Modern businesses are aspiring to not only be flexible, but agile also.
But what’s the difference, and why does it matter?
“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change,” Einstein once said, and it’s a concept widely recognised by businesses today in conversations about flexibility and agility. But while these terms are often used interchangeably, they refer to two very different business capabilities.
Agility is described as ‘the ability to move quickly and easily’ while flexibility points at ‘the ability to change.’ For long-term success, businesses should be prepared for both.
Recent political events in the UK, US and other key global markets have shown that the socio-political environment is becoming ever more unpredictable. It goes without saying that events in key markets have ripple effects on businesses around the world, and it has led to many developing contingency plans that involve significant changes, such as migrating head offices or key manufacturing plants.
Others are taking a longer-term view, reviewing their entire business model to make sure it is prepared to withstand both the current challenges on the table and any changes that may follow. In other words, they are aspiring to not only be a flexible business, but an agile one.
So what’s the benefit of taking a more agile approach? The answer: accuracy. As entrepreneurs and business leaders know, when and how to act can be the difference between success and failure. A businessman’s ability to read the market, read the room, and calculate the optimum moment to launch a brand, a product, or a proposal is essential to success.
Flexibility is just as important, as it’s inevitable that businesses will pivot and modify processes as they go along, and this shouldn’t be avoided. But by having an agile business, business can future-proof themselves because they are establishing a model that is built to change. Businesses that are modelled on rigid structures, processes and a fixed understanding of the world will take twice as long to react and adapt, losing time and putting them squarely behind the competition.
In the years to come, there’s no question that businesses will have to adapt to unpredictable and challenging changes to our society. The International Monetary Fund’s April report referred to slowing economic activity in that month alone, due to a range of factors affecting major economies. To name but a few: China faces increasing regulation and trade tensions with the US, Europe is dealing with weak consumer and business demand and Japan has had to manage natural disasters. With an increasingly unpredictable environment, it seems obvious that if a business does not embrace agility it will fail. But how does a static business become an agile business?
One step to agility is giving employees choice on how and where they work. According to research from IWG, this can not only reduce the CapEx and OpEx associated with a fixed office space, but increase speed to market and help businesses consolidate portfolios.
Flexible working also helps businesses to attract and retain talent, which according to Deloitte, can cost businesses from tens of thousands of dollars to 1.5 – 2.0x the employee’s annual salary. This research also shows that agile businesses are more productive – 85% globally think that a more flexible approach has increased productivity in their business.
It will come as no surprise that agile leaders also make agile businesses. Steve Jobs once said: “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly and get on with improving your other innovations.” The story of Steve Jobs’ own success is evidence that this statement is true. Thanks to the recent film title that bears his name, Jobs’ grit and determination to continually adapt his business model until Apple achieved success is now world famous.