How to embrace organisational agility

COVID-19 forced businesses to make decisions about leadership, recruitment, finance and operations in a matter of hours. In the months following the initial shockwave of rapid change, fluctuating economic circumstances, and new consumer behaviours, it is now clear we live in a climate of continuous and unprecedented change. Instead of this being an obstacle, it should be seen as a catalyst.   

After all, being agile when faced with change has always been a defining characteristic of companies that respond well to competitive threats. A recent Workday study on organisational agility revealed the top-performing companies were 10 times more likely to react quickly to market shifts, proving that agility is more often than not synonymous with performance. The pandemic has emphasised this.  

It starts with the c-suite To build agility into any organisation, and set it up for future success, the c-suite needs to lead the charge. The CEO, CFO, CIO and CHRO all play a pivotal role.  

The CEO — As head of the company, CEOs must champion the entire business into taking an agile approach through strategy and execution. These leaders need to build agility into their vision for the business and engage the workforce to follow. But for the vision to turn into reality, CEOs will need the support of other c-suite leaders – and have to take on board their advice on how to close any gaps between the vision and current state of implementation in the business.  

The CFO — The CFO is arguably the biggest driver in turning organisational agility into a reality, and is often the first port of call for managing risk and dealing with big changes. In fact, 37 percent of leaders agree that finance is the function most likely to influence an organisation’s ability to accelerate digital growth. Inflexible technologies and legacy systems can no longer hold the CFO and finance team back from fulfilling this responsibility. Implementing technology solutions that enable company-wide data analysis and real-time planning should therefore be at the top of the CFO’s agenda.  

The CIO — While many CIOs still don’t have access to the data and tools they need to measure the performance of new digital products and service lines, the majority now have a reason, and the backing of the business, to overhaul existing infrastructure. Yet, research shows that more than half of CIOs (52 percent) are planning to upskill fewer than half of their workers over the next five years. This has to change. It’s critical that CIOs take the necessary steps to support digital transformation and agility. It will require these leaders to challenge legacy processes and seek better integration to ensure they have the right resources in place.  

The CHRO — Finally, the CHRO plays a critical role by creating and communicating an agile culture across the business. With 88 percent of CHROs thinking that employee engagement influences their company’s ability to succeed, breaking down silos and keeping the workforce engaged and moving away from bureaucratic cultures will be a top priority for HR teams striving for agility in 2021.  

50 percent of organisations are already planning to upskill their workforce by 2024 to adapt to the changes in the working environment

Agility needs to be baked in Driven by the c-suite, organisational agility needs to be baked into the heart of the business – and its digital transformation agenda. Individuals, and teams, must be able to gain meaningful insights from data if they are to help future-proof revenue streams, improve operations, and ensure employees are well-managed and supported. There are five key behaviours proven by Workday’s global organisational agility and digital growth survey that businesses should prioritise: Be responsive — Companies need the ability to plan continuously and in real-time to overcome uncertainty. This means organisations will have to implement real-time scenario planning. Be adaptable — Enterprises must create flexible organisational structures and processes that enable both the business and leadership to pivot quickly in the face of change. Be skilled — Companies have to plan for upskilling the majority of their workforce and increasing employee engagement. 50 percent of organisations are already planning to upskill their workforce by 2024 to adapt to the changes in the working environment. Be empowered — Businesses must empower decision-making at every level by equipping employees with the information and data they need to innovate and make independent, and yet informed decisions. Take control — Organisations will need to be able to recognise failure and act on it. They should understand if something isn’t working, switch gears and try a different approach. Finding ways to measure performance and pivot to avoid risk are essential traits in keeping agile.  

Embracing organisational agility in 2021

Last year taught businesses the importance of being able to rapidly adapt to change. In 2021, business leaders have the opportunity to consolidate their learnings from the pandemic by fully embracing an agile way of working for the long-term. Organisations that take the time to invest in agile practices across the business will reap the biggest rewards, and recover faster, as we head into an era that promises anything but normal.  

Carolyn Horne, president of EMEA at Workday