Business Agility – What Is It, How Do You Achieve It?
In a series of articles, CEO Andy Steele will be looking at how the current crisis will affect the way we do business, and whether it will foster new thinking and new ways of working to help the construction industry address its deep rooted challenges on productivity and value.
In a period of significant upheaval, it’s not surprising that we’re hearing more about the importance of business agility or becoming an agile business. With Covid-19 still at large and a looming prospect of a complex Brexit around the corner, we’re all having to be light on our feet.
But clarity is important. Unless we’re clear what we mean by agility and what it means for our businesses and individual behaviours, we’ll never be sure that we’re all pulling in the same direction.
For me, ‘agile’ partly means being able to quickly spot and analyse significant changes in the marketplace. Ideally it means pre-empting those changes, but sometimes it’s understanding the implications of unexpected events outside of our control.
Agile means being responsive to our customers’ needs, challenges and expectations. That’s easy to say but the reality is that it relies on relationships built on trust over many years – otherwise you are dealing with the superficial, rather than the factors that really drive decisions.
And, of course, understanding is one thing; responding is another. An agile business cannot afford complex and hierarchical decision-making structures. People have to be empowered and trusted at all levels to do what they judge to be in the best interests of the project and the customer. If we stick to that principle our business also prospers.
Lines of Communication
I’d probably say that the agility of any business is inversely proportional to the length of the lines of communication and decision making. It isn’t just that decisions take too long, it’s also that people stop bothering. If their judgement isn’t valued, you can’t blame them if they stop applying it and wait for orders from above.
Agility is enabled by systems as well as people. Cloud and mobile technology support information sharing and communication at levels that wouldn’t have been possible ten or even five years ago. When we share the benefits of efficient communication and agile decision making with our customers and supply chains, we are in a position to nurture agility throughout the lifecycle of every project.
And that’s my final – and maybe most important – point, agility must be universal. It must extend to every part of our business and every component of project delivery. If empowerment, trust and efficient communication are important, then they are important for all stakeholders and all business functions. That calls for trust and a supportive business culture.