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Flexibility, Agility and Operational Success

March 15, 2012

This post originally ran at SHRM’s We Know Next.  If you aren’t yet following this resource for business leaders, policymakers and HR leaders, go check it out. 

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Quite often, including here at We Know Next, when the term “flexibility” is used with respect to the workplace, it’s often in the discussion of worklife balance initiatives that serve as benefits to the employer and employee. In this arena, we think about telework, co-working, ROWE, and other employer-supported program to give employees more control over how, when and where they work. Having a flexible workplace is now viewed as something that smart companies do in order to support their culture, increase employee engagement and loyalty, and ultimately drive business success.

But flexibility, as an attribute of a successful business or workplace, means much more than that. Organizations, functional areas and even individual employees can benefit from adopting an agile mindset by thinking about a few key items: Reacting, Adjusting and Prospering.

  • Reacting. How will you respond when a response is needed? Neither organizations nor people operate in isolation, and in a constantly changing and complex world there will often be situations where how you respond sets the stage for what is to follow. If something external to your company affects your business operations TODAY, are you ready to react? If a pre-planning meeting must occur before the actual meeting and then a project team takes 3 months to put together a report with a recommendation for action – you may need to examine your organization’s ability to be agile.
  • Adjusting. Are you prepared to deviate from your original path? Sometimes an idea, strategy or plan is so beloved that we feel we could tattoo it on our body; we believe in it that much. However, a flexible organization knows when it’s time to make internal changes in order to respond to the external environment. You may have just spent 2 years and invested millions of dollars to roll out the brand new “ACME widget,” but if Congress just passed legislation that will outlaw Widgets in 3 months, are you prepared to adapt or adjust your product offerings? NOW?
  • Prospering. Do you have the ability to embrace a new vision of success? It takes a lot of hard work to respond and adjust. In addition, having an agile business focus means you may frequently be knee-deep in the cycle of defining a strategy, executing that strategy, evaluating the results and incorporating improvements. But that may be the sweet spot; for at that intersection of reaction and adjustment lays the opportunity for innovation. Even the anticipation of potentially disruptive events or challenging forces can be a catalyst to map out new (and possibly better) strategies and ideas.

Being agile can be extremely beneficial when applied across the entire business enterprise; a challenge indeed for a large organization. Flexibility of this sort may work best in settings with more fluid role definitions and autonomy as opposed to corporate structures with rigid hierarchies. A flexible mindset, however, can be adopted at the divisional, unit, departmental or even work-group level. A simple adjustment to a lock-step corporate initiative/process that made sense when it was rolled out 5 years ago may be just the place to start.

And needless to say, when you’re faced with the need to re-evaluate a strategy or plan if your initial reaction is “but that’s how it’s always been done”, please stop it. Stop it right now.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 15, 2012 11:50 am

    It is important how we adapt environment situation with great flexibility. I agree if initial reactions ” but that’s how it’s always been done” must be stop if something new happen.

    It happen to us a week ago. Our employee feel that too many step to finish the report book. It took 4 days to finish the report. An employee find a new way to make it two days, and tell his supervisor about this, and “the initial reactions” coming in. ( she doesn’t say exactly like you are, but the meaning is the same )

    Yesterday, when i found about this, and talking to employee how does he do that. Amazing. It’s good idea. It’s possible. ( Maybe we promote him become supervisor )

    We will adopt his way and socialize it with the other branch.

    Great post. Thanks.

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