Leading in Challenging Times: Creating Agile Organizations

Organizational Agility
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Dan Corbett
Management Consultant, Canada

Leading in Challenging Times: Creating Agile Organizations

This is a challenging time for leaders in charting a course for their organization. These times bring life to the ancient quote from Publilius Syrus that "Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm".
The current economic environment has raised new and unforeseen challenges for leaders using traditional organizational models in business and public sector organizations. Business organizations have had to adjust to the new realities of a global economy that requires a new culture of being anticipative, adaptable, innovative and flexible. Public sector organizations now have to deal with the aftermath of government plans to eliminate significant deficits that were used to stabilize the economy and to provide citizens with "value for money" through effective resourcing of public funds.

What is clear is that the pace of change will continue as in this new environment, change is not only a constant it is going to drive the future. Leaders therefore need to have a clear focus on how to stimulate change to create agile organizations and to have strategic agility as an integral core competence. This new environment calls into question some of the traditional approaches that leaders have used to advance the future capacity of their organizations. As an example, we need to rethink how to do strategy and planning, as what was developed a year ago, may no longer be valid.
Here is my perspective on three issues for leaders in these challenging times.

1. Organizations are human systems in the end; results come from how effectively the human talent in an organization delivers the strategies, plans and actions.
A critical element for leaders in building organizational capacity for the future is developing a culture of excellence where problems become possibilities and people naturally think "I can" instead of " I cannot". There are different ways that leaders can go about ensuring bench-strength for implementing strategies where organizational culture is aligned with high performance and sustainable results. That is why a focus on quality is a critical leadership skill. The role of leaders and managers in this era of continuous change is to stimulate and challenge their organization to improve their operating processes to have agility in meeting client and customer needs. This one issue- stimulating change rather than managing change can be a transformative issue for the organization. Energizing the talent within, focusing on innovative work practices and culture is fundamental to building capacity to sustain success.

2. Leaders need to focus on organizational alignment.
There are two areas of alignment that determine effectiveness at the leadership level. One is the external alignment with customers/clients and community and the second is the internal alignment of resources, people and processes. It is this focus on external alignment and internal alignment that brings balance to leadership effectiveness, productivity and organizational success. The less time needed on internal alignment, the more time a leader can spend on the customer and societal drivers affecting the organization and its future. Therefore gaining organizational alignment is a critical productivity issue for management, as the more aligned employees actions are, the less time is spent on variation whether in people issues, customer issues or work processes.

3. Focus on strengths to achieve sustainable change.
Strengths based change is about moving the leadership focus from containing or managing change to stimulating change. We are in a world where change is going to happen, whether we like it or not. If your central leadership belief is "our people are our strength" then leveraging their strengths becomes a critical productivity issue. Strengths based change is a focus on the positive, as in every organization somethings work well, some people are energetically engaged. Finding that positive core of the organization and setting out a process to engage people in their organization's future is a critical element to gaining high performance and productivity.

The new focus for leaders, now more than ever need, is on aligning organizational resources; human, technical and financial, to advance a shared image of the future of the organization. Focusing on innovative ways to engage talent at all levels in the organization is a critical leadership competence in this new way of work, as the collective energy of all employees is needed for success. That means a style of leadership that engages organizational strengths to build capacity and to stimulate positive change rather than figuring out how to react to and contain change. Leaders who work this way inspire their people to focus on infinite possibilities rather than the organizational limitations. The result is that this collective energy and passion that exists within the organizations creates opportunities such that the seemingly impossible becomes the possible.


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