Wise words from renowned eighteenth-century poet and dictionary-writer Samuel Johnson.
His quote may be more than 200 years old, but it rings truer than ever — not least for businesses facing the whirlwind change of the digital revolution.
For organizations, the days of considering decisions from every angle are gone. In the digital era, they must generate ideas, decide which to progress and which to drop, and execute — all at the breakneck speed that today’s customers demand. When they fail, they fail fast and learn from their mistakes quickly.
Agility is therefore a critical attribute for success in today’s environment. In fact, it is one of five crucial organizational capabilities Korn Ferry believes firms must develop to achieve what we call digital sustainability — the capacity to continually adapt to the disruption of the digital world.
ASEAN countries are not spared from this phenomenon too. To stay current, many private and public organizations are revisiting their vision and mission, as well as rethinking their business and operating model to meet higher market demands. Other than investment planning, these organizations also plan and execute strategies in parallel so that they can respond to arising opportunities promptly.
Agility – the ability to move quickly – in everything is now a true core competency for every organization in every industry and in every country.
A new mindset
How do organizations develop the ability to rapidly react to their customers’ ever-changing needs? In short, by adopting a new state of mind.
Businesses are cautious by nature. They’re used to making decisions based on volumes of data, in-depth analysis, feasibility studies, and so on. But as Mr. Johnson’s words remind us, trying to surmount all possible obstacles in advance is a recipe for stasis. And in the digital world, stasis isn’t an option.
So how do organizations acquire the ability to move at the ‘speed of digital?’
In an era when every business depends on software, they can learn at a lot from the field of software development. Over the last decade or so, developers have embraced the ‘agile methodology’ as a fast and reliable way to create effective applications in an unpredictable environment.
The agile method is a high paced, collaborative process of adaptation and iteration in response to customer feedback. Extending this philosophy to the wider business will help companies to move at speed. It’s time for them to adopt an agile mindset.
The agile way
‘Going agile’ will mean thinking differently about many aspects of day-to-day operations.
Planning, for example, will need to be faster and more pragmatic. Organizations must complete tasks and achieve objectives in parallel — not sequence. And management and financial planning could be carried out in bi-weekly cycles, rather than quarterly.
On the HR front, performance management and incentive pay-outs could be done on a project-by-project basis, rather than annually (and potentially with client input).
Innovation should be based on early prototyping, trial-and-error, and iterative development.
Meanwhile, working practices will need to involve widespread collaboration — within the organization, and beyond its boundaries – i.e. with partners, suppliers, clients, and even competitors.
Of course, agile will never be applicable to everything the firm does. It won’t work for, say, developing complex payment systems. It doesn’t generally suit clerical or routine production or administrative roles. And you probably won’t want to use it to build a nuclear energy plant.
But the fact remains: a more agile approach will help functions not traditionally thought of as agile centers to add more value to the business.