Business agility is a buzzword these days. We all know the world is constantly changing and that companies need to be dynamic and flexible to adapt to the ever-changing global marketplace. It seems like we see daily reports of businesses that were once industry leaders, failing due to their inability to adapt to new technologies or changing consumer preferences. The question, therefore, is not if a business needs to be agile, the question is how to create a culture that is aligned to uncertainty and change.
As Paul Gibbons says in his book, “The Science of Successful Organizational Change,” change is a people problem and a leadership problem at every level. In order to be ready for change, a company needs a “change agile culture” that can adapt and move fast. I recommend three key processes for businesses to gain optimum agility.
Get Outside Intel
First, processes need to be set up that intentionally and continuously gather insight and information from outside the company. This can be achieved by instituting systems that bring leaders together with staff that spend the most time with customers, such as salespeople. These systems need to be deliberately and methodically established, because if they are not, they will fall to the wayside as day-to-day emergencies monopolize attention. But if leaders place high value in gathering first hand customer insight, it will help create a climate that can rapidly adapt to clients needs and preferences.
Know Your Why
Second, a “change agile culture” is best achieved when organizations know their “Why” – i.e. their intrinsic reason for existence and the impact that they want to make in the world. A great example of this is CVS Pharmacy. CVS defines itself beyond its traditional business; not just a retail chain or drugstore. They know their “Why” is about helping people live healthier lives. They believe this so much that they even changed their name from CVS Pharmacy to CVS Health to more accurately reflect their “Why” in their brand. CVS stopped selling cigarettes and created MinuteClinics that offer basic primary care in stores. Now they are moving to buy Aetna, the health insurance company. At a time when the Affordable Care Act and the health insurance industry are facing great uncertainty and change, CVS Health is boldly moving forward creating new opportunities and disrupting the way Americans consume healthcare. To do this, they had to see themselves not as what they do, but as the “Why” behind what they do. Defining themselves this way gave them a better lens to see market opportunities and growth potential.
Third, businesses need to align their organizational culture to be change-driven. A key misalignment that I see all too often is lack of communication, and inclusion of the entire team in the change and direction. If business leaders don’t involve everyone in the creation of an agile culture, it won’t happen. Employees will align to the company culture if they understand the overarching vision, and the reason for being agile and nimble. If the big picture is not effectively communicated to them, they may feel like change is being forced onto them, and resist it. However, if they feel like they are an important part of the vision and goals of the company, they will change with it.
There is a Chinese proverb that says: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.” The worst way to deal with disruption is from a reactive mode. If you find yourself swimming in uncertainty, start changing your company culture now.
Also, get your Alignment Thinking started today! Sign up to receive periodic updates and resources.