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Strategic Agility White Paper | Agile Business Consortium

Strategic Agility White Paper

A strategy-focused agile transformation: planning simultaneously 50 years ahead and 5 minutes ahead

In This White Paper

March 2020 | Agile Research Network

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This report was produced by the Agile Research Network and explores one part of the journey taken by a charitable organisation transforming to strategic agility. Strategic agility enables an organisation to sense and seize opportunities, manage deep business uncertainty and adapt to changes in the business environment.

Written by the Agile Research Network
Helen Sharp, Leonor Barroca and Diane Strode (The Open University, UK)
Peggy Gregory and Katie Taylor (University of Central Lancashire, UK)

Summary

“I thought we’d embarked on achieving a destination, but actually what we embarked on was a really long journey” Head of Transformation.

This report was produced by the Agile Research Network (ARN) and explores one part of the journey taken by a charitable organisation transforming to strategic agility. Strategic agility enables an organisation to sense and seize opportunities, manage deep business uncertainty and adapt to changes in the business environment.

The case organisation is a traditional charity for disabled people which had evolved over many years to include hundreds of different services and products which were not used by the majority of potential customers. Although a new strategy had been set, with an aspiration to reach more potential customers, the organisation wasn’t set up to deliver the required step change. A new strategy was needed, one that was agile and focused on a small number of activities. A change programme was initiated that encompassed both organisational change and significant strategy change. This white paper covers the time from initial drafts of the new strategy up to its launch in 2018 (about 13 months), and is based on a series of interactions with the transformation team and interviews with Heads of Department.

Strategy development began with identifying an overarching vision and a set of ambitious goals. The new strategy development process aimed to produce a five-year strategy, a three-year strategy and a one-year plan. At the end of the process, a five-year strategy and a one-year plan were delivered to the Trustees.

By January 2018, a long term (e.g. 150 year) goal had been identified, and a business plan with priorities and cross-cutting objectives had been developed. A new operational model was being developed at the same time. Although the focus originally was to have an agile strategy, the transformation team had realised that “Agile strategy has to be a process”. A review in March 2018 identified continuing issues about accountability (what is it? what does it mean for me?) and performance measurement (what data do we need to collect), as well as fixed hierarchies and timeframes. The overall vision and objectives were in place, but not everyone had bought into the changes, although the plan had attracted support. The new strategy was launched towards the end of 2018.

Throughout ARN’s engagement we looked for successes, challenges and next steps, as well as how to improve the process for the future. Successes for the transformation process include agreement that the goals and objectives were right for the organisation, that the process achieved a change in mindset and that the budget was agreed. Several past challenges were identified. Fewer future challenges were identified, and these related to keeping staff engaged and energised, succession planning for strategic development, getting the right data available for performance management, aligning the Departments and the strategic goals, and communicating the right external profile. Improvements for the future, were maintaining more stability in the organisation, finding a better way to update finances, being clear and transparent in communications and expectations, and being more creative in how the process unfolds.

Achieving organisational agility requires balance between elements in tension so that an organisation can be effective in performing its functions. We identified six balances in this case:

  1. Changing too quickly vs changing too slowly
  2. How much to change vs how much to keep stable
  3. Creativity vs discipline
  4. Change for short term vs change for long term
  5. Change strategy vs change structure
  6. Involving enthusiastic people to energise the changes needed vs involving representatives from across the whole organisation.

 

Introduction

The business management literature identifies four dimensions of agility: economic, operational, organisational and strategic (Toni et al, 2005). We consider these dimensions to be complementary and useful view-points for analysing enterprise agility. The economic agility viewpoint has been addressed, for example, in conjunction with theories for management of financial buffers against demand uncertainties or external market shocks. The operational agility viewpoint deals with aspects of manufacturing system flexibility, e.g. ability to adapt the manufacturing system to different environmental conditions and a variety of product features. Agile software development literature referenced by Laanti et al (2013) captures especially operational agility aspects related to software component development, e.g. management of rapidly changing business requirements and iterative delivery practices. The organisational agility viewpoint deals with models of organisation (e.g. organisation of individuals and teams) and labour flexibility in rapidly changing environments (Toni et al, 2005).

Business management literature views strategic agility through culture (Schein, 2010), leadership (Doz et al, 2010) and dynamic capabilities (Teece et al 2016) that enable an organisation to sense and seize opportunities, manage deep business uncertainty and adapt to changes in the business environment. According to Toni et al. (2005) strategic flexibility (or agility) consists of four distinct categories:

  1. speed and variation of competitive priorities,
  2. range of strategic options,
  3. rapidity of movement from one business to another, and
  4. variety of possible new businesses.

This report follows one part of the journey taken by an organisation transforming to agility through a focus on strategic agility.

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