Agility: a new buzzword or a real imperative?

By Philippe Riboton, Managing Director at HR Partners International Executive Search

When was the last time you heard the word “agility”?

At home there is little chance you will hear your partner praise the way you wash the dishes with “agility” or receive the compliment from your hyper-connected teenager that you fixed a flat tire with “agility”. However the chance (or the risk) is that agility was the key motto of your CEO during your last management or executive board meeting.

So what’s the fuss about this new buzzword? Why has it invaded the managerial scene and the corporate world to the point that most companies have recently decided agility is their new imperative?

I have asked a few leading figures of the training and the management consulting world as well as one of the most successful HR leaders in Central Europe and one board member of a global listed company why agility is so important in today’s organizations.

Magdalena Prunerova, owner and managing director of the training company MgC Group in Prague, recognizes that more and more companies turn to her for trainings in agility because she says “the tools we were using for the past decade simply do not work anymore. There is a new generation out there with different needs. Therefore we experience requests for agility training programs especially from companies’ leaders in business development or project management”, she says.

Renata Mrazova, Chief People Officer at Home Credit International, also recognizes that “everyone talks about agility these days. But if you talk to different people, there are different understandings what agility means to them. It can relate to new ways how to organize teams across different functions; it can relate to different ways how the teams are managed. But in all cases I think agility questions the mode of cooperation between individuals, the level of trust they give each other and the empowerment provided by the leadership to the teams”.

Joel Cooper, an American management consultant, coach and mentor based in Prague says “resiliency, adaptability, flexibility and balance are four qualities essential to long-term business agility and success.” So training about agility for him should “allow organizations to respond rapidly to changes in the internal and external environment without losing momentum or vision”, he says.

So how do you translate the imperative of agility into reality in an organization? Joel Cooper acknowledges that “agility is only as effective as your company’s culture and how they execute “agility”. Clients who embrace risk, who have flatter and more flexible organizational charts, are more individualistic vs collective in decision-making, and more decentralized have a greater ability to truly be agile”, he says.

But how do you bring agility into a very large organization? “This is the most interesting part of it”, says the board member of a global French listed company I have interviewed for that blog. He says “agility questions the way decisions are made because the company wants to make decisions faster. So it’s essentially about empowering people to make decisions themselves and take the ownership of the projects rather than relying on senior managers to make decisions instead of their teams and get them executed.”

Agility also questions the readiness of companies to take risks. “We need to find a go and learn approach”, says this board member: “launch fast, evaluate results right after and re-orientate immediately. But it has to go together with the acceptance of risk. We need to reward the risk and accept risk doesn’t always pay”.

Joel Cooper concurs: “agility is an everyday mindset”, he says”. “Agile companies can not be afraid to make mistakes. Today’s mistake is tomorrow’s opportunity”.