17th January 2019

Are You Agile Enough for what lies ahead?

Are You Agile Enough for what lies ahead?

I have no desire to be a political commentator. I don’t have either the skills or the desire. I am embarrassed by the lack of leadership and integrity our politicians show and the way they put themselves above the good of the country, but I can’t ignore Brexit. It is coming. Well something is coming, and we don’t know what.

Predictability and stability

I am not even going to attempt to forecast what might happen. There are too many unknowns and that is always difficult for business. Business typically likes predictability and therefore stability. The opposite of stability is change and I will forecast change. Potentially massive change. Whatever happens politically there will be big change in the coming weeks and months. As a business should you be worried? Should you be preparing?

I think that depends upon you and your ability to adapt quickly and profitably to change. Peter Drucker defined an entrepreneur as someone who: “searches for change, responds to it and exploits opportunities” I would therefore argue that the true entrepreneurs among us will have nothing to fear and lots of opportunities to exploit with the changes that face us.

Those of us who are less entrepreneurial and less willing and able to deal with change arguably should be more concerned.

Agility is a skillset

I foresee that agility will be the number one requirement in our world of significant and unpredictable change. Agility can be defined as our ability to pivot; to execute rapid and significant changes in direction quickly and effectively. Agility is always a requirement for successful businesses. Right now, for all UK businesses, I would argue, it is a skillset of paramount importance.

Often agility is the gift of the smaller rather than the larger. Mice are more agile than elephants, a speedboat is more agile than a supertanker. So, we might assume that smaller businesses should be more agile than massive ones but agility in organisations is as much about mindset, structure and how they organise and manage themselves as anything else and therein is the challenge.

I have found too many businesses of all sizes are not skilful enough in their ability to run their business. They can be good, often very good, at repeating a formula that works but can fail to adapt and change when that formula no longer works. You only need to look at the likes of Blockbuster, Woolworths and the British Motor Industry over the last century to see what I mean.

General Principles

The good news is that agility can be learned. It can be schooled, and it can be developed. To be agile we need to deeply understand the ‘general principles’ rather than just being able to operate the system. To illustrate what I mean, I can operate the computer I am working on right now. I can make the words appear on the page, but I don’t understand how the computer works. I am totally incapable of getting under the bonnet and making it work again if something goes wrong, if something changes. To be agile we are going to need to think about business in a different way, we are going to need to be able to get under the bonnet and adjust the settings because the world is likely to be very different.


Leadership capability

Business is about action and we will need to be able to translate thought into action quickly and very effectively. An organisation’s ability to do that will really depend upon their structure and management and leadership capability. Again, these are two areas that can be badly lacking, but which are again learnable, coachable and able to be developed.

Too many business leaders are mired in the muck and bullets of day to day survival to have the strategic, helicopter view of the landscape to direct operations.

So what preparation do you need to make? I would suggest you ask yourself the question, ‘is my business agile enough to easily and effectively make the changes which we may be faced with?’, ‘is my leadership style capable of leading agile and effective change?’ and ‘what help do we need?’

Reid Hoffman said An entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and builds a plane on the way down” which seems like a pretty appropriate description right now. I hope we are not coming to a cliff edge, but those skills will be in high demand in the days ahead.