In this era of rapid change, companies need agility to meet customer needs — and to survive. Agility refers to a company’s ability to respond quickly to challenges like new technology, competition, changing needs of consumers and sudden shifts in the business environment.
A truly agile company doesn’t just react to change, but proactively seeks new information and embraces change in a collaborative way. An agile organization anticipates and makes the most of change, acting quickly to meet the rapidly evolving needs of customers and the marketplace.
How can organizations become more agile? Mark Marone, Ph.D.,director of research and thought leadership for Dale Carnegie and Associates, said, “It takes more than smart people and good data to become agile. Along with good tools and processes, it takes the right combination of resilience, social intelligence and capacity for action, aligned with clear organizational purpose, to create a strong foundation for agility.”
Success in the face of change relies on the agility of companies, and that agility must be nurtured and supported from the top down, with these factors in mind:
Develop a Customer-Focused Purpose
A recent Dale Carnegie study found corporations that performed best in the face of rapid change had a strong customer focus. When employees maintain a strong focus on customer needs, it empowers them to suggest and advocate for changes that make the organization more responsive in providing value for customers.
While it’s crucial to communicate clearly to the organization about its goals and concerns, leadership also needs to listen. Being open to the suggestions and questions of all employees results in the ability to respond more quickly to change.
Because agility requires making rapid decisions, some risk is involved. Encouraging a culture that tolerates the occasional misstep and promotes learning from mistakes helps create resilience. Dale Carnegie said that resilience means being able to “develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” Learning from failure is the best way to become more adept in handling fast-paced change.
Allowing employees to share ideas and learn from missteps helps instill confidence that they have something to contribute, and that they can be relied on to adapt to change. Modeling self-confidence is insufficient — it’s important to show employees you have confidence in them. Self-confidence encourages employees to experiment and explore new solutions. Senior leaders set the tone, but mid-level and front-line leaders are also in a good position to increase self-confidence in their teams.
People with a positive outlook expect and get positive outcomes more often than those without it. Positivity enhances problem-solving and decision-making, helping people think more flexibly, innovatively and creatively.
Communicating honestly and following through on expectations helps instill trust, which creates an environment of psychological safety. Knowing leadership will support risk-taking and not blame employees for missteps is key. According to Dale Carnegie, principle number one is, “Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.” Helping employees learn from failures without penalizing them creates an atmosphere where employees are willing to express ideas and opinions, rather than being paralyzed by fear of negative feedback.
Develop Effective Tools and Processes
Provide employees with tools and processes to handle new technologies, changes in workplace methods and shifts in customer needs. In a Dale Carnegie survey of employees concerned about losing their jobs to AI, 68% of respondents said getting additional training would be very or extremely important to retaining their positions. Most employees look to their employers to provide that training.
Enhance Capacity for Action
Supporting collaboration and creative intelligence helps drive innovation and positive action. Insights and action plans can be derived from cross-functional teams as well as a corporate culture of information-sharing and encouraging creative thinking.
“Involving employees in initiating ideas for change is key to agility,” said Marone, adding, “Those closest to the needs of customers are in the best position to identify problems and generate solutions.” And employees who have helped develop solutions in the face of change will be their strongest advocates.
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