The Impact of Workforce Agility on Business Performance

Agility is an issue that is becoming more and more prominent in
businesses across industries. While it is a common goal, its
meaning can be somewhat ambiguous. Depending on the
context, agility can mean different things to different organizational units. But one common thread persists: the accelerating speed of change. Change is not only driving organizations to keep up and anticipate, but more so to be its catalyst in order to be competitively positioned.

The speed of change is not a new phenomenon. In the 1960s,
researchers noticed how technology was impacting the rate
of change; how the ‘nature of change was changing’ and
how normal expectations and rules for dealing with change
no longer applied.1 From these studies, the term ‘turbulent
environment’ was coined. Companies that could not adapt
quickly enough struggled for survival. Today, companies battle
for their corporate lives as change progresses at an alarming
pace with the predication that we will see “more change
in the next 30 years than we saw in all of the last 100.”

Many organizations are not able to endure and lose the battle as
is evident in the changing list of Fortune 1000 companies.
According to Built to Change: How to Achieve Sustained
Organizational Effectiveness, “An analysis of Fortune 1000
corporations shows that between 1973 and 1983, 35 percent of
the companies in the top 20 were new. The number of new companies increases to 45 percent when the comparison is
between 1983 and 1993. It increases even further, to 60 percent,
when the comparison is between 1993 and 2003.

In a series of Major Issues surveys conducted by the Human
Resource Institute, managing change has been perennially ranked
among the top work force-management issues since the 1990s.4
The findings clearly support the need for an agile work force:

  • 82 percent of respondents report that the pace of change
    experienced by their organization has increased compared
    with five years ago
  • 69 percent say that their organizations had experienced
    disruptive change (severe surprises or unanticipated
    shocks) over the previous 12 months
  • Higher performers viewed themselves as agile and
    — See change as an opportunity
    — Say that the pace of change has accelerated, but is still
    — Having better change capacities at the individual, team
    and organization levels
    — Engage in strategies to improve change management

1. “The Causal Texture of Organizational Environments” , F.E. Emery and E.L. Trist, Human Relations, vol.18 (1965), pp. 21-32
2. “A Great Nation, How Americans can lead and prosper in a changing world”, Technology CEO Council © 2007
3. “Built to Change: How to Achieve Sustained Organizational Effectiveness”, Edward E. Lawler III and Christopher G. Worley, Jossey-Bass © 2006
4. “Agility and Resilience in the Face of Continuous Change: A Global Study of Current Trends and Future Possibilities”, Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp)

John Ambrose,
Senior Vice President, Strategy, Corporate Development and Emerging Business