Business Agility

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The business environment today is dynamic - much more than it ever used to be. Change happens constantly and one has to always be a step ahead in the game. It is a dog eat dog world and only the agile survive.

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What is Business Agility?

Business Agility is a concept which is being increasingly adopted by organizations. An agile organization is one which is able to respond in a “nimble-footed” manner- be it innovation, meeting the customer needs and expectations, adjusting to the fluctuations in the economy or managing its own people resources. Further, the response can encompass optimizing performance with minimum costs. Michael Hugos defines Business Agility thusly - “The ability to consistently earn profits that are 2 to 4% (and sometimes more) higher than the market average because they can make a hundred small adjustments every day to reduce operating costs and increase revenues. And sometimes agility enables you to earn even more by sensing and responding quickly to opportunities for new products or services that for a while, have terrific profit margins.

Agile organizations understand the inevitability of change and therefore also the importance of adaptability, out of which the concept of agility is born. Business Agility requires organizations to be comfortable with, and accept, the fluid and inconsistent nature of the business environment. For the most part, this is achievable only if the employees (or “human resource”) of the organization have these attributes.

Role of HR and Business Agility

Since the organization needs employees with “business agility” attributes, the initial role of HR, then, is to ensure the hiring criteria and processes are attuned to pick individuals with agile attributes. Agile and resilient individuals bring along with them a tenacious character which slowly and steadily transforms the basic fabric of the organization. They bring a point-of-view about the state of balance combined with a degree of maturity and flexibility. However, the biggest asset of an agile employee remains adaptability - a willingness to try out the new, to embrace the relatively unknown, and to take risks without being intimidated by change. Business Agility requires organizations to drop the habit of compartmentalizing jobs. Individuals are actually cross trained and are willing to learn newer functions. The role of HR managers assumes a dynamic mantle as well as a strategic role in an agile organization. The call of duty now goes beyond the traditional functions and requires them to play a more proactive role providing insightful information, inputs and strategies which directly affect the bottom line of the organization.

How to Promote Agility

Here are some ways in which HR managers can promote agility in organizations:

  • Assess and hire resilient, agile people based on specific criteria
  • Elaborate on the organizations vision and speak to how the “agility approach” will be the means to achieve it
  • Discourage hierarchies and work towards a flatter structure with ample opportunity for employees, managers, suppliers and customers to interact
  • Discourage specific, closed in job descriptions and encourage flexible roles
  • Inter- and cross-departmental training, and the discussions to support it, are encouraged
  • Put a Premium on accountability and performance
    • base promotions and rewards on them
  • Encourage decision making at several levels and foster the idea of expediency over bureaucratic functioning

Alongside, organizations need to change structurally in order to be more agile. Multiple layers of management and hierarchies are an impediment in the way of agility. Layers not only impede the process of intelligent decision-making but also limit the sharing of information.

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