I’ve synthesized the broad traits of agile organizations, based on research and experience helping clients transform into more agile businesses. For a deeper dive into the specifics of how to measure business agility, I recommend the Business Agility Institute’s Domains of Business Agility as an excellent resource.
Key Traits of an Agile Business: How Does Your Business Measure Up?
The customer is central to everything you do — and every employee knows it.
Key question: Do you have a clear vision or “North Star” that conveys your customer-first mission to all employees and stakeholders?
“Putting the customer first” is the essential thread woven throughout an agile organization. Here are a few good examples of customer-first mission statements:
- LinkedIn: “The mission of LinkedIn is simple: connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.”
- Procter & Gamble: “We will provide branded products and services of superior quality and value that improve the lives of the world’s consumers, now and for generations to come.”
- Google: “Our mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
All of the above statements are customer-focused statements prominently displayed internally and externally. A vision statement alone does not ensure agility, but it’s a notable attribute of many agile organizations.
“Putting the customer first” is the essential thread woven throughout an agile organization.
2. Your organization focuses on business outcomes over work outcomes.
Key question: Is your organization driven by outcomes that provide value for your customer?
Agile organizations are outcome-oriented with process, measurement, and resource allocation.
Rather than having siloed roles by function, teams pool their specialties and work together to build customer-focused products and outcomes. Agile teams are measured on their outcomes and not their output.
For example, an agile marketing team might band together to produce an email campaign that provides value for customers. The project is measured by how well it delivered on the goal (e.g. converting customers), not based on output metrics like the number of emails sent. Future funding and resource allocation is determined on the outcome of the campaign.
Agile teams are measured on their outcomes and not their output.
3. You are investing in next-generation technology and already looking ahead.
Key question: Do you have technology that enables agility and is tied in to your strategic objectives?
Technology should help your business move forward: assist with outcome-oriented processes, foster collaboration, and provide access to the information workers need to make decisions. For example, project and work management software (e.g. monday.com, Confluence, and Jira) is a growing part of the tech stack. These tools help manage workflow and provide visibility into activities and goals, keeping agile teams action-oriented. Additionally, tools like Tableau provide a layer of business intelligence on top of business software, turning data into actionable insights.
Beyond having the latest technology, an agile organization commits to continually introducing disruptive technologies, staying proactive rather than reactive.
4. Leadership not only communicates but also demonstrates a message about agility.
Key question: Is agility and transformation visible on your leadership team?
This is a tough one. Unfortunately, transformation sometimes starts from the bottom up. But to be successful, it also has to come from the top down.
Leadership is by far the top cited challenge among organizations surveyed recently for the 2020 Business Agility Report. Even when leaders provide lip service to a message of transformation, their actions might reflect legacy culture. The report recommends that “leaders should strive to be mindful of their leadership style to ensure that it is consistent with the goals that the business agility journey is trying to achieve.”
“Leaders should strive to be mindful of their leadership style to ensure that it is consistent with the goals that the business agility journey is trying to achieve.” — the Business Agility Institute
5. Employees aren’t afraid to make decisions or to fail.
Key question: Do employees feel comfortable taking risks?
According to the Business Agility Report, a culture of always improving, learning, and experimenting is one of the top indicators of business agility.
However, like leadership, the overall culture and mindset of an organization can be the most difficult aspect to overcome. Corporate culture is a liability for many (if not most) companies — something COVID hasn’t made any easier — and is an area many companies must continue to address.
Truly agile companies are not afraid to try out new things, even if they don’t work out.
6. The hiring process emphasizes finding employees who believe in the mission.
Key question: Are you hiring the people that thrive in an agile culture?
HR is crucial to creating the future agile workforce in many ways, including the hiring process. Rather than just looking for candidates with the job skills, hiring managers and recruiters also have to look for candidates with skills like collaboration, resilience, and adaptability. Companies like ING have taken agile to the next level, reinterviewing current employees to create a new flat culture.
Hiring outside experts and freelancers (i.e. agile talent) to work alongside full-time employees is another way companies stay flexible and innovative. Access to an outside pool of resources enables companies to efficiently solve problems and capitalize on opportunities.
What’s Next to Improve Business Agility at Your Organization?
The above list is not exhaustive, but I hope it’s helpful as you consider how to measure business agility at your organization. Some of these attributes are more difficult to achieve than others, but overall, even checking off one item means you have come further than many other companies. With the right process and culture improvements, you could be on your way to becoming an agile organization, resulting in better efficiency, happier customers, and, ultimately, improved company performance overall.
Boris Berenberg is the founder of Atlas Authority.