The Role Leadership Can Play in a Successful Agile Business Model

There are certain leadership traits that are essential to successfully adopting an agile business model, culture and management.
June 08, 2018

An agile business model allows a business to move fast in response to the changes and disruptions that are common in today's shifting business environments. Working with an agile business model means that a company has operational structures that are adaptable to changing business environments.

Deciding to adopt an agile business model is an important strategic initiative you can take to help your business stay safe and thrive. There are a number of factors that can adversely impact your business if you're not prepared: new competitors entering the market, potential disruptions caused by artificial intelligence and consumers' changing behaviors, just to name a few.

What does it take to avoid being caught off guard? Well, it starts at the top. Agile leadership is key to the successful implementation of an agile business model.

These eight initiatives can help enhance your leadership agility and help you stay ahead of the curve.

1. Build your talent model.

2018 PwC CEO Survey of 1,293 CEOs (spread across a range of industries and 85 countries) reveals that 80 percent of CEOs are concerned about finding people with the right skills to succeed in the rapidly changing digital world.

A lack of key skills and talents can be a major impediment to your company's agility and growth prospects. Having an agile business model isn't just reviewing your business and operating model to ensure that it remains viable in the face of potential disruptions. It's also focusing on establishing a solid talent model.

Ask yourself: Do you have the right set of strategic talent in your company that can help you thrive tomorrow? What are the key roles needed to stay afloat? How can you attract people who have an entrepreneurial mindset? (These are people who are generally self-starters and may have an innate ability to deal with ambiguity and change—a great fit for agile companies.)

You may want to widen the net of managers' responsibility by requiring every manager in your company take ownership of aligning talent management to business initiatives. Consider encouraging everyone, not just HR, to be talent hunters. 

2. Develop your team's agility to support your agile business model.

As your company's leader, you can create the conditions that promote team agility.

You can create killer teams by deploying people you trust, who are self-motivated and have the right skills. Consider making information transparent and creating a supportive environment. It also helps to clarify goals.

Agility requires a collective commitment. It's everyone's business. Make sure everyone is committed to being agile in the way they operate.

An agile business model needs empowerment. A micromanaged employee is the antithesis of an agile employee. Lack of empowerment can act as a barrier to the successful implementation of an agile business model.

3. Hone your communicative agility.

Communicative agility is the ability to use words strategically as an influence tool. You might want to hire a communication coach to help you and your management team in this critical skill. 

You can also take your communicative skills to the next level by developing different persuasive methods and different ways of promoting a new idea.

Strong communication skills are especially crucial in times of uncertainty and ambiguity. Whether it's communicating externally with customers and other stakeholders, or internally with staff, the speed with which you communicate in times of crisis and change is essential.

4. Be flexible in your approach to decision making.

In times of rapid change and unstable conditions, it may be crucial to speed up key decisions. If you're too slow, you may lose out.

Is your leadership style consultative? You may have to resort to using a more autocratic approach sometimes if that's the most expedient way to react to market conditions or other imperatives of the moment.

If you're known for using a team approach to decision making, let the team know why you sometimes need to quickly make decisions without consulting them. This may also be an indirect way of training your team on the importance of decision-making agility.

5. Strive to stay ahead of customer needs.

The customer is at the center of any agile business model. You may want to make it a priority for yourself and your team to analyze and anticipate customers' changing needs.

There are ways to yield valuable information to help you understand how evolving customer behaviors and spending habits might affect your business. They include:

  • reviewing customer support logs, surveys and interviews,
  • monitoring social media comments and customer focus groups and
  • asking, "Who are my regular customers and have I detected changes in their demands?"

Other questions you can ask to maintain a customer-centered business:

  • What can I do to enhance the customer experience?
  • What policies, procedures or processes can I change to make it easier for customers to do business with me?
  • What advanced technologies do I need to stay up-to-date in servicing customer needs?
  • How are my competitors meeting customer needs?
  • What can I do to stay ahead of my competitors?

You may not be able to anticipate “the next big thing" in your industry. But staying informed and educating yourself about evolving customer needs may help your business be more agile. At the very least, this may help you react to changes before it's too late.

6. Adopt multiple leadership styles to work with your agile business model.

In times of fast-paced change, it helps to be flexible in your approach to leading.

There are a multitude of leadership styles to consider. Your style may be democratic (that is, always seeking consensus) or it may be affiliative, always seeking harmony and focusing on strengthening emotional bonds. But disruptive times may call for a different approach (even if temporarily).

For example, you might need to consider adopting a bold, visionary style when changes call for a new approach or when the team needs new clear directions. Or a pacesetting style (“do as I do") when you need quick results.

You may want to work on feeling comfortable switching styles to match the situation at hand.

7. Demand agility from every part of the company.

The "silo mentality," where team members are insular and gain power from belonging to a group, doesn't work well in an agile business environment.

For one thing, team members who have a silo mentality may resist sharing knowledge, which can slow things down and result in inefficiencies. Whether it's HR, accounting or line managers, help everyone understand the underlying reasons for adopting an agile business model.

You can do this by:

  • giving people the training needed to practice agility in their own areas of responsibility.
  • encouraging people to ditch outdated or cumbersome modes and recommending up-to-date ways of accomplishing their jobs.
  • rewarding people for ideas that can help simplify or speed up any processes.

Agility requires a collective commitment. It's everyone's business. Make sure everyone is committed to being agile in the way they operate.

8. Encourage intelligent disobedience as part of your agile business model.

To promote an agility mindset throughout the company, consider introducing the concept of intelligent disobedience. This concept comes from seeing-eye dogs. They are trained to obey the commands of a blind person, but are also trained to know when to disobey commands that could put the owner at risk (such as crossing when a car is approaching).

Give customer-facing employees some latitude when dealing with customer issues. This means giving them permission to disobey some rules if it helps to quickly and intelligently resolve customer issues.

Becoming an agile company can be a difficult balancing act between taking care of the day-to-day business and keeping an eye on the horizon to anticipate and react to an ever-changing world. But by investing some time and energy, you can understand the changes that can affect your business—and be prepared to deal with them.

Read more articles on leadership.

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