Thought Leaders

Brexit And Beyond: Why Organisations Must Adopt Business Agility 

Boris Johnson Brexit

With failed votes and internal political backbiting eroding the credibility of successive UK Prime Ministers – not to mention politicians on all sides of the issue – and public fatigue with the ongoing Brexit stalemate, the ‘task’ of moving the Brexit agreement with the European Union to completion continues to elude the government.

Confusion reigns and the result is continuing anxiety within enterprises and markets. With Sterling values rising and falling after each parliamentary vote, it’s little wonder businesses across the UK are looking for ways to protect their interests in the face of changing political winds and uncertainty.

Much of what Brexit will mean for the UK is still dependent on the type of trade deal that will be struck between the government and the EU – and those negations are not even started.

Indeed, even after divorce terms are agreed between, there is the monumental task of negotiating multiple trade agreements – not only with Europe but also with most other countries.

The UK’s trade agreements with the US, Canada and South Korea, for example, were made when it was an EU member state – and the EU gets custody. And crashing out with only the most basic of World Trade Organisation rules to protect its interests creates a whole new slew of uncertainties and anxieties for business of all sizes and types.

Why Business Agile and why now?

In the face of all this political drama, how can business and enterprises cope with all the ‘what ifs’ and inevitable discord this has on the businesses and their markets?

With Brexit, and as demonstrated by the well-documented actions of companies in the financial, manufacturing and health sectors to protect their interests by preparing to move elements of their business from the UK, companies need to devise strategies that prepare them for a post-Brexit world now.

The scariest thing about Brexit is that no one can say with any real certainty what a post-Brexit economy will look like. So, it is important for organisations to have the business agility to deal with a broad array of scenarios and outcomes.

Even putting aside the Brexit spectacle, companies need to create business agility to deal with other new challenges impacting their businesses today, which range from disruptive technologies, to talent retention and skill shortages, through to other worries beyond their control, such as unpredictable weather due to climate change and fears of another global economic meltdown.

Implementing strategies, new ways of working and business tools that offer greater flexibility is the only sure step companies can take to meet unforeseeable future challenges. Business agility helps prepare organisations to roll with the punches with respect to Brexit and other uncertainties that threaten to put long-term success at risk.

Benefits of business agility

Being agile means an organisation can move fast to adjust – in terms of tactics, resourcing, personnel, management, asset deployment, capital investment, operational approach or whatever element needs to be corrected to keep projects on course when business conditions change.

Building in flexibility ensures that teams can stay on course in terms of achieving their strategic goals, whether these are related to projects, portfolios, programmes, or company-wide KPIs.

From project managers, team leaders and PMOs, to professionals across business support or managing business functions, up to C-suite executives, the ability to quickly understand how a marketplace and the needs of its customers are changing and to rapidly adapt – and having the tools to enable that – allows organisations to remain resilient.

The Business Agility Institute commissioned the first global survey to gauge how companies rate their own performance and how far along they believe they are in integrating business agile principles into their operations at the end of 2018: 69% said they need to be more agile.

The survey also looked at what organisations are dealing with in terms of market trends and disruptors. Over 60% of survey respondents said their market was being disrupted or was unpredictable.

Increasingly, more support or function managers – not just PMs – are dealing with specific change management or digital transformation projects.

These digital transformation journeys need the fluidity and collaboration that business agility brings – the ability to quickly understand how a marketplace is changing and how the needs of its customers are rapidly evolving – and to adapt at speed.

How you can get teams to work more agile

Adopting organisation-wide business agility, especially in more traditionally structured enterprises, requires numerous change management initiatives. The agile approach puts an emphasis on sharing information across the entire team.

Business teams can learn to work more effectively as a whole by deploying tools that allow each member to see what others are working on and how they are progressing day by day. It may sound saccharine but empowering employees and trusting them to do their jobs well is a vital part of business agility.

Ultimately, employees influence whether business agile stays or sways. Engagement inspires them to make it work; disengagement convinces them to ignore it.

Alignment, Speed and Effectiveness

There are three key components to business agility that enterprises or even smaller teams can adopt: alignment, speed and effectiveness.

Alignment: Breaking down silos within any organisation is challenging. Silo mentality fosters poor workplace collaboration, missed opportunities, misaligned goals, duplicated work processes and incompatible systems. A great way of bringing disparate parts of your team or organisation together is to establish and communicate one unified vision of what you are trying to achieve.

This vision should not just live on a presentation but is communicated regularly to all employees through the most effective internal channels used in your organisation. Managers should use this vision or charter as a reference point for improving collaboration and on a team level aligning goals with organisational objectives keeps work focused on strategic aims.

Speed: The inability to rapidly adapt to customer or market changes is why some iconic companies and brands have floundered, especially in the digital age. Within the UK, all one has to do is look at the struggles of the high street as consumers move spending towards with e-commerce giants like Amazon.

Enterprises that embrace business agility often find that their work and decision-making processes become quicker and more efficient, enabling innovation and ‘out of the cubicle’ thinking that may not otherwise have been possible.

Putting in place the technologies that make it possible to not only meet the organisational goals but ensure employees recognise changes in their industry, know how it needs to react and have the flexibility to do so creates a faster, more streamlined decision process.

Effectiveness: The right tools and technologies help engage employees and make them agile champions. To ensure employee engagement, morale and productivity, organisations need to implement clear and effective tools and strategies to enable more effective communication and collaboration among off-site employees.

With Brexit, we will see remote working continue to grow across Europe, as Britain leaving the EU forces many companies to shut offices and shift parts of their workforce. For these teams this can lead to dreaded communication overload.

Global research conducted by Clarizen found that 70% of 300 companies surveyed already have employees working from home or remotely on a regular basis.

As this happens, it is vital that methods and tools be put in place to ensure work communications between spread-out employees and teams are kept in context of projects and foster effective collaboration.

Having clear communication channels and the right software to enable employees to keep track of project tasks and updates within one platform, not over just email, is key to becoming more agile.

The future is agile

The next 10 or so years will bring massive change in how organisations are structured, with increases in automation, more focus on green and sustainable investments and how companies can retain and harness the talents of millennials and generation Z.

Last year, a survey by the APM showed that 51% of project managers will be involved in corporate culture change projects by 2030. Brexit will make managing such changes even more challenging, and so it is time for enterprise leaders to start to ensure they are devising and implementing strategies with business agility in mind.

David Goulden is Director of Product at Clarizen.

David Goulden
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