In today’s hyper-paced and chaotic world, few things are more important to success than the ability to respond quickly to sudden changes in external forces, market conditions, or customer needs. Whether the disruption comes from a pandemic, the introduction of a new technology, a new competitor that nobody saw coming, or drastic changes in economic policy and trade agreements, the companies that go to the head of the class are usually those that respond the quickest.
I call this strategic agility – the ability to quickly and appropriately respond to or drive change while maintaining flexibility and focus. It’s not easy to come by, and it doesn’t just happen by itself. Rather, it requires an intentional effort from leaders and managers to design and build an organizational structure where information flows easily throughout the company. It also requires teaching people at all levels to think strategically, keeping one eye on the future while the other focuses on what needs to get done today.
Laying a solid foundation for this type of organization requires three key elements.
Developing strategic agility starts with getting clear on winning even if it is for very short term timeframes. Although we are in a time of a lot of unknown, there are things we do know. It might only be for the week or the month but get crystal clear on what is clear. Without clarity, people and organizations typically end up going in many different directions, especially when faced with unexpected change.
Imagine having to describe and define for someone what it looks like at the end of the year when you have been successful. Most leaders can pretty quickly provide the financial objectives. And then…what else? Your employees don’t make moment to moment decisions based on your core financial objectives. Very few of them are sitting around thinking about your EBITDA targets! You have to define and describe winning with specificity across as many aspects of the business as you possibly can.
You want to paint a picture of winning that is so clear there is little room for interpretation. You want to enable everyone in your organization to understand the business of your business and have the ability to make the best possible decisions day to day and moment to moment to get the organization to its destination. And you have to communicate why the destination is the one that it is including how it will benefit customers and employees. Having a vision of winning that people understand makes it easier to get and keep everyone working on the same page constantly.
If getting clear on winning represents the starting point for strategic agility, keeping people focused on the goal is the driving force behind getting there. Front-line employees tasked with delivering your product or service day in and day out can easily lose sight of the big picture. You can help them stay focused by constantly communicating your company’s definition of winning in many different ways and with as much specificity as possible.
- Start every meeting by reviewing the organization’s top three strategic goals and how they will help everyone win. In a time of constant change, make sure you are updating frequently.
- Post visual cues and “brain prompts” to remind people of the destination – what it looks like when you’ve arrived at the next milestone. Use every online tool you have to do this, and if you have employees in a physical location, certainly use that real estate as well.
- Make sure individual employees understand how their jobs contribute to the organization achieving the goals. Don’t assume others have that level of insight into the connections and interdependencies.
- As things change, communicate how the company will still win and why. Fill in the blanks that individuals may have in their thinking processes. Explain more than you think is necessary.
The more you keep people focused on winning, the better your chances of hoisting the trophy at the end of the game.
Here’s the tricky part – people won’t buy into your vision of winning unless they feel connected to the organization. Connection starts with having a powerful vision people can believe in and feel good about, and it also requires giving honest, candid performance feedback on a regular basis.
Feedback has always been an essential ingredient of high-performing teams. In uncertainty, it has become more important than ever. Employees of all generations want feedback, especially when delivered in a timely and constructive manner. Millennials and GenZers will demand it – from their managers and their peers. If you don’t give it to them, they will find another workplace that does.
Moreover, younger generations expect to be able to give feedback as
well. They have grown up in a social media world that makes it easy to give
instant feedback to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Those born since the advent
of smart phones don’t know any other way in their social lives, and they expect
the same type of communication on the job.
Today’s rate of change won’t slow down any time soon. Making strategic agility a top priority will allow you to respond to it (rather than just react) without losing focus and will keep your organization on track to win.
Call to action: Get clear on your vision of winning and constantly communicate it.