Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

Successful Leaders Embrace the Evolution of the Industries

Business agility is the future. Here's how to stop living in the past.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Organizations are taking a closer look at agility these days, and I’m not talking about the Lakers, Celtics or Spurs. Agile companies are at a distinct advantage in almost every industry because they can react to the only constant in business -- change. The experts at McKinsey agree, declaring in a summary to an October 2018 report that “surviving and thriving in today’s environment depends on making a fundamental transformation to become more agile.”

10'000 Hours | Getty Images

Agile companies are the ones embracing the Darwinian principle “adapt or die.” In today’s disruptive business climate, agility is absolutely essential. Entire markets are changing rapidly, and for a company to have any hope of keeping up or getting ahead, the conventional bureaucratic structure isn’t going to cut it.

This is where individual managers come in. In the context of constant change, leaders can only expect responsiveness and flexibility from their teams when they are leading the cultural charge for agility and nimbleness. This means clearly communicating the team’s purpose in a fluid environment.

Employees need to be empowered, and for that to happen, they need a firm grasp on their roles and responsibilities. Around the globe, only half of employees know what they’re expected to accomplish. It’s unrealistic to think these same aimless workers will be high performers, innovative thinkers and effective collaborators. For an organization to be agile, it needs a clear purpose and a comprehensive culture shift. It’s a new kind of discipline for many leaders, but there are concrete steps to develop it.

Related: The 4 Abilities Required of Agile Leaders

1.) Choose a creative mindset.

Reactive leaders can create effective and well-ordered organizations, and they can support their employees and help them reach their goals in a number of ways. A reactive leader resides at the top of a hierarchy and reserves the final say in all important decisions. Yet this is a parental, patriarchal approach to business leadership that limits an organization’s ability to survive disruption.

Creative leaders, on the other hand, strive to create a flatter, evolving organization. They do away with layered bureaucracy and encourage employee input whenever possible. Instead of ruling an organization like a benevolent dictator, creative leaders conceptualize a vision that others want to buy into. A creative mindset surpasses the operational limits of a reactive one and allows for continued growth.

Related: Like Other Parts of Your Business, Creativity Needs to Be Cultivated

2.) Mandate a meritocracy.

All employees in a company should be constantly improving. “Cultivating an autonomous and independent meritocracy allows those who are ambitious and entrepreneurial to rise,” says Tony Delmercado, COO of digital marketing agency Hawke Media. Team members who don’t match that description will be those who are stagnating and falling behind. That’s not bad for the business, actually -- it just weeds out the under performers.

The agile leader’s job in this system? To keep giving the best workers more responsibility and let the lowest performers understand when they’re not a good fit. If an organization isn’t functioning as a meritocracy, it’s doing the biggest disservice to its most desirable employees. Not surprisingly, this high-performing group will notice and take their considerable talents and ambitions elsewhere. The resulting costs aren’t just time and money -- the company’s reputation as a workplace will also suffer.

3.) Stop trying to be all things to all people.

It’s impossible for an organization to do everything well, and the ones that try don’t last very long. Limiting the scope of a company is one of the best ways for business leaders to create a more agile business.

Agile leaders need talk to members of the organization from top to bottom and discover how they define the company’s purpose. Then they should repeat the same exercise with the best -- not necessarily biggest -- customers. At the end of these conversations, leaders will better understand the organization’s purpose and should aim to align employees around one to three priorities that accomplish that purpose.

Related: Growth and Change Require Agile Leadership and Bedrock Values

4.) Think lean thoughts.

Lean systems -- those fixed on minimizing waste -- are more efficient, delivering increased value to the customer and back to the business. To prioritize lean development, leaders must continually re-examine processes to weed out waste. Lean principles can be applied throughout an organization, whether it’s on the manufacturing side or in the customer service department.

One of the primary obstacles to adopting a lean mentality is culture. According to Declan Guerin, group chief restructuring officer at Rolls-Royce, “You have to go after costs as if they were enemies day-in and day-out. That’s the culture stuff. If it doesn’t add value, get rid of it or challenge it.” When company executives were spending money on expensive car services and short train rides in first class, Guerin saw an easy way to eliminate unnecessary expenses.

Creating an agile environment isn’t an overnight endeavor since it requires a fundamental shift in a company’s culture and the mindset of its management. All the same, it’s worth the effort; agile organizations are going to be the ones that survive and thrive for decades in an uncertain business environment. If business leaders can achieve agility, they’ve all but secured success.

Entrepreneur Editors' Picks