Given the new era of work and fluctuating economic progress, typical planning strategies that push companies toward surviving and defending themselves are no longer enough. Strategic planning promotes programmatic, analytical thinking that encourages leaders to stick to the status quo. Strategic agility on the other hand, is characterized by an entire organization regularly contributing its insights to renew and reinvent its value proposition. It’s one aspect of strategic leadership—which is a leader’s ability to express his or her organization’s vision and guide employees toward it.
Achieving strategic agility is difficult because it’s based on shifting your mindset and rooted in emotional intelligence. But cultivating that mindset is worthwhile: Research shows that strategic leadership—which strategic agility falls under— is the most important leadership trait. As a forensic interviewer and behavior analyst, I believe that leaders should prioritize strategic agility into their company cultures to continuously adapt, improve, shift, and evolve in ways that take their competitors by surprise. It is a creative, flexible thought process that helps leaders proactively respond to change and. It’s not just knowledge acquisition but a whole-brain approach to thinking and behaving.
When leaders consistently practice habits rooted in strategic agility, they empower their teams and organizations to do the same. At Aperio, we’ve discovered that these four habits are key to becoming more strategically agile.
CREATE SITUATIONAL AWARENESS
Successful leaders create situational awareness by tuning into industry trends while keeping a finger on the pulse of their companies. This allows them to predict which strategies to implement in the near future. Leaders need a culture and strategy that is market facing, a well-developed sense of the market, an ability to learn, and a process focused on the customer.
Clarity and a broad perspective are critical for keeping up with the market. Rather than running from uncertainty, strategic leaders lean into complexities to make sense of them. You can create meaning out of chaos by asking probing questions such as: What patterns do I see? and How can we respond to this?
If-then questions can also help in identifying key information. By forecasting and exploring and exploring conditional circumstances, you can evaluate how well you’d respond to events. For example: If the U.S. mandated a second quarantine period during the busy end-of-year season, could we maintain our typical sales numbers?
FOCUS ON YOUR COMPANY’S DIRECTION
When you’re reviewing the status of your company, ask yourself a few important questions. Where is your company going? What are your short- and long-term goals? Your team needs a clear vision for the organization in order to take action or be strategically agile.
Use data to inform your company’s priorities and communicate those priorities to employees. According to a 2021 survey, data drives only 24% of companies‘ efforts, which means you’ll gain a competitive edge just by integrating data into your goal-setting and establishing connections between past, present, and future events.
Use real-time data sets to guide your organization’s focus. Annual reports are insightful, but sometimes they’re not enough: Any market research released prior to March 2020 rapidly became outdated because of the pandemic. In a highly disruptive environment, favor speed over breadth. Your employees can propel your company forward when they have timely, actionable directions.
COLLABORATE WITH OTHER TEAMS ON SOLUTIONS
Ask yourself, does my company’s capacity for agility lie in people or the pages of a document? The answer should be people, because strategic agility is a skill, not a process. To succeed, your entire team must work together.
To foster collective decision-making, lead by example. Invite multiple stakeholders to partake in major decisions using a fishbowl model. Gathering all decision makers to discuss pain points and uncover potential solutions rejects hierarchical models of management and inspires better solutions.
Information flow is key to collaboration. When you have collective commitment, information flows freely. Leaders and individuals with higher emotional quotients (EQs) are more effective because they see teams as assets. On the other hand, leaders with low EQs see teams as threats to their resources and ability to control information. This perspective creates silos, tribalism, and information flow gaps.
BE PREPARED TO PIVOT
When the pandemic hit, new regulations forced nearly one-third of small businesses to shift from gathering in person. To avoid a temporary (or permanent) shutdown, agile leaders had to adapt quickly and creatively.
To keep up with the market, you must be ready to reallocate resources. Maintaining momentum is a key aspect of strategic agility, and leaders who practice pivoting can better adjust to unexpected situations. Evaluate your ability to pivot by asking yourself the following:
- Regardless of the circumstances, do I see opportunities for my organization?
- Do I think critically about how events will impact my organization?
- Do I reward appropriate risk-taking, which enables psychological safety and mutual trust?
- Am I willing to abandon a line of business in order to focus resources on emerging opportunities?
Once you answer these questions, pinpoint one to three areas of improvement. If you’re prepared to capitalize on growth opportunities and shift according to long-term initiatives, you’ll be primed for market success.
Humans are the decisive factor that determines how well your company can identify and capture strategic opportunities to stay agile. Instead of relying on documents, processes, and hierarchies, trust and empower your team. It’s up to you as a leader to spur your team toward an agile mindset.
Kerry Goyette is the president of Aperio Consulting Group, a corporate consulting firm that utilizes workplace analytics and implements research-based strategies to build high-performance cultures, and the author of The Non-Obvious Guide to Emotional Intelligence.