Agility is one of the most important assets for modern businesses. Being agile is essential in an ever-changing business landscape where changes happen unpredictably and responding to these changes determines your success, even survival. The pandemic brought improving agility to the forefront; determining the survival of those businesses able to turn on a dime to respond to the world shutting down almost overnight. The value of adaptability and flexibility can’t be overstated. In this guide, we discuss steps you can take for improving agility in your organization.
So, what do we mean when we talk about improving agility? First, let’s take a look at what we mean by an agile business. According to Agile Business, an agile organization has the ability to:
Adapt quickly to market changes – internally and externally
Respond rapidly and flexibly to customer demands
Adapt and lead change in a productive and cost-effective way without compromising quality
Continuously be at a competitive advantage
Business agility is concerned with the adoption and evolution of values, behaviours and capabilities. These enable businesses and individuals to be more adaptive, creative and resilient when dealing with complexity, uncertainty and change leading to improved well-being and better outcomes.
Inherent in this discussion, improving agility requires a sensing organization that invests in understanding their market and predicts changes in that market in time to adapt strategies to survive and thrive with anticipated change. Obviously, this goes beyond relying on internal data but seeking external information regarding bellwethers of change. And, while you can’t always predict how the winds of change will blow, agile organizations develop contingency plans they can dust off and implement quickly when a change occurs rather than struggling to make decisions on the fly.
Certainly, no one predicted the Coronavirus pandemic, although there were signs as early as the fall of 2020 that something was brewing in China despite its lack of transparency. But, while pandemics are rare, scientists and business leaders, notably Bill Gates, predicted a global pandemic was inevitable and likely to happen sooner rather than later.
Businesses lagging behind others in terms of modernity are in a poor position to respond to change as they’re already behind the times. For instance, many small businesses didn’t have a functional website and even more businesses (both large and small) didn’t have an e-commerce operation capable of supporting the firm, especially local businesses reliant on face-to-face operations. Lockdowns shuttered the doors of restaurants and shops, even schools were shuttered. Those caught flatfooted had no backup plan; forcing many to close their doors. At Shenandoah University, where I work in my day job, we switched from nearly 100% in-class instruction to 100% virtual instruction (via Zoom) over the course of Spring break. From Wednesday, when the shutdown was announced, until Monday, we forced changes through the curriculum committee to allow remote instruction, held seminars and training sessions with faculty and staff who’d never used Zoom before the shutdown, trained students on using the technology, and made arrangements for students who’d left their books and nearly everything else they owned related to school on campus when they left for the break. This herculean task was possible because the university had contingency plans the made them agile so they could respond within days to a major shift in their operation.
Not only did this agility allow the university to survive, and even thrive with the largest freshman classes in both Fall 2020 and 2021, it highlighted opportunities to serve a larger market of students who couldn’t commit to coming to campus yet wanted something more than online education. Our programs are stronger for improving agility with planning and I now have students from up and down the East coast attending my Zoom classes.
Check out this image displaying the process involved in agile development to see some ways you can improve agility in your organization.
So, how can your business focus on improving agility? Here are a few tactics to try.
Investing in new technology
Technology kept the world spinning during the pandemic and highlighted the benefits of embracing innovation by upgrading and updating tech. Technology is capable of improving efficiency and saving businesses money, but crucially, it also provides companies with greater flexibility and the ability to move quickly to respond to challenges or capitalize on opportunities. Flexibility is key for company owners considering new staffing structures and working systems, such as remote and hybrid working, which relied heavily on cloud computing and strong cybersecurity to protect online assets. As more employees choose to work from home or opt to combine office-based and remote work, utilizing technology opens doors and facilitates a smooth transition.
When investing in new technology, entrepreneurs and business owners should look for innovations, equipment, or systems that offer benefits for their company. The choices you make will depend on the industry in which you operate, your budget, your requirements, and your primary business objectives. Research technological advances, speak to experts, and observe what technologies your competitors use before you make a decision to avoid jumping into every shiny new tech out there. If you have questions like ‘what is AV over IP?’ or you’re not up to speed with the benefits of automation or the latest developments in manufacturing, seek expert advice to identify the best additions or upgrades for your company.
Flexible staffing options
The majority of businesses have a core team, but it is increasingly popular to utilize flexible staffing options, including outsourcing, offering short-term contracts, and hiring contractors or freelancers to take on specific projects. If you have access to individuals or agencies that have skills that you don’t have in-house, you can enhance the overall performance of the business, adapt to cater to new trends and buying habits, develop products and services, and free up time for your on-site employees to focus on priority tasks.
Rather than an alternative to hiring employees, flexible staffing options allow you quickly expand and contract your workforce to meet demands. For instance, if you added an e-commerce page to your website in response to the pandemic, you may have used an agency or hired a freelancer to get you up to speed quickly. If you determine to continue your e-commerce business, you might hire an employee to take over the marketing and management of your e-commerce site rather than continue outsourcing this operation.
Innovation, research, and development
There is no time to stand still in business. If you rest on your laurels, there is a risk of losing customers to competitors. Improving agility and ensuring that you blaze a trail rather than following in the footsteps of your rivals, requires you to invest in innovation, research, and development. Keep an eye on emerging trends, engage with your clients and employees to address weaknesses and identify opportunities and aim for continuous improvement by monitoring performance levels. Small and medium-sized businesses may not have a huge budget available for research and development, but there are advantages to dedicating even a relatively small amount of money to the cause. It may also be possible to benefit from incentives offered by governments depending on where you live.
The pandemic is a prime example of the unpredictability of life. Nobody knows what the future holds, and this is why it’s so crucial for business owners to understand the importance of agility and adaptability. If your organization is agile, you can minimize risks and disruptions, identify and capitalize on new trends and opportunities and adjust the way you work to increase productivity, save money and provide superior products and services for customers. I hope this post offers options for improving agility.
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