How to Build (and Run) an Agile Organization

Agile businesses tend to have more engaged employees, higher levels of morale, and lower turnover.

Traditionally, organizations have been perceived as machines. You set them up and watch them run; everyone has a rigidly set role and there is a top-down approach to management and goal setting, with little room for autonomy or creativity. Thankfully, things are changing, and today, businesses are more like living organisms—they evolve by the day. As such, the way we manage them needs to adapt accordingly.

In recent years, agile companies have become a necessity, primarily due to rapidly evolving and shifting business environments, disruptive new technologies, and the war for great talent. Business agility simply means a company is able to speedily respond (in the five ways mentioned below) according to market and environmental changes. This might sound like a simple concept, but it remains an elusive one for business leaders, many of whom have yet to fully implement business agility, despite the many advantages it offers.

What Are the Benefits of Agile Organizations?

Research has shown that agile businesses have a 70 percent chance of being in the top quartile for organizational health, which is the best indicator of long-term performance. Agile businesses also tend to have more engaged employees, higher levels of morale, and lower turnover. On top of this, they can experience a revenue growth more than 10 percent greater when compared to non-agile organizations. What’s more, 81 percent of companies that have changed their processes to become more agile say they have seen an increase in overall performance.

What Are the Principles of Agile Organizations?

Before your business can become agile, you first must be well-acquainted with the principles and characteristics of an agile organization These are the following:

  1. Agile organizations are composed of employees and managers who are self-aware and motivated, and who realize their actions affect the business as a whole.
  2. Agile organizations encourage leadership that is forward-thinking and inspires everyone around them to perform to their potential.
  3. Agile organizations are dedicated to continuous learning and training.
  4. Agile organizations encourage and support collaboration, communication, and information sharing through use of technology and management processes.
  5. Agile organizations focus on long-term goals and objectives, adapting their short-term objectives as a result.

With the above in mind, in order to build and run an agile organization that will succeed for years to come, business leaders will have to do the following:

1. Have a Clear Strategy and Vision

Agile organizations keep long-term goals and ambitions in mind. This is important, as it will guide all your business decisions going forward, as well as the aims and objectives of your employees. Think of this strategy as the stable backbone of your agile company—something that can help you stay focused

As an agile organization, you need to first be clear on your vision. You then need to be transparent and open about this vision, sharing it with your entire company and cultivating excitement around how employees will play a role in helping your organization succeed. Communication and enthusiasm about this vision is of utmost importance, because you need your employees to be engaged and dedicated to achieving your organizational objectives.

Though your vision might remain constant in the long-term, remember to be flexible in terms of short-term goals, resource allocation, and training. Encourage employees to seize opportunities when they can and to show initiative.

2. Create a Team of Empowered and Engaged Individuals

If you have an old-fashioned approach to management that essentially equates to micromanagement, you will spend all your time directing and controlling. However, if you encourage your employees to take initiative, have ownership of their goals and careers, and make difficult decisions, you will be rewarded with employees who are engaged and empowered. 

Agile organizations respect their employees enough to delegate responsibility and authority. Though agile organizations still have a top-level structure, they adopt a more flexible approach, because agile leaders know this breeds accountability and collaboration. 

To encourage the formation of empowered teams, you likely will need to adapt your approach to goal setting. Instead of having a traditional trickle-down approach, consider aligning your goals upwards. Using this approach, employees will bear in mind the organizational objectives of their company and set achievable goals that will support it. 

In addition to this, employees should be encouraged to speak up and give feedback in order to improve their surroundings. This will help employees feel they are a valued member of a productive, powerful team, especially when they see their suggestions put into effect.

3. Create Fluid Processes, and Prioritize Information Transparency and Continuous Development

Whether you are in the process of building a new agile organization or you are attempting to make your existing business more agile, it’s important to remember that transparency is key. Information transparency involves giving employees access to operational and financial information. Such transparency can encourage interdepartmental insights and ideas, regardless of position or seniority, which can help a business grow, strengthen, and develop.

Equally important is an organization’s attitude toward training and development. After all, it has been shown that companies that incorporate the use of innovative learning and development programs retain staff for longer. Businesses should encourage the use of personal development plans and continuous learning. This way, you will benefit from well-informed and determined employees who are loyal to your organization, as they know you have taken the time and effort to invest in their futures.

4. Encourage Regular Communication Between Managers and Employees

It’s no longer acceptable for managers and employees to have little to no daily contact. Employees want, and deserve, to build a relationship with their managers. They also want, and need, to get regular feedback on their work and performance. This is why agile organizations encourage regular communication between employees and managers, opting to make use of frequent performance discussions that take place monthly—this approach is gradually usurping the traditional annual appraisal in small to medium-size business (SMBs) and conglomerates around the world.

During these performance discussions, managers should give and receive feedback, provide recognition and rewards when appropriate, and discuss any relevant training opportunities, as well as performance-related problems. Such discussion and familiarity will help an agile business adapt in line with a rapidly changing business environment.

5. Make Use of Modern Technology

In an agile organization, aims and objectives will change regularly. You will need to keep track of training opportunities and allow for real-time feedback, in addition to scheduling and tracking regular performance discussions. To support this, agile businesses should make use of modern collaboration and performance management software, leaving them free to focus on critical tasks that ultimately will affect the bottom line of their organization.

Stuart Hearn is the CEO of Clear Review. With more than two decades’ experience in the field of HR, Hearn is passionate about HR trends, employee engagement, and company productivity.

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