Business agility can help your organization stay ahead of the competition and respond quickly to change. Learn about the tools, management, and processes needed to help with business agility.
Everything moves fast in the digital age. Customer desires, competitive threats, technology choices, business expectations, revenue opportunities, and workforce demands change at blistering speeds. Businesses need to adjust market strategies on the fly to keep up with constant updates, responding with agility.

What is business agility?

Business agility is a set of organizational capabilities, behaviors, and ways of working that affords your business the freedom, flexibility, and resilience to achieve its purpose — no matter what the future brings. It is the ability to compete and thrive in today’s workplace environment by quickly responding to market changes and emerging opportunities with innovative, digitally-enabled business solutions.

To become an agile business, an organization must hire agile employees, cultivate an agile culture, promote agile leadership, and practice business behaviors and governance that are aligned with agility. In other words, agile principles should infuse the entirety of a company, from its people and culture to its structure and resources.

Today, creating exceptional customer experiences at the speed of the market requires innovating constantly and pivoting without mercy or guilt when a new approach is needed. Moreover, significant technological advances are unlocking new ways to create value.

Why is business agility important?

The business world is unpredictable. Factors like advances in technology, sudden economic events, the globalization of business, changing consumer demands, shifting workplace norms, and the increasing prevalence of natural disasters fueled by climate change can all impact the ways we do business.

Organizations that adopt an agile approach are best equipped to weather uncertainty and successfully adapt to whatever the world throws at them. As experienced business leaders know, innovation is key to sustaining a competitive advantage over the long term.

Agile businesses benefit from:

  • Greater alignment between team members and the organization’s purpose and vision.
  • Increased understanding of customers’ expectations, wants, and needs.
  • A stronger awareness of shifting market dynamics.

These outcomes help organizations stand out from the crowd and remain resilient despite changing circumstances.

Characteristics of business agility.

Three essential characteristics of business agility are flexibility, adaptability, and a customer-centric focus.

The three essential characteristics of business agility are flexibility, adaptability, and a customer-centric focus.

Flexibility and adaptability.

The business landscape undergoes drastic changes constantly, and traditional systems of mass production and standardization don’t leave enough room for making fast and incremental changes to keep up with competitors. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting lockdowns led to supply chain disruptions that forced businesses to examine existing processes and adopt new, more efficient approaches.

The pandemic particularly impacted how and where consumers shop, with customers turning to online shopping and delivery services more than ever before. In general, there were significant changes in the ways people conducted business, with workers connecting remotely more than ever before via conference calls and virtual presentations. To succeed in this digital-first environment, companies need the flexibility and adaptability to react quickly to adverse situations and anticipate them proactively.

One way businesses adapted to a different way of operating was by digitizing documents and files or switching entirely to digital document solutions for collaboration. By working with digital solutions, businesses achieved greater organization and increased security, among other benefits.

Customer-centric focus.

In addition to being flexible and adaptable, agile businesses must adopt a customer-centric focus. This means prioritizing positive customer experiences through every product or service that your company offers.

Customer-centric businesses deliver holistic solutions designed with a deep understanding of customer needs and expectations. This results in greater profits, increased employee engagement, and more satisfied customers in the private sector.

Adopting a mindset that puts the customer front and center helps organizations nurture relationships and build loyalty, leading to increased revenue and consistent business.

Challenges of business agility.

Changing the way a business operates is not easy. The main challenges that one faces when trying to achieve business agility are:

  • Lack of visibility. As companies begin to pursue business agility, it can become apparent that visibility across the organization needs to improve. Business leaders might find that their employees are unfamiliar with the company’s mission, vision, values, and strategy. In some cases, even the processes and frameworks the organization is attempting to follow may not be clear or understandable. This lack of visibility can lead to inefficiencies, unnecessary effort, and compliance issues.
  • Lack of alignment and collaboration. Lack of time is one of the biggest barriers to coordinating strategies for business agility. Responding to work crises and pursuing short-term priorities can get in the way. When business processes become more efficient, however, collaboration is achievable and productivity increases. Without goal alignment across teams, disconnects between departments can make true business agility almost impossible.
  • Failing to train effectively. An agile business transformation involves significant change management and, in some cases, a completely new way of working for most people involved. Training and support are vital if the transformation is to be successful. Effective training should focus on the reasons and intended outcomes behind changes, the value of the chosen framework, the benefits of agile tools and how to use them, and the goals behind the new processes. By providing sufficient instruction, you can smooth out what would otherwise be a very rocky transition. This way, employees can feel informed and comfortable with what is expected of them, which will lead to greater buy-in.

How to implement business agility into an organization.

Strategies for business agility.

To achieve true business agility, the entire organization must be informed, aligned, and committed to agile ways of working toward a shared vision. Here are some tips for developing and executing agile strategies:

An office worker formalizes a vision statement for a company.

Formalize a vision statement.

You should formalize your company’s vision into a purpose statement that can be easily shared with your employees and externally on your website, social media platforms, and other customer-facing assets.

Two office co-workers execute the roadmap.
Create a roadmap.An agile strategy should not be too prescriptive by definition, but creating a roadmap can help you identify key goals that drive you toward your vision.
Two office co-workers execute the roadmap.

Execute continually.

Part of your roadmap should define a cadence for strategic planning and implementation. It should also define a communication plan to share updates with the entire organization.

Two office co-workers implement the agile strategy into one area.
Implement the strategy in one area.You can identify an area where the agile strategy is most likely to be successful and execute it there first. Then, as the agile strategy proves its value, you can begin implementing it throughout more departments and levels of the company.

Why companies struggle with business agility.

Business agility is not easy to achieve or maintain. Below are a few of the greatest struggles and challenges that a business may face while on its way to becoming agile.

  • Resistance to change. While stakeholders and executives may understand the necessity of business agility, there will likely be some employees that resist because it represents a significant shift in ways of working. They may be experiencing change fatigue or simply not understand why they have to modify how they work. To combat this resistance, you can continuously reinforce why you’re adopting agility practices in your business. You can explain how business agility provides a competitive advantage, enables faster time to market, improves employee efficiency and engagement, and provides a sense of ownership and accountability.
  • Lack of commitment or vision by leadership. Leaders set an example for the entire organization. If they say they are working to instill a culture of continuous improvement and innovation but revert to legacy leadership styles and behaviors that are not aligned with that new culture, this approach can hamper progress toward adopting agile principles and strategies. To address this challenge, you can ensure leadership actions align with the organization’s vision and strategic goals. Agile leaders empower their direct reports and all employees to share their ideas and concerns, work autonomously, and learn from failures.
  • Skill gaps. Another major struggle is a shortage of skilled personnel. When creating your vision statement and roadmap, you may discover that your workforce does not have the skills your business needs to meet your strategic goals. If this is the case, you can fill the gaps by offering upskilling or reskilling opportunities to existing personnel or leveraging flexible talent through freelance or contract workers.

Tools to improve business agility.

Organizations need digital solutions that allow them to stay connected, organized, and secure. Whether you’re a global corporation or small business, adopting apps that allow you to be flexible and adapt quickly to changing demands will keep workflows moving and help eliminate stress.

As you explore ways to create a more agile business structure, you might benefit from solutions like communication platforms, a project management system, cloud storage, and digital document tools.

Resources like Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Acrobat online services offer versatile features for all your digital document needs, such as:

  • Collaborating with your team from anywhere. Acrobat can make collaboration easier by facilitating editing text and images and making it easy to dialogue in margin comments when working on files as a team. Your documents can keep up with a team working from anywhere and on any device in real time.
  • Converting files quickly. Turning a file into a PDF is helpful for preserving formatting when presenting information to customers or partners. Acrobat makes it possible to convert any file into a PDF, including Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel files. Acrobat also lets you export PDFs to Word, PowerPoint, Excel, or JPG files.
  • E-signing critical documents. Since not everyone is working from an office anymore, businesses have needed to find agile and creative ways to speed up processes that used to happen in person, such as signing documents. With Acrobat e-signature tools, you can accelerate the time it takes to get approvals for any project. You can also create forms to collect data for your own research or gather customer information.

Frequently asked questions.

What is the importance of business agility?

Business agility can help improve strategy development, execution, and decision-making, ultimately helping an organization prepare for and respond to changes in its environment.

While adopting new methodologies and practices may be intimidating, creating business agility will help you work iteratively, deliver value to your customers, and embrace continuous improvement.

In summary, an agile business is well-equipped to deal with all the internal and external challenges a business can face. Today, business agility in the workplace is no longer a competitive advantage — rather, it’s a fundamental requirement of survival.

What is meant by business agility?

Business agility refers to an organization’s ability to quickly and cost-effectively respond to market changes and emerging opportunities. These include industry trends, technological advances, customer needs, competitive threats, revenue opportunities, and workforce demands.

An office worker practices business agility by responding to market changes and emerging opportunities.

No matter if it’s a small business or a global corporation, an agile organization is more equipped to adapt to uncertain situations and changing market requirements, analyze and respond to internal or external opportunities and threats, and quickly deliver products and services of high value and quality.

What is an example of business agility?

CSU Fullerton demonstrated business agility during the COVID-19 pandemic, undergoing a significant digital transformation to prioritize student success and create a smooth orientation experience.

The university implemented agile, creative strategies to keep the university running despite in-person limitations. For example, CSU Fullerton digitized “TitanCards,” student ID cards that grant students access to the library and residence halls and also serve as debit cards and meal tickets. Typically, students received their TitanCards during orientation after having their photos taken in person. The university adapted to unprecedented circumstances by asking students to submit a selfie and a digital request form for their ID cards. CSU Fullerton automated the process using an application programming interface to authenticate the photo against a government-issued ID, saving time and ensuring security.

By converting over 90% of its forms to digital processes and implementing automated workflows and e-signatures, the university reduced time spent on administrative work from weeks to hours.

What are the core business agility principles?

The core business agility principles are:

  • Leadership. Agile leadership embodies communication, collaboration, and commitment. Rather than remain content with traditional approaches, agile leaders focus on developing others as leaders to better work toward a shared purpose.
  • Governance. Agile governance is characterized by transparency and consistency in how an organization’s objectives are set and achieved, how risk is managed, and how performance is optimized.
  • People. Agile teams are motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose. They want to continuously develop their skills and learn how to work best together.
  • Culture. An agile culture is characterized by a set of core values, behaviors, and practices that guide an organization through periods of volatility, uncertainty, and complexity. This type of culture promotes, encourages, and rewards the creativity and autonomy of its people.
  • Strategy. Agile strategy is developed through an iterative and continuously evolving process. Rather than one high-level plan to achieve one high-level objective, agile strategies are typically created in response to issues or events, regularly tested, and modified.

How do you show agility in the workplace?

You can show agility in the workplace by following these 10 tips:

  1. Increase speed and efficiency.
  2. Let people fail.
  3. Tap into employee innovation.
  4. Listen to employees.
  5. Build a culture of collaboration and knowledge-sharing.
  6. Increase employee engagement.
  7. Encourage collective decision-making.
  8. Ensure you have the right people.
  9. Develop humble leaders.
  10. Embrace a test-and-learn approach.

What is the goal of business agility?

The goal of business agility is to be able to adapt, survive, and thrive in uncertain or complex business environments.

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