Here's Why You Can't Fake Agility In Your Business

What does it mean when an entrepreneur or business owners says that their business is agile?

Does it mean anything?

It does.

Business agility is a way of describing how quickly and efficiently your business adapts to changes in tastes, expectations, and needs in your market. It also describes your ability to create change in your market. The fervor over agility started in tech/software companies and is being applied to businesses in almost every industry and sector.

Being agile, in my opinion, is as important as focusing on being cost effective, delivering the most value and constantly creating an awesome experience for your customers. As an entrepreneur at heart, you have a natural inclination to being agile - it’s how you keep your business moving forward.

If you’ve been following me for a bit you know that I am not a fan of buzzwords. When it comes to business agility I turn down my jargon-filter a bit because being able to change in your market and make good decisions in your business is a big part of good strategy.

Sadly, just like any good business concept this too gets butchered in the corporate world. Faking agility is probably the worst thing your organization can do.

Here are 5 tips to help you spot an agility faking organization or team.

1. No real buy-in from your team or staff.

This is where everyone is on board in public and when an opportunity to change comes up there’s nothing but static. How can you be agile when you’re support staff is constantly complaining about the constraints of their roles? Change is hard. It’s easier to just keep your head down and work like you always have. It’s that familial force that impedes your agility. Watch for the overly enthusiastic in person that show signs of underperformance on the front lines. It’s up to you as a leader to create an environment where the people you count on are invested in you or your business’ value to get to real buy-in.

2. Calling yourself agile but not adopting the agile mindset.

Being agile in your business means that your mindset and your business model shifts a bit. Being agile means you are spending time developing communication, collaboration, feedback and even incremental delivery processes. Pro-Tip: It’s focusing on the process that matters here - lip service = no real buy-in. (See #1.) Seriously, focus on the process.

3. Always serving up the same product or service.

Competitive advantage is a fickle muse. It’s not something that you get once and then you’re done. For your business to be agile you need to be able to take time and evaluate what your market is doing. A big question to answer is: “Is my business still solving a relevant problem?” It can be tough though, there’s always a little resistance when you’re standing on a precipice of change. Don’t fear change and don’t fear failure. It’s in both change and failure that you will keep figuring out how to best serve your customers and most importantly how to keep creating value for them.

4. No active leadership.

A big term in agile business principles is the idea of the scrum. Since I’ve been playing rugby for so long this is one of my favorite parts of being agile. An agile scrum represents your team or the project you’re working on. Part of being in a scrum means that there is a designated leader or owner for the scrum. It doesn’t have to be the same person all the time and the person in charge of the scrum is really more of a facilitator. The benefit to having a lead in the scrum is that someone owns the project. It’s the accountability that helps drive your business or projects forward. Without a facilitator you have the potential to have projects make little to no progress and eventually fall off the face of the planet. Leadership should be rotated and it’s leadership that will continue to support everyone’s buy-in.

5. Killing creativity.

Being agile includes giving people permission to explore. To do that in your business it’s important you don’t create too many processes or systems to get permission or consensus at every single step in the process. While I totally support process and systems - too much of it can be a really bad thing. There has to be a balance. Don’t fall into the trap of getting so caught up in designing how you are going to be/measure/implement your business agility that you forget about applying the core principles of giving people freedom to go out and look for opportunities. The more logistical hoops you create the slower the innovation, the more opportunities you miss, and you are creating an environment for change to be really hard.

If you do the opposite of these 5 tips you’ll be in good shape. Agility is about helping people share a mindset and nurturing your business so that you can continue to make great stuff for people. An implied part of being agile is your willingness to never stop learning. It’s being open to new things that will help you see opportunities to better for your customers and clients.