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How to Build an Agile Organization

How to Build an Agile Organization

The only constant in our lives is change. This has become apparent with the onset of COVID-19 in the past year when many companies were forced to pivot their strategies to adapt to their businesses going digital and remote. In a survey of over 10,000 companies, 94 percent reported that agility is “critical to a company’s success.” Yet in the same survey, only 6 percent claimed their company was “highly agile.” 


Why do companies struggle to be agile organizations?

This begs the question: if we know that agility is important, why do companies still struggle to become an agile organization?

Let’s unpack this question together.

What defines an agile work environment? And why should companies care?

An agile organization is a company that responds quickly to change. Agile organizations use the latest technology and tools to tackle change, and are focused on the customers’ needs, rather than their own. They understand the importance of relationships and interactions with their customers, and are willing to prioritize that first during an onset of change.  However, becoming an agile organization does not mean you have to switch to all the latest technologies right away. In fact, there are several characteristics that an agile organization possesses which stem from a foundation in emotional intelligence.

The Key to Becoming Agile: Emotional Intelligence

In a fast-paced world full of uncertainty and competition, many people are pushed into leadership roles that they are not ready for. In “normal” times, challenges were dealt with by practical solutions with predictable outcomes. In the wake of increased competition, uncertainties, and a global pandemic, nothing is “normal” anymore. How can organizations adopt agile methodologies and thrive through change while also trying to keep their heads above water?

While it’s important for organizations to switch to the newest technologies, practices, and tools to keep up with changing business environments; especially while leading remote teams, the main reason why most companies struggle to transform into an agile organization is due to the underemphasis of agility in processes and people.

As human-beings, our goal of building an agile organization should be more than gaining the ability to move quickly and easily. The key to tackling adversity and prospering requires organizations to connect the gap between emotional intelligence and agility. Whether it’s responding to accelerated career tracks or facing a worldwide pandemic, emotional intelligence is a crucial ingredient that allows leaders to facilitate an agile transformation. Using emotional intelligence, an organization will gain the ability to pivot and keep pace with unpredictable events by strengthening and evolving people and processes. Below, we have included three characteristics of an agile organization that stems from emotional intelligence:

Be Strategic with Your Vision 

Instead of focusing on their own best interests, an agile organization is empathetic and puts themselves into the perspective of their stakeholders and asks the question of what they value the most. By concentrating on the customers’ needs, the organization is able to zero in and determine how to create the most value for all those involved. By switching to a customer-centric focus, the organization responds to change from the lens of the stakeholder, allowing them to capitalize on the needs desired from a customer. 

Two other emotional intelligence competencies that will assist leaders in bringing agility to their organization’s purpose and mission are reality testing and self-actualization. Reality testing challenges leaders to see things as they really are, and actively question assumptions. Instead of looking at the organization’s purpose and mission from a subjective view, leaders need to use their reality testing to override their biases and keep a fresh perspective. 

Being self-actualized reminds leaders to continuously develop their business. Instead of having a fixed mindset that your organization is already top-tier, leaders of agile organizations know that there is always room for improvement. A great way to begin is by evaluating the company core values, as they are the guiding principles behind every organization. 

In addition to emotional intelligence, there are various tools that can help shift your organization’s strategy to become more agile. For example, concepts such as customer journey maps and customer feedback surveys will help your organization become more customer-centric, adapting their processes, structure, people, and technology where needed. Once leaders align their company vision with the best interests of their stakeholders, the organization will be ahead of the innovation curve, which in turn leads to establishing a competitive position in their market. 

Invest in the Right People

This next characteristic cannot be stressed enough. While leaders may have established the vision, they need a viable team to carry out their initiatives. Agile organizations know this to be true and recruit team members who are passionate about their roles. You want to invest in team members who are not only extrinsically motivated, but intrinsically motivated. These are the people who are passionate about your cause and vision, and will not only share your values with your customers, but also help foster a healthy internal team culture.

As mentioned in Hiring for the Future with Emotional Intelligence, leaders need to hire candidates who are a strong culture-fit, instead of hiring based on their skills. Skills can be learned, and if the newly hired candidate does not fit within the team’s culture, they are only a short term solution. Befriend your EQ competency, interpersonal relationships, to foster a strong team culture. This competency assists in forming mutually beneficial relationships with your team members

By engaging with their teams, leaders can intrinsically motivate their employees to reach self-actualization, the highest level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. For more context, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a motivational theory where individuals are motivated by five categories of needs which must be met in the following order: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem and self-actualization. 

To reach the final level of self-actualization, leaders must empower their employees by making them feel important, and providing meaningful work. This leads directly to higher levels of employee engagement. However, when workers are disengaged, it’s easy to blame tools, processes, even workplace culture as contributing factors. But more often than not disengagement boils down to a lack of effective leadership.  It’s up to the leader to learn what each employee needs to feel connected to the rest of the team, appreciated for their efforts and fulfilled and self-actualized in their job.  

They should strive to pivot their employees’ way of thinking from working at a mundane 9-5 job to making them feel like they’re making a difference. This will in turn, give their employees a sense of ownership over their work, and may result in more synergy within their organization. By investing into human capital, organizations are able to cultivate a culture of growth and support. Once there is an increased sense of synergy in an organization, leaders will have a strong team pursuing their mission who are willing to pivot in times of change and adaptation.

Continue to Evolve Everyday

Agile organizations are adept in adapting to change; they know that nothing stays the same forever, and the company must be ready to switch gears whenever possible. An initiative that can help transition your organization to adapt agile principles is the pursuit of learning. Agile organizations are full of self-actualized individuals in a culture of continuous improvement and learning, whether it be through self-directed learning or learning from a team member’s mistake. Continuous learning provides an opportunity for agile teams to constantly improve; as a result, this helps the organization pivot once change creeps around the corner. 

The EQ competency that will assist in adapting to uncertainties everyday is flexibility. Flexibility is the art of adapting emotions, thoughts, and behaviours to unfamiliar or dynamic ideas. When leaders lead with flexibility within their organization, they’re cultivating an environment that is receptive to change, resulting in their teams following suit. This mindset can pave the road for an organization that will thrive through change. By embedding flexibility in everyday practices, change becomes less intimidating as the team becomes open to learning how to adapt. 

The Time to Be Agile is Now

More than ever, organizations have been forced to rapidly transform their operations and management to comply with unfamiliar circumstances. This transformation doesn’t stop there ー our future is full of turbulent events that require us to adapt to survive. Building an agile transformation starts with leadership and trickles down. 

In order to stay one step ahead, an organization needs to be quick to respond in order to maintain resilience, which can be led through example by a resilient leader. Emotional intelligence connects an organization at its heart and is the linchpin for an agile organization. In order to cope with constantly evolving environments and become a well-oiled machine, emotional intelligence is necessary to become an agile organization.

Change is inevitable, and will probably be the only constant your organization faces. Let’s bring us back to the pre-pandemic world. Imagine it’s 2019 and you’re managing an agile organization. You not only have a strategic vision in mind, that’s aligned with your values, but you’ve also invested in the right people, who are passionate and excited about fulfilling your vision, even with uncertainty ahead. When the pandemic of 2020 comes your way, your firm will be able to adapt quickly and be resilient, which will set your organization apart from others and enable you to thrive. 

Do you need help in transforming your organization in becoming agile? Book a call with us here; we’d love to listen and provide support in any way we can. 

To learn more about emotional intelligence and how it impacts your organization, sign up for our biweekly newsletter here, where you will receive our latest updates, an inventory of resources, and much more! 

For more, you can check out our workshop on Thriving in Changing Times, to learn more about how to build emotional resilience in times of uncertainty. 

Let’s turn it back to you now. Reflect on a couple of our questions and think about how agile your organization is, and next steps to take. 

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