The Truth About Business Agility

Depending on who you ask, you will probably get different definitions of business agility based on their own perspective of what agility means. The common themes around the definition of business agility centre mostly around the speed at which organizations adapt and respond to changes within the business environment. In the context of Agile specifically, the definition of business agility relates to the application of agile values, principles and frameworks at the enterprise level in order to orchestrate the adjustments needed to facilitate change. All of these definitions are focused and accurate, but for me the best definition of business agility can be found in the response of Steve Jobs to an unrelated question, where he stated that:

‘You have to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.’

I very much share Steve Jobs’ passion for providing an excellent customer experience, because this is the only aspect that will ensure a strong competitive advantage enjoyed by the likes of Apple and Google. Organizations that focus on improving the overall experience of its customers will wipe the floor with their competitors. Google was not the first search engine and they managed to dislodge existing search engines like Yahoo simply because they made the search experience less complicated for customers. Their dominance has been so powerful that people now use the phrase “Google it” as a replacement for searching for information online. For companies like Google, customer experience also manifests itself internally, in the form of employee engagement. Laszlo Bock, the former Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google, revealed in his book that some of the successful product offering by Google was developed by employees during their (loosely termed) ‘free time’. Google has a practiced of allowing employees to spend 10% of their ‘work’ time on personal projects they find interesting, which do not have to be related to the specific job role that they were hired to do. Creating such an environment that empowers and allows employees the freedom to create value for customers is the only way to encourage innovation. Sometimes I wonder why companies hire smart people only to tell them how to do their job. This is the difference between large companies and startups: the culture in most startups is collaborative, agile and not bureaucratic which is the ingredient for innovation. Startups also understand the importance of listening to customers in order to understand how to improve customer satisfaction, whereas in large companies even this practice of ‘listening’ to the customer can become complicated and difficult to co-ordinate across different departments.

A friend of mine once shared her recent negative experience with an HR manager which centred on managing her relationship with her immediate boss. My friend did not pass her probation because her line manager was not happy with her ‘communication style’, despite the fact that she was able to exceed her quarterly targets by 50%. During one of the meetings with HR, my friend’s line manager referred to her as a ‘moving target’ and the only advice the HR manager was able to offer was that she should resign, because her line manager will eventually get her fired. This is a clear example of the command-and-control leadership style, dominant in many companies today. Google have recognised the drawbacks of fostering this type of behaviour and have gone to great lengths to ensure that the company culture values every employee, which is what makes Google (and companies with a similar culture and ethos) a coveted place to work. I am not interested in highlighting that most employees have a negative experience with the human resource department but business agility starts with a complete ‘upgrade’ of the HR function, because they are the custodian of the company culture as well as employees’ personal and professional development.

Finally the most common characteristics in companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and Spotify is that their way of working is aligned with Agile methodologies and values. Their internal culture and employee development is structured in such a way so as to deliver an excellent customer and employee experience, which is the most important factor for business agility.

About The Author

Femi Olajiga an Agile Marketing Coach who provides Agile marketing training workshops and coaching that helps CMO’s, Directors and Marketing Teams adopt agile marketing. He is also the author of the book: Lean-Agile Marketing: How to Become Agile and Deliver Marketing Success. Available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. He enables companies to become agile across marketing to drive business growth. For further information, connect or follow me LinkedIn, Twitter or visit my blog CXconversion.com.