The Agility Gap: Agility in High-Demand but Low Adoption

C-level Leaders Want Agility, but Learning and HR Don’t Know Where to Start

Agility has become an often-used buzzword in business. At the top levels of consultancies, in boardrooms, in the C-suite and in the leadership realm of product innovators, Agility has been a topic of conversation for many years. But despite the chatter and buzz, there is evidence that little, is being done on a practical basis to implement approaches to becoming more agile.

See the Agility Gap Infographic here

The need for businesses to embrace agile behavior has never been more pressing. So why hasn’t the implementation of Agility approaches filtered into practice beyond product and innovation teams? This has created a huge gap between what is needed to survive and what is being developed toward achieving that long-term. TRACOM’s recent research shows that a majority of HR business leaders in mid to enterprise-level companies in North America, say they believe Agility is an essential skill lacking within their company. Those same leaders identify that while they are talking about Agility, they have yet to implement formal training to support their need. CEOs want to become more agile, but people within organizations who could make an impact – primarily L&D and HR – aren’t acting on the need. This is because many mid-level leaders tasked with driving agile approaches, are confused about where to begin.

So when it comes to Agility, everyone is talking about it. Most believe they need it. Few organizations know what to do about it. Why?

Because Agility lacks a common definition and a common approach. Perceptions of what Agility is, who it’s for and why it’s essential differ between leaders and industries. And efforts to implement Agility tend to be isolated within only segments of a business vs organization-wide.

Defining What Agility is (and isn’t)

Agility is defined in two variables – Personal Agility and Organizational Agility. Without the former, the latter is improbable, but they share a common definition.

Personal Agility means adopting a flexible mindset that promotes the generation and implementation of original and useful ideas.

Organizational Agility is the capacity to recognize, create and exploit opportunities in a changing environment. 

Agile companies foster innovation and evolve more successfully than their competitors by capitalizing on opportunities emerging around them. But becoming an agile company requires having agile people at all levels of the organization.

Organizational Agility can easily be confused with other approaches such as Design Thinking, Learning Agility, Agile Software Development, or even broad Innovation methods. While some of the ideals between these methods overlap or support how people become faster, more intentional or capable of solving problems, they are not sufficient to create Organizational Agility. The reason these other approaches fail is that they are isolated to only certain roles or teams, or do not provide specific strategies that are easy to embrace across an entire company. They also typically lack practical behavioral guidance that allows people to implement change.

Organizational Agility Raises the Bar Across All Segments of a Company

Agility skills are typically aligned with or nurtured within innovation teams, product and software development groups and at the highest ranks of leadership – where the necessity to shift quickly on market disruption or to innovate in advance of launching new products is essential. But this niche skill recognition at only strategic levels of a company (an isolated approach), leaves behind the largest population of workers at all levels of organizations – the managers, the accountants, the customer service reps, the engineers or the administrators who are responsible for making sure the company functions in the day to day. Imagine if everyone at every level was trained in Agility, encouraged to support ideation, and provided with strategies to implement even small improvements? Optimization from the top down has been business as usual… but what if bottom up is more effective?

Agility in its ideal state – Organizational Agility – includes the best-practices of these other ideologies and fills in the gaps in what it takes for everyone – at any and every level of an organization – to achieve Personal Agility and execute on its approaches effectively on a macro level.

Agility Requires Adapting Mindset AND Behavior

Agility must first be understood in terms of the human brain and mindset. Children are naturally agile – they function on genius level when evaluated in problem-solving skills, creativity and adaptability to new ideas. But over time, “adulting” wears most people down and practical, habitual behavior dominates our daily approach to everything people do. This is especially true in areas of ideation, creative problem solving and a willingness to do things differently “on the fly”. Because most humans experience this natural decline in adaptability, the awareness of being or not being agile isn’t front and center when daily tasks are being performed. Humans have been “programed” by nature to function on autopilot – this is called an anchored mindset. Because of this “auto-pilot state, shifting the way people do things or implementing new ideas is unlikely without intervention. But this can be reversed with awareness, training and the implementation of strategies that shift status quo behavior to agile behavior (starting with an agile mindset). On a macro scale, when organizations implement process without addressing mindset, they may achieve an improved cadence or a more organized mechanical approach to Agility – for a while – but the status quo mindset will eventually take over again, and business as usual will flatline – because all people default back to the tried and true approaches eventually. To achieve holistic Agility, companies that implement learning that accelerates an adaptive mindset and supports ongoing practices/processes that encourage agile behavior, raise the bar from the bottom up (an agile culture and agile organizational approaches).

A Proven Model for Organizational Agility

Best practices in Organizational Agility address a holistic but practical approach to first changing mindset, and then implementing strategies that are easy to adopt yet highly effective. The key to becoming more agile requires not just more ideas, but more capability to implement the ideas generated at all levels. Therefore, a program designed to address Organization-level Agility, must follow a model that can be adopted easily and by everyone. For example, TRACOM’s Adaptive Mindset Model includes four dimensions called the IDEA Model; these include Investigation, Design, Energize and Apply. The approach walks learners through a process focused on how to generate ideas, design them effectively, motivate others to participate in the changes, and then apply them for a complete lifecycle.

Consider Milliken & Company, a US-based textile company. They accumulate ~100 implemented ideas per person each year. A number of their weaving looms have been adjusted according to several hundred small ideas. Together, these ideas make the looms 2-3 times faster than they were originally designed to be, and they are able to produce weaves manufacturers previously thought were impossible. Competitors could buy the same model of looms but would be challenged to implement the same configurations that make Milliken machines exceptional. This type of innovation doesn’t happen when Design Thinking or Agile Process are confined to isolated groups.

Many Common Issues Can be Solved Through Agility Training

Organizational Agility programs can improve outcomes for learners and companies under any circumstances and at any time in a company’s development. But there are some specific issues that an Agility program can help solve for faster and more effectively.

When organizations need to make changes – the type of change that is innovative, disruptive or even subtle, Agility is an essential skill. Leaders are most often tasked with change initiatives that require the ability to adapt to shifting priorities while leading others through the changes with enthusiasm and focus. Leaders trained in Agility are 24% more motivated to support new initiatives and 35% more likely to be entrepreneurial. Therefore, Agility skills are fundamental and a huge advantage for anyone on a leadership development path or already at the helm of teams impacted by, or tasked with creating, change.

But agile leaders need agile teams to be most successful – so everyone impacted by project management processes benefit highly from agile training too. Projects are notorious for not going as planned. Project managers have to be flexible to handle shifts in timelines and tasks – a daily balancing act no matter how well planned a project appears. Agile training not only helps project leaders adapt better to demanding priorities, the strategies earned in training also help in the preplanning stages to address how to adapt “in the event of” scenarios. These strategies are so effective that people with high Agility skills are 17% more likely to make high-quality decisions in the face of uncertainty than those who haven’t had Agility training.

Now What?

L&D and HR leaders are being tasked to figure out how to help organizations become more agile. So where should they start?

  1. Begin by looking at programs that deliver holistic, company-wide adoption in Organizational Agility
    (see Programs)
  2. Address how the training model supports your goals
    (see When to Use Scenarios)
  3. Identify groups within your organization who can pilot the training, with plans to include everyone in a training cycle within the year
    (see becoming an Associate or getting Certified)
  4. Review TRACOM’s leadership whitepapers and research to find valid, reliable insights on the effectiveness of Organizational Agility training
    (see Research Library)
  5. Call TRACOM to speak with a Client Solution Advisor to discuss your specific objectives
    (see Contact Us)


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