In a previous post, I defined a nimble organization as one that has a sustained ability to quickly and effectively respond to the demands of change while continually delivering high performance. Gaining and sustaining nimbleness is not easily or casually achieved. To fully leverage its potential requires commitment and tenacity from the very top of an organization. This begins when members of the Board (or equivalent strategic sanctioning body) and senior leadership declare their deeply held belief that nimble execution is a vital strategic advantage. This conviction must then be translated into two levels of intention:
- Creation of the environment where nimbleness can flourish (reflected in the organization’s leadership, culture, and approach to change roles)
- Creation of the application structures and processes that drive successful execution (reflected in the organization’s portfolio of initiatives and implementation architecture)
Strong, nimble intent drives the environment and application needed to consistently deliver expected results when executing change.
Nimble organizations have numerous characteristics that distinguish them from their competitors (leveraging technology, fostering innovative thinking, creative alliances, etc.). The focus here is only on those related to change execution, and there are seven: intentions, environment (leadership, culture, and roles), application (portfolio and implementation), and results. I’ll give a definition for each, followed by key questions to be used in evaluating an organization’s nimbleness.
INTENTIONS: Nimble organizations have established, specific goals around building nimbleness.
- To what extent have senior leaders articulated a clear intent to develop nimbleness in their organization?
- To what degree is nimbleness represented in measures used to evaluate an organization’s performance?
- Are consequences linked to senior leaders’ effectiveness at building organizational nimbleness?
- To what degree do senior leaders demonstrate steadfast alignment and unity around critical issues?
- How active and skilled is leadership in shaping the organization’s culture toward ongoing agility?
- Do leaders consciously stretch the organization’s ability to absorb and execute change with the objective of fostering more nimble capacity?
- Do they serve as effective role models for personal resilience, and the ability to create nimble work environments for others?
Environment—LEADERSHIP: The guidance provided by key executives across an organization can significantly contribute to or impede organizational nimbleness.
Environment—CULTURE: Well-established mindset and behavior patterns support the effective execution of change initiatives.
- To what degree does the organization focus on the opportunities that exist in complex, turbulent environments?
- What level of confidence exists regarding the organization’s ability to address uncertainty?
- How clear is an organization’s sense of purpose and direction?
- Does the organization value—and experience—high levels of creativity and a high tolerance for ambiguity?
- How strong are collaboration and teamwork across the organization?
- To what degree does the organization value and balance structure and discipline?
- How willing is the organization to take risks in the face of uncertainty?
Environment—ROLES: Nimble organizations incorporate the capabilities needed to perform change-related roles into their hiring, job assignments, performance management, and development.
- Do performance management systems address change role proficiency (sponsors, agents, and targets)?
- Is role predisposition considered in hiring and placement decisions?
- To what degree does an organization train individuals to serve in each of the key change roles?
Application—PORTFOLIO: Nimble organizations effectively manage the overlapping demands of multiple change initiatives.
- Does the organization maintain a single set of long-range and near-term change imperatives for the business?
- Is there a structured mechanism in place for managing this portfolio of strategic initiatives, and is it consistently applied?
- To what extent are the magnitude and complexity of changes, as well as the cultural shifts required, taken into consideration when selecting initiatives to be implemented?
- Is there a process in place for measuring and tracking the combined change load being placed on the organization?
Application—IMPLEMENTATION: Nimble organizations implement each critical change systematically and effectively.
- Are there clear criteria for evaluating the degree of difficulty of an initiative, and for determining the appropriate level of implementation discipline to be applied?
- Do key initiatives include specific activities to clarify intent, build sponsor commitment and alignment, and enroll targets?
- Do both planning and implementation reflect an unambiguous and consistent focus on realization?
- Is there a systematic, well-documented implementation architecture and is it used consistently?
- Is there a standard realization-oriented framework for assessing, reporting, tracking, and mitigating risk?
RESULTS: The nimble organization consistently executes change quickly and effectively enough to address the challenges it faces in moving toward its intended purpose.
- Does an organization have a mechanism in place to track initiative outcomes?
- To what extent does an organization deliver the full extent of promised outcomes within the planned time and budget constraints?
- Do people have confidence that once a strategic change is announced, stated objectives will materialize as planned?
- Is the current level of nimbleness sufficient to meet the organization’s requirements for change?
As change practitioners, we have a duty to help leaders see beyond their current initiatives and be ready to deal with ongoing disruption. Nimble organizations quickly and effectively adapt to major transitions while maintaining high performance. Orchestrating this kind of enterprise requires strong commitment from senior leaders as they build: 1) an environment where nimbleness can flourish, and, 2) the application structures and processes needed to support successful execution on a consistent basis.
Next series: Learning as a Foundation of Our Work