To survive in today’s quickly changing marketplace and outmaneuver the competition, companies and teams must learn how to identify the right opportunities and then react quickly. Learning to be agile can’t be part of future plans – it must happen now.
One of the biggest challenges for organizations today is being able to make changes when and where they need to in order to survive. If they’re about as agile as a 90-year-old with arthritis, they’re not going to be in business much longer, as many defunct companies can now attest.
But how do companies quickly identify opportunities for growth, avoid potential threats and take advantage of a changing marketplace, all while trying to sustain quality day-to-day operations?
Amanda Setili, author of “The Agility Advantage: How to Identify and Act on Opportunities in a Fast-Changing World,” has worked with companies such as AT&T, Georgia-Pacific and UPS. She says through those interactions she has learned the keys to capitalizing on opportunities being created in the marketplace, and how to move the organization in that direction.
For example, companies wanting to be more agile must give employees the flexibility to respond to changes that they see, instead of just requiring them to stay within their job descriptions. If employees are given more leeway, then they are much more likely to notice changes earlier and react sooner and faster, she says.
In addition, organizations must also be able to ditch parts of their business that don’t fit in with a new direction and not get caught up in the sentimentality of doing things the way they’ve always been done. They’ve got to be willing to make decisions quickly, she says.
“Companies often get bogged down in indecision for months when assessing a potential change in strategy because they’re busy dealing with stakeholder objects and fretting over risks,” she says.
Setili says that becoming more agile often involves setting aside fears and concerns, and instead developing a strategy for staying ahead of the competition by being able to:
If you’re only focused on the competition, then you’re not looking at trends and what the customer wants next. Setili suggests that if you want to be the first to respond to customers, then you need to spend more time with them. Employees need to be given the opportunity to get away from their work stations and go out into the field with customers or other workers so they can see problems firsthand. IT needs to see how customers are reacting to changes in software, for example, and talk personally with those who are using the product. Companies must be willing to dig deep and get a variety of perspectives.
However, when gathering customer input, Setili cautions against using conventional market research because it often focuses on your biggest, most established customers and “you often see only what you’re looking for.”
Setili says that those organizations striving for agility must innovate continuously, looking for ways to improve existing products and processes, even in small increments. With that philosophy, she says, organizations cut the chances of becoming obsolete or allowing the competition to get the upper hand.
“Agility isn’t something you can leave to chance,” she says.