The Three Levels of Business Agility

Last Updated Mar 3, 2010 1:29 AM EST

I'm sure you've heard the aphorism "change is the only constant," but do you know when who first coined the phrase? Surprisingly, it is not the work of Tom Peters, Peter Drucker, Henry Ford, or any other management guru, but was, instead, written by the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, 2,500 years ago.

We often talk about the nature and speed of change and the importance of change management as if it is some new concept, developed over the past 20 or 30 years. Yet responding to external challenges and opportunities, and finding ways to overcome them is, in essence, the story of mankind.

Consequently, change management is not an element of your job as a business manager or leader; it is the job. If you're not helping yourself, your team or your organisation find ways to overcome new challenges or exploit new opportunities then it is unlikely that you are adding any real value to the business at all.

At the heart of change is agility. Your ability to anticipate, respond to and maximise the results from changes to your external environments are the key drivers of success.

I have identified three levels of agility. At which of the three levels does your business operate?

  1. Operational Agility. 18 months ago Tesco responded to the downturn and the increased competition from low price such as Aldi by launching its own Discounter range. This initiative did not require a change in direction from the company, but did require fast, effective decision making to enable a reallocation of resources and focus onto the new particular project.
  2. Strategic Agility. In 1991, after six years of failing to succeed as a full-service airline between Ireland and London, Ryanair adopted a distinctively different strategy, focused on becoming Europe's low fare airline. The company's ability to change strategy led to it becoming the largest airline in Europe.
  3. Organisational Agility. Pulling off a fundamental shift in strategy once is worthy of celebration. Businesses that can repeatedly shift resources and strategy and adapt to new customer needs, technological changes and uncertain economic realities are few and far between. GE continues to face difficulties and uncertainty, but its performance over the last 100 years demonstrates the organisation's -â€" and its people's â€"- remarkable ability to experiment, adapt and overcome major external challenges.
  • Stuart Cross

    Stuart Cross is a founder of Morgan Cross Consulting, which helps companies find new ways to drive substantial, profitable growth. His clients include Alliance Boots, Avon and PricewaterhouseCoopers.