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Given the increasing pace and unpredictability of change, it’s clear that Organisational Agility is a critical strategic capability for any ambitious business. Indeed, McKinsey found that three quarters of companies see Organisational Agility as a top 3 priority, while less than half had begun to address it at a company level. Given that this data was gathered between 2014 and 2107, I’d be astonished if it wasn’t a priority for more now.

Organisational Agility does not equal Agile

While Agile methods and organisational agility might be mutually supportive, let me be clear that they are not the same thing. I’m talking about agility as a characteristic of the organisation. A culture of agility, if you like.

Building agility into your culture

Developing a culture of agility doesn’t mean throwing away the culture that makes your business different and special (hopefully in a good way!). It’s about understanding how your current culture either support or detract from your ability to be more agile: or to create (innovate) and adapt to change, and making adjustments.

Cultural Styles, based on values

I think of culture in terms of eight cultural styles or lenses, based on values, to which your own corporate values will relate in some way. 

  • Alignment: goal-directed behaviour, planning and adherence to norms and standards (e.g. process)
  • Adaptability: Enthusiasm, openness to change and willingness to take risks / learn from mistakes
  • Creativity: Expression of ideas, experimentation, safety to be different (inclusion)
  • Disruption: Desire to improve, freedom to challenge, stimulus for innovation and change
  • Execution: Discipline, personal responsibility, accountability and professional mastery
  • Collaboration: Teamwork, practical support, collective responsibility
  • Compassion: Support for wellbeing, and the rights and needs of individuals
  • Community: Selflessness, emotional connection; care for e.g colleagues, customers

Although these are useful for differentiating and pinpointing your corporate culture, when we talk more specifically about a culture of agility, it is helpful to think more about how these styles can be engaged in support of the organisation’s ability to change itself.

All styles contribute to agility

Organisational Agility isn’t just a matter of spotting changes in the external environment and responding quickly to them, though that’s clearly part of the picture. Indeed, all of the above cultural styles have a part to play in agility. While the initiation of change is about responsiveness or a restless desire to improve, it’s critical that people can organise themselves effectively, that they stay focused on the strategic priorities, and that people are brought along for the journey. Without these ‘traditional’ elements of change delivery, the organisation is a characterised by headless chickens jumping from one initiative to the next, with no follow through or value.

It isn’t therefore, about saying that certain cultural styles are more important than others. That’s why becoming more agile isn’t necessarily a case of changing what’s special and unique about your culture. That would be like saying to an introvert, “you should try being an extravert”. It’s about understanding how each style can help you (and how it might also present you with challenges), and where your strengths and opportunities to become more agile lie.

Critical agility questions

You can do a quick assessment of your agility culture but asking these questions, and simply identifying where your stakeholders think that the organisation is relatively strong or weak. 

  • To what extent is there shared commitment to the long-term vision and mission of the organisation?
  • How open are our people to to change and ready to adapt to the current and future external environment?
  • How inclined are we challenge the status quo; to improve products, services, processes and plans in support of the overall goal?
  • How safe is it to express new and different ideas, to be different and to take risks?
  • How consistently do we demonstrate the discipline and determination to see change through to completion?
  • To what extent do people want and feel able to collaborate and support each other to succeed?
  • To what extent is there a sense of emotional engagement with the greater purpose of the organisation and its place in society? and
  • How able are people to manage their own physical and emotional needs, with support from colleagues and leaders?

Now, to what extent do the behaviours of your leaders, your policies and practices, and your processes enable these conditions? Where you can answer the questions positively, what are your sources of strength? How can you harness those to create change. Where are the opportunities to improve?

As these questions suggest, organisational agility means being able to pull on the right levers at the right time in order to innovate and create change. This does not only mean initiating change or coming up with good ideas, but being able to see them through to completion and bringing everyone along on the journey. 

I’m not suggesting that it will be easy. Indeed, you’ll find that you have to manage tensions between the styles, and you’ll find that your culture makes some of them easier to engage with than others. But have a go!

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