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Organizational Agility And Resilience – Two Critical Sides Of The Same Coin

Agility and Resilience

In a world where longstanding business models are being disrupted (many at the hand of a staggering rate of technological advances), you won’t get ten paces without hearing terms like agility and resilience being thrown around. This dynamic has seen the rise of brands like Amazon/Whole Foods, Netflix, and Uber as well as the demise of others like Kodak who failed to see and respond quickly enough to changes in the market. If you’re reading this and thinking that this isn’t something that applies to you, you’re sadly mistaken. Even historically stable industries are being disrupted in ways that require the ability to adapt and transform in order to thrive.

The belief that organizations must master the ability to innovate and drive new products and services to market in order to beat out the competition has contributed to the focus on agility as a critical success factor. These organizations must “fail fast”, quickly learn from mistakes, and adapt to changing market conditions in order to outperform their competitors in the long-term.

Another term that has promulgated organizational life in recent years is resilience, or the ability of an individual or organization to bounce back from the adversity that has thrown them off course. A prime example of this can be observed in the case of Amazon’s Fire Phone. The company took a big risk that failed but they didn’t let it derail them. They kept moving forward. The speed and efficiency at which an organization can recover from adversity can be the difference between success and failure and resilience at the individual, team, and organizational levels all play a role.

I have long been a believer in the power of dynamic tensions in business. The relationship between agility and resilience, in my opinion, is yet another example of the dynamic tensions that exist in business that require companies to develop capability in both areas (flexibility to adapt to stay ahead as well as the ability to quickly recover when they get surprised) in order to ensure they are not exposing themselves to risk. This can be quite a challenge as these forces fundamentally oppose each other and require organizations to spread their focus in ways that can sometimes conflict.

Recent research of 325 organizations by Pulakos, Kantrowitz, and Schneider suggests that the, “… chaos and complexity of disruptive change [must be counterbalanced] with strategies that simplify, clarify, and help people focus”. They go further to suggest three imperatives that organizations should focus on in order to effectively thrive in these situations.

1.     Rightsize Teamwork, Instead of Driving Teamwork

The most successful companies are those that are best able to create a “flexible fabric” of effective interconnectedness that spans the organization. This allows organizations to utilize people’s time efficiently so that time is not wasted in chaotic situations. Knowing when and how to collaborate and work together or separately based on the situation is key.

2.     Drive Stability, Instead of Focusing Too Much on Driving Change

Another key dynamic tension highlighted by this research is the need to temper the need to constantly “drive change” by ensuring an adequate focus on, and appreciation of, creating stability to help organizations perform. When people are frayed by constant change, having stable systems and processes to rely on to ground themselves and enhance their ability to absorb and recover from disruptive change.

3.     Relentless Course-Correction, Instead of Periodic Performance Reviews

The final critical factor is an organization’s ability to create a shared value of continuous monitoring and adaptation in order to adjust to changing conditions. Continuous monitoring and adaptation help organizations to correct deficiencies as well as identifying potential opportunities before their competitors. The integration of processes and tools that help people to adjust to this relentless focus on continuous course correction can help them to move past their discomforts with effectively managing performance issues.

This research supports the notion that dynamic tensions exist in organizational life and that, in today’s hyper-competitive and hyper-fast environment, the ability to effectively adjust to manage those dynamic tensions is a key differentiator between the high-performers and those that struggle. Knowing this and executing on it can be two very different things though in the real world. I suggest that an organization’s ability to sustainably drive the ability to manage these and other dynamic tensions comes down to the culture of the organization.

If organizational culture consists of all of the values, beliefs, assumptions, and collectively agreed upon “right” ways of doing things in an organization then that culture would have a direct influence on driving peoples’ behavior. Those behaviors can result in an organization being able to successfully and sustainably exhibit the behaviors required of agile and resilient organizations. If the culture of your organization doesn’t see the value in these behaviors, it will squash them and put tremendous pressure on any individual who attempts to behave in these ways.

So how do you evolve your culture, over time, to begin to shift your organization’s ability to master the ability to be both agile and resilient? This is a pretty meaty question that I have covered in a variety of other articles so, rather than rehashing the content here, I recommend you check out some of the following articles for some thoughts and tips.

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