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Closing the agility gap

5 min read


Mike Richardson is the author of “Wheel$pin: The Agile Executive’s Manifesto – Accelerate Your Growth, Leverage Your Value, Beat Your Competition,” an award-winning chairman of round-table peer groups of CEOs and senior executives with Vistage International and an expert contributor to the Executive Street blog.

Change isn’t what it used to be. It used to be slower; foreseeable and predictable; more manageable. Not anymore. The nature of change has changed: not only the pace of change and the speed of business but also accelerating uncertainty, volatility and turbulence we experience, from year to year, quarter to quarter, month to month, week to week, day to day, hour to hour, moment to moment. Business is a real-time, dynamic journey on a constantly shifting landscape, and someone keeps hitting the fast-forward button! This tests our agility as an individual, a team and an organization and can rob us of our prosperity.

What do I mean by the agility gap? It’s the gap between increasing demand on our agility and our ability to supply the agility needed. It’s a demand-supply gap, and a widening gap gives rise to increasing chaos and crisis, which can become chronic.

Are you overwhelmed or under-organized?

Stuck in a widening agility gap, many people vent that they are “overwhelmed,” or some similar language (“buried,” “snowed under” or “spread too thin”). So the question I like to ask, “Are you overwhelmed, or are you under-organized?” That simple change of language can change everything.

  • Reinforcing a mindset of being “overwhelmed” creates the problem because it’s based on external factors. Until those are eliminated, not much is going to change! That invites a default future of more of the same, getting worse with an expanding agility gap. We will serve a life sentence.
  • But we can launch a jailbreak. The simple shift to a mindset of being “under-organized” makes the problem one of internal factors. If anything is going to change, it has to change with me and how I think. This invites a future of getting more organized for agility and closing the agility gap.

Here are three approaches to thinking differently for agility.

  1. Agile meetings. In many businesses, my experience is that meetings are a source of wheel spin. They start late, run long, don’t achieve much with poor follow-up and, as a result, are seen as time consumers, and everyone is in some state of meeting overload. Sound familiar? Big mistake; think again! Agile meetings, whether face to face or virtual, are at the heart of our agility as an organization, to drive the communication, collaboration and coordination that we need to prevail. Done well, meetings are time, chaos and crisis savers. Get organized with an agile portfolio of meetings, the agile flow of individual meetings and the skills of agile facilitation.
  2. Agile productivity. Conventional approaches to time, priority and project management don’t work well in unconventional times and are a source of wheel spin. Big mistake; think triage! Triage is a word we encounter in a real-time quick response to unfolding circumstances (emergency rooms, firefighting, natural disasters) in which demand for resources massively exceeds supply. How well we triage determines the outcome. This is the new normal in business and the workflow coming at us every day. Get organized with the electronic (desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone), physical (workstation, inbox and outbox, filing cabinets), spatial (wall space) and mobile (when you are out of the office for extended periods) setups that you need to be able to triage for agile productivity.
  3. Agile innovation. We seem to be either on an upward spiral of systemic breakthrough or a downward spiral of systemic breakdown, sorting the best from the rest, the first from the worst and the victors from the victims, increasingly quickly and with few second chances. Get organized with a breakthrough plan to mitigate downward risks, maximize upward opportunities and innovate evolutionary and revolutionary concepts, offerings and infrastructures, all with agility. That can be an overwhelming array of things to get in motion for which many people are under-organized. The most powerful way is to create a visual picture on one piece of paper with more detailed planning behind it — a picture is worth a thousand words. I call it a “traction plan.” Seeing the whole and the parts at the same time, we can triage our attention span to be in traction on our desired trajectory and avoid wheel spin.

If your innovation, productivity and meetings are not increasingly agile, you will experience a widening agility gap, increasingly robbing you of your sense of prosperity. Think agile and get organized to close the agility gap and regain traction on the trajectory of prosperity you want.

Watch Richardson’s TEDx La Jolla talk on closing the agility gap.