The concept of ‘workplace agility’ has gained significant attention in recent years as companies struggled to maintain operations during the disruptions caused by the pandemic. However, agility in the workplace is not a new idea. For decades, software development teams have been using agile principles to quickly and efficiently create and respond to change.
In the Forbes article, “Why Agile is Eating the World,” Steve Denning points out that agility is not just a mindset for software development. Instead, he believes that organisations must be flexible, adaptable, and able to quickly respond to the constantly changing needs of their customers. In other words, agile thinking is needed throughout the entire business to be successful in today’s competitive landscape.
The need for workplace agility has grown as more companies implement digital transformation strategies, and the pandemic has only highlighted the importance of having agile workforces.
So, what is workplace agility, why is it vital, and how can managers foster agile thinking and build an agile company culture?
Understanding agility and its place in new ways of working
Agility in the workplace is the ability of employees and organisations to respond quickly and effectively to changes in their environment. According to Gallup, it is the capacity of employees to gather and disseminate information about changes and take action promptly and efficiently.
From a strategic perspective, agility in the workplace involves the ability to quickly innovate and make data-driven decisions to maintain a competitive edge. It can lead to improved productivity, enhanced employee engagement, and greater flexibility to adapt to external factors such as market changes, customer behaviour, and economic conditions.
The COVID-19 pandemic showcased numerous examples of companies that embraced agile business models. Some transformed their entire operations to support remote work, while others pivoted their strategies to meet new market demands.
In the public sector, educators and IT teams in schools exemplified agility as they quickly adapted to using technology to teach remotely. In the corporate world, managers in various industries worked diligently to foster agility among employees and support productivity and collaboration in a remote work environment.
Ultimately, agility in the workplace is essential for organisations to thrive in today’s rapidly changing business environment. It enables businesses to effectively navigate internal and external challenges and stay competitive. In fact, agility is no longer a luxury but a fundamental requirement for survival.
Here are six organisational benefits of agility in the workplace:
1. Quicker innovation with faster time to market
In today’s digital age, the pace of change is rapid, and companies that cannot keep up risk being left behind. In fact, 52% of companies listed on the Fortune 500 have gone bankrupt, been acquired, or ceased to exist since the year 2000 due to digital disruption. For a company to remain competitive and viable in the future, the ability to innovate quickly is crucial.
Time to market (TTM) is the length of time required to develop and launch a product or service, including the process of generating ideas, designing, developing, and releasing the product. A more agile organisation is better equipped to reduce time spent in each stage, allowing the company to bring new innovations to market faster. Adopting an agile methodology can help organisations to be more flexible and efficient in their processes, minimising wasted time and resources.
2. Increased profitability
An agile mindset places a strong emphasis on the people aspect of work, which can lead to improved morale, increased employee motivation and engagement, and higher quality work. This in turn, positively impacts the company’s performance and results. According to a study by Korn Ferry, companies that have a higher proportion of agile employees tend to have 25% higher profit margins than their less agile counterparts.
Research from Gallup also indicates that when employees perceive their organisation to be agile, they are more likely to feel that their company has an edge over competitors, is financially stable and secure, and is successful and growing.
3. Enhanced customer satisfaction
An agile approach necessitates a more collaborative and open communication style, which includes reaching out to customers and stakeholders to ensure a continuous feedback loop concerning products and services. This not only keeps customers informed, but it also makes them feel more included in the process, as their feedback is actively sought and considered. As a result, it is more likely that the organisation will be able to provide products and services that truly meet customers’ needs and expectations.
4. Greater team diversity leads to better business outcomes
A study conducted by the Business Agility Institute, which surveyed over 400 professionals, coaches and leaders, found that there is a strong correlation between agility and diversity, equality, and inclusion (DE&I) in the workplace. Both DE&I and agile work practices are built on common values and principles. When these values are aligned within an organisation, it improves working conditions and leads to better business outcomes. Moreover, teams that are diverse, empowered and inclusive tend to create products and services that cater to a wider range of customers. Given how diverse South Africa’s workforce is, there is a huge advantage for any business that can positively harness and leverage DE&I within an agile environment.
5. Improved organisational resilience
Businesses that are able to adapt and respond well to challenges exhibit resilience, which is vital for long-term success. The same is true for employees; those who are able to adapt to difficult situations, handle stress, and maintain motivation are considered resilient. By fostering an agile culture, organisations can develop both individual and overall organisational resilience, allowing them to better navigate and recover from unforeseen circumstances.
6. Elevated employee satisfaction
An agile workplace fosters an environment of short-cycle iterations, which encourages teams to focus on the most critical and impactful activities. By identifying and prioritising important tasks, teams can streamline their processes and eliminate non-essential activities. This not only improves organisational efficiency but also enhances the overall employee experience by providing a sense of purpose and accomplishment, as well as a more meaningful and productive workday.
Pulling it all together
Agility in the workplace also allows employees to have more control over their work schedule, leading to higher levels of satisfaction, and preparing them for leadership roles. In our experience, leaders with high levels of learning agility, the ability to adapt and learn quickly, are far more likely to be highly engaged in their jobs. This supports the idea that when employees have more autonomy in their work and are able to adapt quickly to change, they are more satisfied and have a better chance to be successful in their careers.
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