizational Agility” webinar, over 250 participants completed the assessment described above in real-time. The results are shown below.
The attributes that respondents scored the highest were:
- We encourage cross-organizational collaboration
- We anticipate and plan for changes
- We have enhanced risk management practices
The attributes that respondents scored the lowest were:
- We are fast at decision making
- We effectively prioritize and manage our change portfolio
- We have human capital (talent) strategies supporting agility
Given the changing world and executive attention being paid to agility, there is tremendous potential to help embed agility as a “state of being” for organizations who want to be the winners of the future.
Change Management Capability as a Crucial Enabler
We started exploring change agility given the fact that an organizational change management capability shows up so prominently as a crucial enabler of agility. It is one of the three PMI pillars, one of the five PwC pillars and two of the nine Accenture pillars. Prosci has spent over a decade researching and developing how organizations move past a project-by-project approach to change management and build true organizational change management capability. Here are a few areas where Prosci helps bring this research and development to life:
- Prosci’s 2016 edition of Best Practices in Change Management has an entire chapter focused on change management capability (learn more)
- Prosci’s Enterprise Change Management (ECM) Boot Camp is a one-day training program on how to apply structure and intent to the Enterprise Change Management effort (learn more)
- Prosci’s ECM Roadmap is an online narrative tool for treating the Enterprise Change Management journey as a project and a change (learn more)
- Prosci’s Strategic Alignment Workshop provides the research-based framework to baseline your current change maturity, define your desired future state, and develop a multi-year roadmap to close the gap (learn more)
- Prosci’s Deployment Support Advisory Services offers clients coaching and support to accelerate the results along your change management journey (learn more)
What This Means for You
The velocity of change is not slowing down and the importance of delivering expected results and outcomes in times of change is only increasing. In order to out-change the competition, customer demands and the markets, organizations need to take seriously the effort of building their change agility to equip themselves for what lies ahead.