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Baba Prasad: Nimble; Make Yourself and Your Company Resilient in the Age of Constant Change

We can no longer afford to adapt slowly; at evolutionary rates. We need to be able to change rapidly. We have learned how to manage organizations by optimizing the use of various kinds of resources. We know how to structure organizations for optimal flows of control, goods, and information. The Taylorian mind-set of the business executive and business organization has to be expanded to include a mind-set of agility.

When we face a new situation or have a new problem to solve, we piece together various things we know to create a new solution; when we don’t know, we learn. We should move from models of strategy focused on assessing and managing risk to strategic thinking geared to deal with uncertainty. Today’s world is best described by one word: »turbulence«.

Ability is about combining speed with long-term vision. Other approaches to agility that emphasize short-term speed over long-term vision are about tactics, not about strategy. Agility is the ability to quickly adapt to changing environments and circumstances. Agility is never just about one thing; organizations always operate in business context that are inherently multidimensional and complex. The term strategic agility, combines two contradictory concepts: strategic implies slow-moving and long-term, while agility connotes speedy, short-term orientation. Strategic agility brings together two fields that were traditionally thought to be separated: leadership development and competitive strategy.

Knowledge is tremendous resource. But what we are beginning to realize is that in fast-paced dynamic environments, knowledge creates two problems. First, it can become dated, and thus trap us in old ways of thinking and doing. Second, knowledge can be inadequate or simply not there. We need to conceptualize the dynamic, flexible, learning organization of tomorrow around a new paradigm: the intelligence-driven organization. Similarly, we need to think of the leader of tomorrow not only as a person with knowledge, but also as the intelligence-driven leader. An intelligence-driven organization is constantly learning and adapting. It dynamically and appropriately uses and recombines resources, acquires new ones, or even sometimes divests resources to continuously generate competitive advantage in changing business contexts. An intelligence-oriented perspective brings the human to the center of our idea of the firm and allows us to consider leadership, innovation and strategy in one framework. Nimble company need nimble people.

Howard Gardner multiple-intelligence theory views intelligence as comprising eight different intelligences while Robert Sternberg claims we have three different kinds of intelligence: analytical, creative and practical (street smart).

The Viveking Agility Matrix is estimation based on agility and context sensitivity.

Bear (high context sensitivity and low agility) Human (high context sensitivity and high agility)
Dinosaur (low context sensitivity and low agility) Cheetah (low context sensitivity and high agility)
  • Dinosaurs are companies that are rich in resources but neither agile or context sensitive.
  • Bears are companies that are rich and resources and capabilities but, like the dinosaurs, they are not agile, but they are context sensitive.
  • Cheetah are very agile but are context insensitive – they are companies that rely dangerously on a single agility.
  • Humans are ideal companies, those with strategic agility, they have multiple agilities and are also context sensitive.

When we talk about agilities, we have five of them:

  • Analytical agility – allows a company to change the means and methods of analysis.
  • Operational agility – helps the company gain dynamism through its operational resources.
  • Inventive agility – enables the generation of new ideas, creative solutions, and alternate uses of resources to solve problems the company has not seen before or to take advantage of new opportunities the company faces.
  • Communicative agility – is the skill a company has to persuade its audiences and to convey the value of its ideas through words and speech.
  • Visionary agility – allows the company to recognize the long-term impact of the decisions it is making.

Warren Bennis believes that key competence for leaders is adaptive capacity. It allows leaders to respond quickly and intelligently to relentless change.

Analytical agility denotes the ability of individuals or organizations to change their analytical patterns and processes as new information becomes available or a new context emerges. Analytical agility helps you understand the »real« problem. It provides and objective analysis of the situation through clear logic and reasoning, leaving little room for emotions that may cloud the situation. Analytical agility transforms your experience into knowledge. Problems of using only analytical agility is that it can induce only black and white thinking. It can have problem in solving ambiguous problems. Jeff Skilling, CEO of Enron, was strong in using analytical agility, but he on the other hand lack operational and communicational agility.

Operational intelligence drives agility that is action oriented. Operational agility helps people and organizations finds alternative ways to do things when the routine or traditional practice breaks down.  It transforms ideas into reality, knowing into doing. Its flexibility is situated in ability to respond to an emergent situation through hands-on action. We can talk about different areas of operational agility: product, input, process and scale agility. Example of this agility is Zara. They are reducing response time. Their margin is 56 % compared to 39 % of others. They get insight on trends from customers in stores and quickly respond to them. Problems of using only operational agility can be seen as micromanagement, action for action sakes and can lead to insensitive styles of working.

Inventive agility becomes necessary when a problem requires a creative, nontraditional solution. It becomes particularly apparent when a leader or a company draws lesson from one context and applies them to another. Analytical agility is about »why«, operational about »how«, inventive about »why not«. When inventive agility is overused, there is often a lack of focus and inattention to detail, also it can lead to overcommitting.

Through communicative agility, you are adept at persuading others to do the right things. With this essential skill set, you convey empathy, sensitivity, and concerns, and as a result, you generate such confidence and trust in others that they will follow you. Negotiations and persuasion are the main skills that communicative agility brings to leadership. Since communicative agility relies on both verbal and nonverbal cues, it helps to convey feelings of empathy and solidarity through speech, writing, expressions, gestures and body languages. Problems with use of communicative agility could manifest them-self as approval-seeking habits, lack of combination with operational agility, can lead to empty talk.

Among the five agilities, visionary is the most important. When you use visionary agility, you take long-term and expansive view of the world. While all other four agilities are necessary, only visionary agility provides the strategic perspective. Visionary agility enables you to think beyond the now. Visionary agility makes an aspiring leader adopt a world-view that is much more expansive than one that is focused on just earnings and revenues. Such perspective allows you to examine the implications of your actions for people and processes that are beyond the realm of immediate results. If you focus to much on visionary agility, you can set into complacency mode and forget about urgency, you can be to focus on future and forget about reality and small details.

Vivekin Intelligence Framework (VIF) is structured approach to use agilities in business from author. It is influenced by OODA concept, used in military strategy, developed by John Boyd. OODA stands for observation, orientation, decision and action. Boyd believed that uncertainty is a fundamental and irresolvable characteristic of our lives, no matter how good our observations and theories for explanation are.

Author is using his adaption of OODA as MAST Cycle:

  • Mapping – Chart the landscape, understand the situation. Questions used are: What business situations are emerging, which of the five agilities will I need? In what proportion?
  • Assessing – Determine my (our) strengths and weaknesses in term of the five agilities. Questions used are: What agilities do we have? What do we need to develop? How strong are we? Do we need to developed any agilities? How long will it take?
  • Strategizing – Choose the strategy (or sets of strategies) that will be best in the long term. Questions: Which choices are most appropriate? What are backup options? What are long-term implications? What should a scale of the implementation be? What agilities we need to develop in the future?
  • Testing – Deploy the chosen strategy in limited fashion – smaller domain or smaller scale – to see the impact of the chosen strategy on the environment. Questions: how does a chosen strategy work in practice? Are there any problems? Are there any new opportunities that we didn’t think about it?

Viveka, the closest word to “intelligence” in Hindu philosophical traditions, comprises two aspects: first, laying out all the possible actions available to us given a situation (awareness); and second, choosing the best option among those available (discrimination – between right and wrong, good and bad). In Japanese martial arts, fighter is zanshin, when he is in the state of complete awareness. He is constantly alert but completely calm.

There are two aspects of agility profile: style and inventory. Style determines the individual’s natural affinities for using intelligence/agilities when faces with a situation. Inventory is a measure of how adept you really are in each of the five agilities. It tells you which context you can be agile in right now and which ones you need to take a backseat in applying.

In mapping phase, we can look at this area:

  • Mapping operational agility requirements
    • Service/platform flexibility
    • Time to market flexibility
    • Production process flexibility
    • Delivery channel flexibility
    • Operation personnel flexibility
  • Mapping analytical agility requirements
    • Quality
    • Competition
    • Technology
    • Resources
    • Financial analysis
  • Mapping inventive agility requirements
    • Product flexibility
    • Pricing flexibility
    • Market flexibility
    • Competitive flexibility
  • Mapping communicative agility requirements
    • External
    • Internal
  • Mapping visionary agility requirements
    • Long-term lens
    • Wide-angle lens

Agilities are like muscles. You work them and they become strong; you neglect them and they become weak.