March 6, 2020

The challenges of agility

Foresight and culture matter for organisations preparing to make the leap and overcome the challenges of agility

Agility is growing in importance in Thailand’s business landscape. It is not a new concept, but its popularity among Thai businesses has been booming in line with the rise of startup culture and new ways of doing things.

Agility is about adapting to the changes in our world in a speedy manner. But agility isn’t just about speed, it is also about how an individual or organisation can respond and execute to make the changes necessary to stay relevant.

Startups are known for their agile nature. Many have been able to grow exponentially because they stress quick adaptability throughout the organisation as a whole. In other words, startups are successful at being agile because everyone from their leaders to their frontline workers are expected to adopt it. The larger an organisation gets, the more difficult agility becomes.

According to a study by the Business Agility Institute, a business working towards becoming an agile organisation faces three key challenges.

The first challenge is leadership. Leadership roles will find it difficult to make a shift, especially in large organisations that are used to the usual way of doing things. This can tie in with the deep-rooted culture of the organisation, especially one that has been running successfully for decades.

For leaders in these roles, the question they most likely ask themselves is: why create unnecessary problems by implementing new, untested ways when the current way has made us successful?

Another challenge that organisations face when they’re looking to become agile is the possible lack of buy-in, especially among your decision-makers and top management. This closely ties in with the first challenge, and in both cases the key issue is “culture”.

Without enough buy-in from decision-makers, organisations will find doing things tougher, sometimes even impossible. But the proper buy-in can happen when organisations communicate effectively to leaders and their people alike why agility is necessary.

The third challenge is organisational design, or lack of it. Often, organisations see agility as small projects involving only some departments and teams. But the truth is, agility must be implemented as part of the overall strategy for all departments and teams.

ALL OR NOTHING

To fully understand why agility must be adopted throughout the whole organisation, imagine this scenario. If only one department is expected to be agile, it could work with tasks within the department itself. But what happens when you need to work with other departments? When others are not agile, it breaks your agile process.

The institute’s study highlighted other challenges, with more than 40% of those challenges identified as human-based behaviours. This means organisations need to promote learning on the what, why and how of agility.

In the animal kingdom, prey have developed the ability to sense impending danger from predators and react before something bad happens to them. Agility works the same way. As an organisation, waiting to react to something bad that might happen, or for an opportunity to come your way, isn’t agility anymore.

Agility requires the organisation to predict or sense a pending danger or opportunity. This allows them to prepare people for change and adapt to it when it arrives at speed.

To overcome many of the challenges that organisations face when they want to become agile, people must be able to foresee problems and opportunities and plan how to react to them.

CULTURAL CONTEXT

Startups face a unique set of challenges in their own context. Everyone in a startup organisation is expected to be agile. Therefore, startups generally and relatively find it easier to be agile.

When an organisation approaches agility, it isn’t about going against its own culture; rather, it is about making agility part of the foundation of an already strong culture. Organisations cannot become agile if they do not place agility into the foundation. However, it easier said than done.

Moving forward, organisations have three things to bear in mind when implementing agility. First, the challenges that might come with it, foreseeing upcoming challenges and opportunities. Second, placing agility at the heart of the organisational culture.

The reality is agility is extremely difficult to drive in an organisation. There will always be challenges to face and problems that stop us in our tracks or threaten the business. The only way for us to stay relevant — as an individual and as an organisation — is to make sure we’re agile enough to overcome them.


Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup), Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at arinya_t@new.seasiacenter.com