As we look toward 2023, there’s much uncertainty around the economy and the operating environment. As leaders, we must remain agile and set clear strategic directions to take advantage of opportunities and mitigate any setbacks.
Responding to increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environments requires leadership and organizational agility. We define agility as “the ability to quickly and successfully respond to changes in the environment.”
Agile leaders tend to possess these five competencies:
- Learn quickly by regularly acquiring new knowledge and understanding complex topics.
- Demonstrate resilience by embracing new opportunities and learning from mistakes.
- Empower others by encouraging a culture of innovation, collaboration, high standards and speed.
- Lead change, maintaining constant awareness and creating buy-in by understanding and engaging key stakeholders.
- Think strategically, focusing on the big picture, as well as encouraging innovation and risk-taking.
One of the most misunderstood aspects of agility is that while it requires adapting to the environment, the core of the business must remain the same. Being agile isn’t about a full transformation every time there’s a shift in the market; it’s about adapting while staying true to who you are and what you stand for as a company.
Most leaders focus on creating culture when times are good. By clarifying your core vision and values and developing leaders at all levels, you’re creating an agile organization that can respond to changes in the operating environment.
Here’s how to create successful strategies in any business environment:
1. Check your core values.
Most companies have core values, but they’re not always useful. Evaluate yours, confirm their authenticity and start reinforcing them.
Take a hard look at your recent decisions — are they in line with your values? If not, the values are either not the right ones or not integrated in decision processes.
2. Evaluate and invest in your bench of agile leaders.
Review the five agile competencies and take a hard look at your bench of leaders across the company. Do they possess at least some of these behaviors? Are these behaviors evenly distributed across managers and leaders in the company? And how can you start investing in the development and strengthening of these critical competencies?
3. Set the stage for empowerment.
Do you have leaders who are empowered to make decisions? If not, start exposing them to strategic discussions and make sure they clearly understand the vision.
Establish a way to share data with all your leaders. If they’re equipped with the right data, they can make the best decisions.
4. Create groups to focus on the short- and long-term goals.
Create task forces independently focused on the present and the future. One typically focuses on internal data, while the other analyzes future trends (i.e., unemployment and medical advances like vaccines). This allows you to understand where you are and what outside forces will shape your business in the coming months.
5. Don’t wait to enact change.
If you’ve been putting off making important changes to your business, don’t. The current situation accelerated change initiatives, but those firms that were ready to pivot quickly are now well ahead of others.
Dealing with a crisis doesn’t mean that you must bring all business improvement endeavors to a halt. Despite all the uncertainty, nothing keeps us from building our agility today so that we’re able to fend off future instances more effectively.
Mike Clancy is a partner and strategy practice leader at FMI. Steena Chandler, a principal in leadership and organizational development at FMI, also contributed to this story.