New research from Accenture Strategy paints a compelling picture of the traits of truly agile businesses—companies that can anticipate change, react faster than competitors and adapt their strategies and processes in light of disruptive events.
Effective leaders of agile companies excel across multiple dimensions:
Dealing with uncertainty. By a wide margin—58 percent to 19 percent—top performers are more likely than low performers to feel very well prepared to deal with uncertainty. Also by a wide margin, 43 percent to 29 percent, top performers are apt to see uncertainty both as a potential threat and a potential opportunity.
Seeing long-term opportunities. Half of top performers, compared with only one-fourth (24 percent) of low performers, say that their leaders are prepared for change because they regularly review trends and emerging possibilities.
Creating more flexible leadership teams. Forty-four percent of top performers, but only 20 percent of their low-performing peers, use temporary teams and task forces to tackle problems. And 45 percent of top performers say they can deploy these teams very quickly, something only 21 percent of low performers can do.
Broadening leadership perspectives. Forty-eight percent of top performers, but only 25 percent of low performers, say their leadership team has changed over time to incorporate a broader range of perspectives and skills.
Making critical decisions quickly. Fifty-three percent of top performers note that the ability to rapidly make critical decisions is a key to managing in an agile manner, compared with only 41 percent of their lower-performing peers
A dominant theme across the research findings is the importance of effective leadership in creating and enabling an agile business. Sixty-two percent of top-performing companies say the most important factor to improve their organization’s agility is the right leadership team.
Critical leadership actions to drive a more agile business include:
Develop a long-term strategy built for change: Leaders of top-performing companies are more likely to see uncertainty as an opportunity, not only a threat. They are able to balance short-term needs with long-term perspectives.
Involve unconventional thinkers: Leaders regularly bring thinkers from outside the mainstream into management meetings as a way to encourage new ideas.
Use an ensemble approach to building management teams: Leaders build effective teams by deploying executives and managers in a network that can flexibly shift and re-form to address challenges and opportunities as they arise.
Develop leadership skills at all levels of the organization: Companies that are most adept at managing through uncertainty and volatility are those that are developing leaders at every level.
Speed up decision making and the execution of those decisions: Leaders establish a culture of making critical decisions at speed and then implement decisions with the scale, buy-in and accountability needed to make it all stick.
Establish accountability: Leaders clarify expectations, roles and responsibilities. They take action immediately when issues arise. They reward results, not just activity.
David Smith is a senior managing director in Accenture Strategy and the lead for Talent & Organization. He is based in Hartford.
Yaarit Silverstone is a managing director in Accenture Strategy, Talent & Organization, and the lead for leadership and talent capabilities. She is based in Atlanta.
Deborah Brecher is a managing director in Accenture Strategy, Talent & Organization. She is based in Philadelphia.
Punya Upadhyaya is a managing director in Accenture Strategy, Talent & Organization. He is based in Denver.