The art of being agile

‘If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…’.

Opinion piece by Jeff Callander, Programme Director of the Strategy Programme

What with the uncertainties created by Brexit, it is a good time for the board and senior management to reflect on their business and, specifically, their business strategy. They need to consider how making agility a part of their strategy will contribute to identifying and successfully meeting new opportunities (before the competition do), while minimising the threats of market upheaval.

Agility is the latest buzzword in business and it is also a quality that we can easily appreciate. Perhaps that is because of its links to sport, where it is usually quite a visible capability, unlike, for example, sustainability, which is more intangible.

According to Wikipedia, in sport, agility is ‘the ability to change the body’s position efficiently, and requires the integration of isolated movement skills using a combination of balance, coordination, speed, reflexes, strength, and endurance’. Similarly, in business, agility is used to describe an organisation’s capability to add, subtract, change and co-ordinate resources to adapt quickly to changing markets and take advantage of new opportunities.

Agility also indicates that a business has the ability to meet market needs as they evolve, while protecting itself from unforeseen events. However, I rarely see the term agility used inside businesses, let alone as part of a business strategy, whereas I see the term sustainability used all the time. This is perhaps because, often, the very things needed to make a company agile take time to execute and even more time to see fruitful results, and therefore don’t meet a company’s short-term performance pressures.

However, developing a strategy to make and maintain a business’ agility is essential in the ‘new normal’ of the market and, in the confusion, business leaders can often miss leveraging the fundamentals of their organisation.

I was reminded of this when seeing an IKEA advert for their ‘bookbook’ or, as it turns out to be, their catalogue. A very clever video, but it also highlights that there is often overlooked value in what we do currently or what we could do with just a few improvements if simply redirected. And it is this value that might make all the difference to our customers, staff and other stakeholders, which might mean the difference between retaining and losing a business opportunity.

What a business needs is simply the agility to be able meet market changes – this could be to take advantage of the low sterling exchange rate, to use the opportunity to look for non-Euro business, to change the approach to developing talent or maybe to create a more stable financial position for the company. Every company should take this opportunity to refresh its business strategy.

A simple test of whether your business is agile is to consider the following: to what extent, when something like Brexit happens, is your organisation able to redirect and re-allocate its resources (staff, manufacturing, service provision, capital, suppliers etc) to take advantage of the new market situation…?

Details of Henley Business School’s Strategy Programme can be found at www.henley.ac.uk/strategy.

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If you have any questions, please contact our programme advisors, Hannah, Ruhi & Diana by email at exec@henley.ac.uk or by phone on +44 (0)1491 418767.

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