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Agile Disruption

Global Leadership Forecast 2018

Adjusted for Disruption:

Top Drivers of Organizational Success through Complexity and Change

Stephanie Neal

Exponential technology and market change are motivating organizations and their leaders to continually rethink, redesign, refocus, and readjust. Within this complex environment, what might have made businesses successful in the past can’t necessarily be counted on for the future. As a result, more organizations are looking to optimize their capability to sense customer and market needs, shift stakeholder mindsets, and adjust their activities. Our research indicates that organizations rated as more agile by their leaders differentiate themselves in key leadership practices that drive more informed, frequent adjustments. Paired with leader capability to sense and act on needed changes, these companies are better prepared to anticipate trends, respond to competitive forces, and adjust to changing customer needs.

Adjusted for Disruption

Sense, Act, Shift, Repeat

Organizational agility requires understanding and anticipation of how the market environment will change, so that its leaders can maneuver successfully and rapidly. Our research shows that more-agile organizations have leaders who are better positioned to meet this challenge. Their leaders are 3.2 times more prepared to anticipate and react to the nature and speed of change, and 1.2 times more capable of responding to the competitive environment.

These organizations enable practices that improve their leaders’ capability to sense and respond to change (see figure above). Specifically, they excel in three areas:

  • Informing decisions through data and analytics. More-agile organizations leverage data and analytics to fuel their sensing capability, with 91 percent of their leaders indicating that they’re prepared to use data to guide business decisions. This contrasts to only 76 percent at low-agility organizations. They were also 1.7 times more likely to leverage analytics to measure the impact of leadership programs and to make talent projections.
  • Integrating multiple and diverse perspectives to drive successful change efforts. Leaders in more-agile organizations are twice as likely as their low-agility counterparts to collaborate and rely on diverse perspectives to create new solutions and opportunities, and to use multiple perspectives to gauge success.
  • Encouraging rapid development of new and improved capabilities. Twice as many leaders at more-agile organizations indicated that failure is embraced or rewarded in pursuit of innovative or different approaches (56 versus 21 percent, respectively).

Adjusted for Continuous Leader Improvement

The impact of organizational focus on internal customers

You can’t consistently anticipate how to succeed with your customers without understanding their needs and growing with them. Our research found that organizations that excel in their focus on external customers—who are more agile and more likely to sense, act, and shift around those needs—have been just as effective with their internal customers. As shown in the figure, their efforts pay off in leadership outcomes that will help ensure continued success as they readjust efforts.

Where to Start
  • Drive first for speed. Encourage leaders to seek rapid deployment and feedback for new prototypes so that they gather the information needed to quickly make decisions and adjust.
  • Identify data blind spots. Inventory data sources and determine if there are gaps in the information needed to sense for and make decisions.
  • Create cross-functional, shared goals. Set common goals across different parts of your organization to encourage interdepartmental cooperation and collaboration. This will help identify and remove information silos and barriers that can impede change efforts.
How to Excel + Differentiate
  • Think big, act small. Rapid deployment of new and improved capabilities requires quick communication and decision making, which can be enabled by a smaller group. Organizations that ranked highest in agility were smaller in size and less likely to have grown in complexity due to mergers and acquisitions.
  • Aim to “adjust,” not “adapt.” Organizations that are more successful have adopted a mindset of tinkering and adjusting. Adapting generally implies change that happens over time, whereas adjusting can be instantaneous.
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