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The art of being agile

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For me, Brexit brings Rudyard Kipling’s poem If to mind: ‘If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…’.

What with the uncertainties created by Brexit, it is a good time for the board and senior management to reflect on their business. Specifically, it is a good time to see 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 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 sustainability, for example, which is more intangible.

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, co-ordination, speed, reflexes, strength, and endurance’ (Wikipedia, 2018). 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 a part of business strategies, whereas I see the term sustainability 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’ some years ago, which, as it turned out, was their physical catalogue. It featured in a very clever video, but it also highlighted 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 this might make all the difference to our customers, staff and other stakeholders, which might mean the difference between retaining or 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.

So, a simple test of whether your business is agile is to ask, to what extent, when something like Brexit happens, is your organisation able to redirect and reallocate its resources (staff, manufacturing, service provision, capital, suppliers etc) to take advantage of the new market situation?


Wikipedia (2018) [Accessed 10 December 2018]

Published 15 January 2019

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