Six Steps To Building An Agile Business

Mukesh Gupta

Predictions regarding the future of work abound, and everyone has their own view of how the future will unfold. But most people agree that it is critical for businesses to be much more agile.

What do we mean by agile business? Which part of the business needs to be agile—operations, marketing, new product or service development? Is it sales, finance, or legal?

The answer depends on the environment and the industry that your organization is part of, along with your aspiration.

1. Delegate

The first step to gain agility in business functions is to delegate operational control to your frontline employees and train them continuously so that they can do a good job. You cannot control how your business functions from backstage and expect agility. If you want your teams to change and become agile, you as a leader need to create an environment where agility can thrive.

Once that is taken care of, you need to focus on the following areas to enable agility:

2. Define an aspiration

As a leader, you must have a vision of what you want to achieve.

Ideally, you should be able to weave a narrative of how the future will unfold. One approach that I have seen work well is to tell a story of how each department or organization will function in the new reality. It is even better if you can narrate the story from different perspectives (employees, customers, partners, etc).

Instead of spelling out the entire change for people to follow, provide the direction and the vision and let your teams own how they bring the vision to reality. As with any change process, irrespective of how much planning we do, when the plan meets reality, it will need to adapt. When building agility, it is critical that your teams know what is expected and that they are trusted to do what is necessary (under clearly defined conditions) to make this vision come to life. This gives the team ownership for the transformation while also building business agility.

3. Enroll

Once your aspiration is defined, you need to get people to enroll in the program. Most change initiatives fail because they don’t engage the very people who are expected to change. People won’t enroll in a project if they don’t have a clear reason to change. Change is not difficult if we understand what is expected and why it is imperative.

Clearly defining your aspiration makes it easier for people to understand the future that is expected. Enabling your team to own the change process and allowing them the freedom to make decisions builds the foundation for their buy-in.

To address the question of imperative, use one of the following communication strategies, depending upon your status:

  • Burning platform: Use this approach if your very existence could be threatened if you don’t change immediately. This kind of communication works well if there is clear and imminent danger for survival and your employees care about the organization’s survival.
  • David vs. Goliath: Use this strategy to topple your biggest rivals and become the undisputed leader in that market segment or function. This works well if your field is dominated by one or two leaders and you aspire to become the dominant player.
  • Pathbreakers: Use this to explore unchartered territories. If you aspire to be a thought leader who is first to do things a certain way. Your teams must be able to relate and aspire to your reasoning for this approach to succeed.

4. Allocate

Actions speak louder than words. People can see by your action and investment which areas of business are considered most critical. To build agility, think deeply about how you allocate resources to that part of the business.

If you say that you want to build agility but fail to provide resources to the areas that support it, people will know and your initiative is doomed from the start.

Here are some questions to consider when it comes to allocating resources:

  • How will you decide what to invest in?
  • Do people know about this process?
  • Is it better to be open and transparent about this process?
  • Are you able to disengage from initiatives and lines of business that lack future potential and redirect those resources to programs that are designed for agility?
  • “Resources” does not always mean financial resources; it also refers to executive attention.

5. Measure

It is not enough to allocate physical resources to projects or programs. It is important to also allocate executive attention if you want your team to prioritize them.

One easy way to do this is to continuously measure and monitor your teams’ progress—what gets measured gets done. Here are some questions to keep in mind:

  • What outcomes are being measured by senior decision-makers?
  • How often do the leaders give attention to the project (weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually)?
  • What new metrics (qualitative and quantitive) could be used to track success?

A clear aspiration to move toward makes measuring progress easy. This is another reason that having a clear aspiration is important for transformation to succeed.

6. Reward

What gets rewarded gets acted on. It is important to link accountability to the success or failure of a project. For that to happen, your team needs to know unambiguously what is expected of them.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • What kinds of behavior are enabled, supported, and rewarded in your organization? Do these align with your aspiration? If not, who has the authority to challenge and change them?
  • What are managers held accountable for?
  • How are people assigned to new positions? Are these assignments based on predefined criteria and free of bias?
  • Do compensation and recognition support or hinder necessary behavioral changes?

In conclusion

A successful business agility strategy requires aspiration, enrollment, resource allocation, measurement of progress, and rewards. Bring these factors together to increase agility in your teams.

For more insight into digital transformation strategies, see 4 Key Priorities For Digital Business Planning.


Mukesh Gupta

About Mukesh Gupta

Mukesh Gupta previously held the role of Executive Liaison for the SAP User group in India. He worked as the bridge between the User group and SAP (Development, Consulting, Sales and product management).