How to Build Agility by Enhancing Your Organization’s Capacity to Act

by Mark Marone  |  September 11, 2020 

One of the lessons many organizations are learning, sometimes the hard way, is that successful digital transformation is about more than just the technology and tools. In fact, as a recent Harvard Business Review article pointed out, “If people lack the right mindset to change and the current organizational practices are flawed, DT will simply magnify those flaws.”

The authors go on to note how important agility is when it comes to getting innovative impact from these transformative new technologies. The uncertainty involved with the process of digital transformation requires people to continually adapt as things change and make decisions quickly based on new information.

Truly agile organizations are able to capitalize on that information and make the next move because they have what we call the “capacity to act.” They have a willing mindset and are able to change when faced with new insights—and do it quickly. But while new information may provide the impetus for change, many organizations struggle with actually acting on it. When we surveyed more than 3,500 full-time employees across eleven countries on their attitudes about artificial intelligence in the workplace, only 30% strongly agreed that their organization has the capacity to act in response to new information.

That’s a lot of lost opportunity. The good news, though, is that the capacity for action can be developed. As a building block of agility, having this company-wide mindset involves supporting the creativity and collaboration necessary for innovation as well as effectively leading continuous change. Let’s take a closer look at these two elements and how you can enhance your organization’s ability and willingness to act.

Supporting Effective Collaboration for Agile Change

It’s one thing to recognize an important insight or have a great idea. But turning insights into innovation is something else entirely. It requires using your creative intelligence to see things in new ways, make meaningful connections and then come up with solutions that customers will find value in. Unfortunately, not all environments are conducive to this.

To turn ideas into innovative solutions, you need an environment that supports not only psychological safety but also effective collaboration. This means leaders have to break down silos and enable autonomous decision-making, but it also means everyone has to be willing to share information. After all, how can you generate ideas to act on if the insights haven’t been shared with you?

Our survey found that organizations have some work to do in this area. For example, only 29% of respondents strongly agreed with the statement, “We are open to and share new information that may influence how we do our work.”

The other piece that supports successful collaboration is effective teamwork, because given the right conditions, cross-functional teams can bolster information-sharing and tackle new challenges. So, how do you enhance team effectiveness? As researchers working on Google’s Project Aristotle discovered, it doesn’t necessarily matter who’s on the team; more important is how the team works together.

Google identified some specific key dynamics of effective teams, the most important of which is psychological safety, which involves an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk. Dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, and impact round out the top five.

To assess your team’s effectiveness, consider whether all members:

Leading Continuous Change in Agile Organizations

In addition to collaboration, if you want to get beyond the insight or the idea to something tangible and real, you have to master change management—because change is an inevitable part of it. This skill falls mainly to the leaders, but it builds on people having a positive mindset toward change. In the most agile companies, employees and even customers are initiators of change ideas, and that makes them instant advocates.

One of leadership’s primary responsibilities in change management is to communicate the need for change to those who didn’t help originate the idea. Some of the communication strategies used by leaders in agile organizations include:

Because people’s reaction to the idea of change varies, leaders in agile organizations are skilled in working with that by, among other things:

This last point is pivotal, because it’s often the way you can hit the accelerator on change, particularly when you’re talking about transformational change on the level of implementing new technologies. Successful change leaders encourage those who embrace the idea first. They praise early wins and leverage these advocates to build momentum. The faster you can turn your people into advocates for the change, the faster the organization can make the change. That’s not only critical for enabling your organization’s capacity to act; it’s critical for agility.

To learn more about the building blocks of agility and how to enhance your organization’s capacity for action, download our report, The New Competitive Divide: Building the Foundation for Organizational Agility.

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Written By

Mark Marone

Mark Marone, PhD. is the director of research and thought leadership for Dale Carnegie and Associates where he is responsible for ongoing research into current issues facing leaders, employees and organizations world-wide. He publishes frequently on various topics including leadership, the employee/customer experience and sales. Mark can be reached at mark.marone@dalecarnegie.com.