Professional athletes invest an exorbitant amount of time, money, and energy into developing their speed and agility. Professional sports organizations place a high level of attention in selecting athletes with these traits because millions of dollars depend on it. While this may seem like stating the obvious in the realm of professional sports – it also holds true in the realm of business. This begs the question: “Why don’t more companies invest the same time, money and energy into improving their agility?”
Does your company understand what it means to be Agile?
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines agile as: “marked by ready ability to move with quick easy grace”2 For an athlete – this simply translates to the ability to change direction, pivot, stop, reverse, or accelerate quickly which has applications both defensively (how well you react to the opposing team) and offensively (how well you make them react to you). It is the former that many organizations clearly see and the latter that is often missed as a strategic differentiator.
It’s the difference between being on your heels (reacting to your competition or market circumstances) or on your toes (forcing your competition to react to you and influencing market conditions). Did you know:
“Research conducted at [MIT] suggests that agile firms grow revenue 37 percent faster and generate 30 percent higher profits than non-agile companies.”1
Additionally, “…highly agile organizations have significantly better project outcomes compared to their counterparts with low agility…”1
In today’s ever-changing market – companies need to increase their readiness and ability move, or risk being relegated to the bench and off the playing field altogether. For those organizations that recognize this, many simply don’t understand how to enable agility as an organization. And this is where framing things through the lens of a professional athlete can help.
What enables Agility?
It’s important to understand that the same capabilities that enable an athlete to be agile also apply to an organization. Let’s examine 3 key areas and pose some questions:
- VISION – Using professional football as a platform – scouts and analysts assess offensive and defensive players on not only their ability to move, but their vision as well. Supreme athleticism is meaningless unless there is an ability to see where to apply it. The fastest running backs will not be successful unless they see running lanes through the chaos of blockers and defenders.
The same holds true for companies. While most organizations employ varying degrees of reporting and analytics to monitor business performance, many still struggle with how to consume, analyze, visualize, or otherwise leverage market and customer data to separate opportunities from noise.
To improve vision, companies need to invest in moving up the analytics maturity scale. They need to shift their vision from what has happened (diagnostic) to what should happen (prescriptive). Like a football player takes in data such as the position of his teammates, defensive players, sidelines, down and distance, time on the clock, and objective at hand, so too should companies identify what data to ingest (i.e.. data management), how to synthesize it (i.e. data science), and ultimately how to act on it (i.e. analytics).
- How well does your company “see the field”?
- How effective are your marketplace/customer Analytics?
- What indicators do you leverage to identify and exploit opportunities or respond to risks?
- BIOMECHANICS – To improve speed and agility, professional athletes train and develop their body so that it may work as one, high-performing unit. To an athlete, the concept of only focusing on one body part to be agile, would be absurd. Yet in the context of a business organization, this is not uncommon. We often find different teams employing different tactics to improve their effectiveness and/or we find misalignment between team objectives and overall organizational priorities.
The result: Plateaus in organizational effectiveness as operations are disjointed and hindered by dependencies, bureaucracies and non-value add processes.
To truly increase business agility – organizations need a holistic plan and approach to train, invest in, and develop its capabilities and functions. This may mean modifying funding models, employing an organizational change management strategy, and/or realignment of teams. And like an athlete who willfully trains with purpose, so too must the leadership team spearhead change across the organization by providing clear objectives and empowering teams to meet those objectives by operating with purpose.
- What mechanisms ensure your entire organization shares the same vision, to function as one? Are all teams working toward the same strategic objectives?
- What teams in your organization are already employing some form of Agile?
- If organizational agility is a corporate objective, do you have a proper organizational change management strategy in place to increase adoption?
- WEAK LINKS AND MEASURED IMPROVEMENT – “What gets measured, gets improved”. This is a mantra top athletes abide by. In a never-ending quest for improvement, they leverage top trainers and technology to identify their weak links. Professional golfers – those seemingly already at the top of their game – invest heavily in swing-experts, video analysis, and mental coaches, to assess with pin-point precision the exact areas they need improve. Once identified, they rely on the same experts to provide training plans, tailored to their specific needs and physical attributes.
The same must hold true for organizations. However, many do not recognize their deficiencies, let alone where to invest in change. To truly enable agility, companies must constantly undergo comprehensive evaluation to identify barriers to agility, and subsequently, develop a plans that progressively addresses their needs.
How do they do this? As with athletes, companies need to recognize the value of investing in the right trainers and coaches – specialists who understand functions and mechanics – who not only diagnose areas of opportunity but guide them through progressive evolutions towards improvement. It is not sports science, but organizational science (and perhaps some data science too).
For organizations looking to make it in the “big leagues”, speed, agility, and continuous improvement are not optional. Those who invest in, develop, and increase their ability to move with speed will change the markets they operate in or even create new markets. Those that don’t, can never hope for better than second place.
Interested in learning about how you can improve your organization? Connect with us and let’s talk. We have a number of Agile experts and have helped multiple fortune 500 apply lean agile/scaled agile principles, coupled with tailored change management strategies, to increase their business agility.
1 PMI Pulse of the Profession: Capturing the Value of Project Management | February 2020
2Merriam-Webster Dictionary: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/agile