Agility as the key to organizational success | Episode 2 “Building Resilience: The Art of Shock Absorption in Business Agility”

Agility as the key to organizational success | Episode 2 “Building Resilience: The Art of Shock Absorption in Business Agility”

Agility as the key to organizational success | Episode 2 “Building Resilience: The Art of Shock Absorption in Business Agility”

Agility is – now more than ever – the key to organizational success, but we need to start taking it seriously. Agility is not a fun playground, but a key factor in making your business and employees thrive in an ever-evolving world.

To spread our conviction that agility is the key to success, our managing partner Kris Philippaerts created a mini blog series on the topic of Business Agility. In 6 episodes, Kris will take you through his thoughts and beliefs, applying his experience and expertise on several topics.

Are you ready to be swept away? Let’s go!

By Kris Philippaerts

Episode 2 | Building Resilience: The Art of Shock Absorption in Business Agility

In today’s dynamic business landscape, agility has emerged as the cornerstone of organizational success. However, agility has more facets to it than just speed; it encompasses the capacity to adapt, innovate, and thrive in the face of constant change. In this second episode of our series on business agility, we delve into the crucial concept of shock absorption on individual, team and organization level.

Missed the first episode on Why Business Agility matters? Check it out here.

Reframing Agility

Agility is often mischaracterized as simply the ability to move swiftly. While speed is undeniably a component, true agility involves more than rapid movement; it requires the capability to endure and recover from disruptions without losing momentum. Picture agility not as a sprinter shooting forward but as a sturdy motorboat navigating turbulent waters. In addition to a powerful engine, the boat requires a lightweight yet robust structure capable of flexing and absorbing shocks.

Understanding Shock Absorption in Organizations

Navigating change is a timeless challenge, yet the scale and approach to managing it have evolved significantly over recent decades.

  • Traditionally, change and volatility were often viewed as adversarial forces within a business environment, leading to change resistance and problem isolation. The main idea was to shield the organization’s internals from the disruptive effects of change, striving to maintain business as usual within unwanted noise. While this approach may extend the organization’s lifespan, it may turn every change into a battle. And when the frequency of change rises, the struggle will become futile.
  • Conversely, fully embracing change and exposing the entire organization to constant flux also presents numerous drawbacks. While it may foster collective problem-solving and promote collaboration, this approach can prove highly disruptive and draining. Moreover, constantly shifting direction can obscure the overarching strategy, diminishing a crucial element for cultivating individual engagement.

Therefore, Business Agility revolves around discovering the optimal balance in cultivating a capacity to adapt to change without losing sight of your trajectory. It entails the skill to absorb high-frequency disruptions while staying attuned to the broader, lower-frequency trends.

In this piece, we’ll focus on the aspect of managing high-frequency disruptions. Our upcoming third article will delve into Responsiveness, addressing the second part of Business Agility, which is the capacity to track and respond to evolving customer trends and needs.

Lightweight Structures and Skill Fluidity

The greatest impediment to effective shock absorption lies in rigidity, which can be found both in organizational structures and individuals’ mindsets. Notably, rigid structures and fixed mindsets perpetuate and strengthen each other over time. Growing Business Agility demands an evolution in both these domains.

Lightweight structures

Let’s begin with organizational structures! When facilitating deeper permeation of changes within the organization, it’s crucial to avoid the necessity for constant structural adjustments. The more exceptions you have outlined, the more you’ll find yourself needing to accommodate new ones as they arise. By formulating more generalized and enabling rules that allow for common sense, the need for frequent rule changes diminishes when confronted with new situations. Such structures empower individuals to apply their common sense, enabling them to swiftly and effectively make decisions autonomously.

However, it’s essential to recognize that lightweight structures are still structures; they possess resilience yet remain adaptable when necessary. In the past, agility was occasionally misconstrued as the freedom to operate without constraint, allowing individuals to define their own rules. Some equated it to the pinnacle of democracy, yet others viewed it as a dysfunctional form of anarchy. While there is a grain of truth in this perception—lightweight structures indeed imply fewer rules and entrust individuals with greater decision-making autonomy—there must also be a corresponding elevation in discipline and adherence to the remaining structures. Rather than dictating how individuals should work, the residual structures are now geared toward indicating the direction in which a collective effort should be directed. It is imperative to adhere to this direction meticulously to maintain control over the eventual outcome.

When observing modern Agile approaches, this viewpoint is visible through the constant emphasis on clearly defined long and short-term objectives, fostering ownership of these objectives for both the product and the team, and the continual evaluation of progress towards achieving these objectives through various disciplined cadences. These lightweight structures, characterized by their focus on clearly defined objectives and the empowerment of teams, are indeed the very structures we allude to and serve as the cornerstone for fostering Business Agility.

Skill Fluidity

In a previous article, I discussed the distinction between tactical decision-making and strategic decision-making. Consider the metaphor of a sailboat navigating the sea: Tactical decisions are akin to steering through challenging waves, unexpected winds, or congested traffic. They are short-term decisions influenced by immediate circumstances. In an organizational operational context, this pertains to how all work is planned, allocated, and executed. However, the sailboat’s objective isn’t merely to navigate waves, but to reach a harbor. Similarly, an organization’s goal isn’t just to work but to deliver value to customers. Strategic decisions are aimed at maximizing this latter objective.

Now, if the most instinctive tactical decisions consistently aligned with the desired strategy, there wouldn’t be an issue. However, the problem lies in seemingly sound tactical decisions often conflicting with the intended strategic direction.

Allow me to illustrate this with an example.
Suppose an organization aims to provide reliable service to customers. This reliability must accommodate the volatility of the business environment. Reliability in this setting often entails consistent output at a consistent quality. Assigning the most qualified employee to an incoming request may appear tactically sound and may eventually yield an optimal result for that particular request. However, it doesn’t necessarily contribute to enhancing overall reliability. What if, the following day, two similar requests arise? Assigning the specialist again could result in delays for other critical tasks, undermining global reliability. This dilemma commonly arises in organizations employing a super-specialization strategy and illustrates the effects of local optimization.

Enhancing reliability, or strengthening resilience in general, necessitates prioritizing strategic decisions over tactical ones. For instance, this might entail implementing forced tandem working for specialized tasks, where a specialist guides another team member. Admittedly, this approach may seem slower tactically, but strategically, it’s crucial for building resilience over time. By sharing expertise across a wider segment of the workforce, organizations can more adeptly respond to fluctuating demands for specialized skills. Such experiments, known as Creative Constraints, are essential because, without them, there would be little incentive for change.

Specialists versus Generalists?

Does this revive the age-old debate between generalists and specialists? Not at all. Specialization remains essential for high-quality work and motivated individuals. Instead, the focus shifts to a mindset where work allocation is driven by organizational priorities rather than the availability of specific skills. It advocates for fewer work in progress and a collective emphasis on work that yields the highest value for customers. This doesn’t necessitate everyone becoming a jack-of-all-trades but rather everyone learning to contribute to the most critical tasks. By dismantling ivory towers and nudging employees to engage in tasks outside one’s specialization occasionally, organizations can significantly advance towards achieving Business Agility.

Shock Absorption

The analogy of shock absorption encapsulates an essential part of Business Agility. Within this context, Lightweight Structures and Skill Fluidity emerge as indispensable and closely intertwined components essential for strengthening an organization’s resilience within constant environmental changes. Developing such resilience needs time, strategic foresight, and discipline. Together with Responsiveness and Engagement, these elements form a crucial trio of key ingredients essential for achieving Business Agility.

What’s Next…

In the third episode of this mini series, Kris will continue on this topic and zoom in on the importance of Responsiveness, which is the capacity to track and respond to evolving customer trends and needs.

Stay tuned!

Menu Close