Trends in Agility [Session Summary]


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When it comes to the question of where organizations are heading in the next few years, Dave Ulrich, Professor of Business at Ross School of Business – University of Michigan, argues that agility is going to be strategically paramount.

Being agile matters because the world in which we live is racing at a pace of change we’ve never seen before. The reality is that if businesses can’t respond as fast or faster than the world changes, then they will lose to their competition. For HR departments, the most pressing issue is therefore to evaluate your company’s present capacity for agility. This requires a detailed assessment of the business and employment environment, ultimately informing a change process across what Ulrich considers to be the four primary pillars of agility; strategic, organizational, leadership, and personal.

“Our job as HR professionals is to build organizational agility as a capacity to respond to the external change in which we live”

Strategic agility

Strategic agility is essentially the speed at which a company can define where and how it competes. In order to get to a position where a company is strategically agile (ie: being able to cope with disruption, re-invention, discovery, rapid external changes), the organization must progress from the underlying stages of strategic competency. The first stage of this is strategic planning, followed by alignment, capability, and then finally agility. By progressing along this path, each evolution signifies a quickening of the company’s ability to make strategic decisions. HR’s role here is to optimize both the content and the process of strategic agility, by both narrowing the content clarification methods of the organization, and by broadening the types of processes that can lead to better content.

Organizational agility

Organizational agility is defined as the capacity an organization has to pull together its resources in order to respond to present opportunities. Ulrich suggests that the real challenge is now defining the new type of organization agile changes will create. He suggests the creation of an ‘eco-organization’ – a Market Orientated Ecosystem that is incredibly adaptive, highly connected with internal and external systems that impact the dexterity of the organization. Essentially, the organization ‘listens’ to a huge number of variables at once and has the analytical means to make accurate decisions at very high speeds.

Leadership agility

How does a leader create agility in their organization? If leadership can be considered a brand, it is in essence, possessing a certain level of competence in a variety of abilities so that a given outcome will occur. To have the right mix of competencies, it is essential that core elements of personal agility are an intrinsic part of the organizational leadership model. Some people naturally are more agile than others, they may be more open to new ideas, less prone to take failure badly, or be more resilient in the face of change. But research suggests that about 50% of agility is gained through a learning process – a learning process that each organization must cultivate.

Individual agility

As an individual, it is crucial that you possess the requisite skills of agility – not only in your daily life, but also in your work. For HR organizations, ensuring your employees possess these skills across the organization is going to become a fundamental capacity over the next few years. There are a few traits that signify individual agility; including the ability to know yourself and your personality, to build resilience, to seek personal growth, and the capacity to navigate paradox. There are many ways individuals can build their own agility with time, but HR leaders also have a part to play in this process through learning & development, performance management and of course, by setting a great example to employees.

So, how can HR be used to deliver different types of agility? In the end, there are four fundamental areas for HR to focus on to ensure that agile practices endure in the organization. These are people, performance, communication, and work. With each, there will be a range of unique factors that contribute to ongoing resilience for each organization, however mapping the practices and ideas that will encourage success is particular art that HR leaders and professionals will need to master over the coming years.

Dave Ulrich will present two 90-minute Masterclasses and a CHRO Roundtable discussion group at The HR Congress Brussels on November 27-28. One Masterclass will be on the subject of Trends in Agility and Change, while the other will focus on HR Business Partnering 2.0. Make sure you register your interest in these sessions, as spaces are limited and will sell out! If you missed the CHRO Virtual Summit or some of the presentations – don’t worry – you can purchase access to the presentations and slides for a 30-day period by following this link.


The 3rd HR Congress Brussels, November 27-28 will feature a selection of sessions that will explore this topic and much more! Make sure you follow The HR Congress Blog and #HRCongress18 to stay posted on all the latest news, updates and content from the world of work!

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