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"Agility is a long-term process and can't be achieved overnight", says Milind Shahane in a Leadership series EDGE webinar

Published on March 28, 2022

Milind Shahane, Chief Executive Officer, Tata ClassEdge, spoke eloquently about how agility is an essential attribute for organisations to succeed in today's rapidly changing business landscape. He spoke at the 342nd EDGE Webinar held on March 16, 2022, aptly titled ‘Need for agility to face change’.

Mr Shahane commenced his address with an insightful African folk story about the Lion and the Gazelle. The moral of the story was that whether going towards a target or warding off threats, you have to move purposefully to succeed. Moreover, to succeed, you need to be agile.

Extrapolating the attribute of agility to the business landscape, Mr Shahane explained how it is vital for any business enterprise to be agile and nimble. He stressed that organisations cannot afford to be complacent and need to implement new practices and processes to meet the needs in today's business landscape.

VUCA to beat VUCA

Today's business environment is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). The rapid, real-time and disruptive nature of events such as the Covid pandemic makes it imperative for organisations to gear up for immediate change.

Irrespective of the drivers of change — political, economic, social, technological or customer-related, to prepare for them, the rate of internal change in the organisation has to exceed the rate of external change. To ensure that, another type of VUCA attribute is needed — vision, understanding, clarity and agility.

Building organisational agility

Mr Shahane gave different definitions of organisational agility, including the one promulgated by TBEM (Tata Business Excellence Model). Essentially, it can be defined as the capacity to make timely, effective and sustained changes to adapt to dynamic and challenging conditions for performance advantages. Contrary to popular belief, agility is not merely about speed but encompasses a broader framework. It includes flexibility, adaptability, awareness, anticipation, resilience and effectiveness. So, how does an organisation become agile?

Mr Shahane stressed four critical factors for developing organisational agility:

Process orientation/systems perspective

An organisation can become agile when its processes are defined, repeatable, measurable and robust. The processes and frameworks need to be aligned with global quality standards such as ISO, Deming, TBEM, etc. The cross-functional processes demand the most attention as most of the challenges occur in inter-departmental interfaces. Even if the stand-alone processes are efficient, they will not yield the desired result unless in sync with the processes across the line function spectrum. A classic example is new product development, where a winning product proposition will depend on how efficiently all the functions work together.

A data-driven approach emphasising coordination and cooperation will go a long way in lending agility to the organisation. Ideally, all the operations should start from the customer's point of view and move backwards for full integration to eliminate inefficiencies. A continuous loop of feedback, evaluation, and improvement will flag off and help weed out inefficiencies. Also, processes must be kept lean and simple to remove redundancies and improve the cycle time.

Organisational factors

An optimal organisational structure with clear demarcations in the hierarchy will avoid overburdening the resources, prevent overlap and facilitate collaborative functioning. A robust balance between manual and automated or digitised systems will fetch the best results. Knowledge management and succession planning processes will help in mitigating business uncertainty.

Workforce capabilities

The workforce's capabilities need to be augmented through capacity-building initiatives that encourage dismantling past processes favouring more efficient ones. The workforce — direct and contract, has to be motivated to adopt a forward-looking approach rather than an inward-looking one. A conducive working environment with freedom to experiment and fail will allow the workforce to equip itself for changes in the business environment quickly.

Leadership and management

Leadership plays a pivotal role when nurturing agility. Flexible and hands-on decision-making will pave the way for people in the lower rungs to tackle change more effectively. A transparent and performance-driven culture will encourage employees to initiate and innovate.

Through examples, Mr Shahane advocated and stressed how multiple action areas must be acted upon consistently to develop organisational agility. He concluded his address just the way he began — with a fantastic story, which underscored how making an organisation agile is every individual's job and not merely that of a particular person in the hierarchy. He stressed that everyone associated with the organisation must drive the change to make the enterprise agile.

The webinar concluded with Mr Shahane answering some interesting questions from the attendees.