Agility isn’t just a buzzword – it has to be backed by accurate data and rapid action. In the face of ongoing disruption to our daily lives, businesses need to focus on cultivating this, or face the consequences.
The word ‘agility’ has fast become a buzzword in the world of business – it is promised and claimed more than it is lived and breathed. In the context of today’s business landscape, touting the benefits of agility without actually finding a way to operationalise it achieves nothing.
The ability to take action in the face of disruption has to start with how agility is built into the fabric of the business.
The brightest business leaders of today understand that distinction and recognise that true agility isn’t about the ability to ideate or think of a way forward, it’s how quickly you can put this into action in a constantly changing and global business environment. So, if the ideas are the easy part, how do you turn them into a market-oriented approach that can drive actual change in the business?
Building agility into organisational management
The ability to take action in the face of disruption has to start with how agility is built into the fabric of the business. That means HR, finance and business leaders coming together to level up organisational management capabilities, and using data and technology as the springboard. Why? Without it, it’s almost impossible to understand the current state of the business, what needs to change and how the organisation will in turn need to adapt. Agility comes from the ability to make the right decisions faster and track the workforce as the plan is put into practice, whilst continuing to make adjustments along the way.
Take the UK’s largest supermarket chain Tesco as an example. When the demand for online deliveries surged beyond its capacity at the start of lockdown, the retailer very quickly began using refrigerated lorries in its car parks to give customers the option of collecting their groceries. This operational change to the supermarket’s online ordering platform sped up the service and relieved pressure on home deliveries, while also making sure customers could still get their groceries at a difficult and uncertain time. We can assume that in a matter of days and weeks, the shape of the workforce transformed from in-store personnel to a demand for warehouse pickers and packers, night-shift workers and distribution staff. Since then, Tesco has announced a further 16,000 new jobs to cater for the growth in online demand.
Why is this important? Tesco was rapid in understanding what needed to be done and taking action. It was one of the fastest supermarkets to make a meaningful operational change at a crucial time in the pandemic, enabling it to better serve its customers.
This is the agility that continual organisational analysis, modelling, and visualisation can offer. It’s also why the annual audit and quarterly planning cycles leave businesses unequipped to deal with disruption. Having well organised data and analytics unlocks the ability for organisations to act quickly in the face of change, leaving businesses seeing significant payoffs.
Razor sharp, data-driven processes on the people side of the business are essential to an organisation’s ability to pivot and respond to disruption. As businesses execute their operational strategies based on new market dynamics, the work itself may change and with it the people doing it. For example at one North American national bank during the coronavirus pandemic, tens of thousands of retail banking staff were redeployed to online customer service in a matter of weeks as demand in that part of the business spiked. How can HR leaders be at the helm of this and fearlessly guide the business through the transition?
The answer, simply put, is data. Allowing HR to have a single view of their entire organisational landscape with the ability to design, plan and monitor the workforce will allow them to more efficiently collaborate with the business both operationally and financially. This will make any business more agile and take into account productivity and revenue at the same time.
Typically the CFO holds all the cards when it comes to data, with the finance department being known as the data hub. These kinds of silos between departments are a major roadblock to business agility and resilience. The more readily available and well organised data is, the more it can bring together every leadership team and inform decision making.
Business agility going forward
Every part of the business should be able to make decisions with confidence, informed by the right data, and normalising this capability within HR is a giant leap in the right direction.
It’s fair to say that the need for true agility and resilience in businesses is becoming more and more evident, especially as we navigate our way through a global pandemic. These words can no longer be casually thrown around, but instead need to be turned into an operational reality. The capability to do this will be the difference between businesses’ survival and downfall during critical moments of disruption.
About the author
Perry Timms is the Founder & Chief Energy Officer of PTHR, with 30+ yrs experience in people, learning, technology, organisation change & transformation. His personal mission is to see more people flourish through their work, and help shift organizations as a force for societal good (not just profit machines). PTHR's mission is defined as "Better Business for a Better World". In October 2017, his first book, Transformational HR - was published by Kogan Page and the Energized Workplace published in August 2020. He was an extremely proud new entrant to the list of HR Most Influential Thinkers for 2017 and again in 2018 + 2019 (in the top 10 both years).