A simple 8 question test for gauging your company’s agility.
Christopher McDougall in his book: Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen sets off to find a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners and to learn their secrets. In a thought provoking examination of culture and life’s purpose, he comes upon the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico’s Copper Canyon and learns a great deal about them and himself in the process. Lessons that ring true to many business leaders. Among the book’s quotes that many find inspirational or at least motivating (probably from some African tribal saying) is this:
“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.”
Is it enough to be faster? As a young boy, I used to have this silly notion that if I were in the Serengeti and being chased by a lion or a bull elephant, I would run from it and just as it was to pounce on me or trample me, that I would adroitly leap to the left or right, evade and confound the dumb animal and finally have him walk away in frustration that he couldn’t catch me. In short order, when an agile soccer player ran circles around me, when I couldn’t run away from a football opponent, when the skilled basketball player would toss the ball between my legs, catch it on the other side and laugh on his way to an easy basket, I concluded that the lion/elephant theory was not that well thought out and oh, by the way in terms of agility, they had four legs to my two uncoordinated ones. This changed my life perspective.
Today, we work with a lot of organizations on becoming more agile; but what does that mean? Why is it important?
We recently posted an article about change and agility that references a well-known quote from the former CEO of General Electric Jack Welch: “If the rate of change outside (your organization) exceeds the rate inside, the end is near.” This pretty much sums up the need to be agile and be more so than your competitors since they are dealing with the same market forces, and as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus reminded us in 500 BC: “It is not possible to step in the same river twice” and the well-known aphorisms, “the sun is new each day.” And “There is nothing permanent except change.” This sounds great on paper but how does one translate it into action in a large social organization? The world ischanging around us all the time!
Last week Gallup published a thought provoking piece entitled “The Real Future of Work: The Agility Issue”. The report is based upon workplace review by Gallup and in this case targeted responses to two statements:
“In my company we have the right mindset to respond quickly to business needs”
“In my company we have the right tools and processes to respond quickly to business needs.”
The responses pointed to three elements that tend to define an agile organization:
Speed and Efficiency
Freedom to Experiment
Communication and Collaboration
If you want to see how this applies to your organization, we recommend that you poll a large cross section of your workforce with a simple set of criteria – the same criteria that helped Gallup develop its conclusions – and ask them what they think. Try seeking responses and summing results from a scale 1 to 5/Low to High scoring of the following eight statements:
As an organization -
We make quick decisions
We use technology to enable our processes
We are simplicity focused
Employees are empowered and trusted
There is an openness to risk
We encourage innovation and experimentation
We have good interdepartmental cooperation
We are good at knowledge sharing
By querying your workforce and tabulating the results, you will get a good, quick sense where you stand. This is information you can glean in very short order and that will tend to get you focused on ways to improve.
Indeed these are traits that one might attribute to young and entrepreneurial organizations but they tend to define perennially successful and agile organizations. This goes a step further into the motivation of your entire workforce. The study goes on to conclude that “Employees who view their company as ‘Agile’ are significantly more likely than those who don’t to have confidence in its financial future”, and that can be empowering AND motivating for the workers in your company.
How do highly agile businesses get there? According to Gallup,
“Agile companies are grounded in strong customer centric cultures”.
It certainly is easier to make decisions and to act quickly and efficiently if it’s not because “I said so” but rather because that’s what the customer and the market are asking for. On September 12, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, led off the introduction of their new products including the Series 4 Apple Watch by stating “at Apple we aim to put the customer at the center of everything we do.” Sage advice and a simple strategy from the most agile behemoth out there.
Because I am having nightmares of Lion attacks in my personal life, doesn’t mean you should in your professional life. Take the simple test. Learn from your employees and customers and move your organization to a better place – with agility.