6 steps leaders can take to build strategic agility through resilience

6 steps executives can take to built strategic agility through resilience

For the many leaders who struggle to drive strategic agility within their organisations, it begins with building resilience in their people, writes Stuart Taylor

It’s become a common piece of pub trivia that Kodak invented the digital camera. And yet, Kodak went from being a multi-billion-dollar business in the 1980s, to filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2012. Whilst its demise can be pinned down to a number of factors an unwillingness to adapt in a time of impending change – or in short, they simply lacked ‘strategic agility’ – which resilience plays a key role in.

As Steve Denning writes for Forbes, “The management revolution now underway is about working smarter, not harder, and achieving more value from less work, with much greater adaptability … a firm practising strategic agility creates new markets and dominates them.”

As organisations undergo drastic transformational changes – from market shifts and cost-reducing restructures, to the introduction of next-generation technology and the entry of digital competitors – leaders are struggling to navigate their organisations through the rapid changes brought on by industry 4.0.

Our recent Global Resilience Report 2018 found a strong link between building personal resilience and creating strategic agility in organisations:


The above graphic illustrates that where there have been resilience interventions amongst individuals, people become healthier and more relaxed, engaged, focused, and creative – all critical factors in building strategic agility into a business.

This is because where resilience provides a framework for an individual to persevere through personal challenges, strategic agility provides a framework for organisations to remain fluid, adaptable, innovative and thriving in the face of change.

For the many leaders who struggle to drive strategic agility within their organisations, it begins with building resilience in their people. Building resilience in staff needs to be an organisational imperative supported by a strong culture and executive leadership.

Best practice interventions will always involve the executive team being part of the change at a personal level, and a leader who models resilience in their own life paves the way for others in the organisation to follow suit. The executive imperative for building a resilient organisation enabling strategic agility requires the following components:

1. Change must be CEO and executive team-led (not a delegated “tick the box”).
While an executive view that “our people need this skill, not us” is admirable, unfortunately it is all too common and rarely leads to sustainable cultural change.

2. Compassionate leadership (not sympathy or indifference).
So often, leadership interactions can fall into indifference (don’t care), sympathy (over-caring) or even worse, contempt (don’t respect).  Resilient leaders take time to lead from a position of compassion, based on strong empathy and social awareness. This results in a mutual respect and willingness to engage in discretionary effort.

“Renewable performance occurs in a partnership between the organisation and employee and ensures performance goals are a stretch but not unachievable”

3. A high-trust culture is cultivated (not fear-based).
Without a culture of high trust, a leader’s ability to lead is curtailed, and staff minimise risk-taking and discretionary effort for fear of consequences. Strategic agility requires creativity and experimentation which can only occur when trust is strong. This happens when we reward creativity, purpose and positive behaviour (not just budget metrics).

4. Resilience is built as an integral solution, which addresses both risks and current performance.
Many organisations conduct separate and fragmented interventions related to wellness, emotional intelligence and leadership. An integral approach will reduce complexity, remove cost, reduce confusion and significantly increase the positive impact on people and strategic agility.

5. Leaders must shift their thinking to recognise situational agility as a strength, and not resist it.
It’s often said that change is the new normal, however, it’s important that rather than being resigned to a view that people must endure change, leaders should shift their thinking and develop situational agility as a foundation competence.

6. Building an organisational focus on ‘renewable performance’ (not overload or burnout).
Often overload and burnout are causally laid at the feet of the affected staff member. In reality, renewable performance occurs in a partnership between the organisation and employee and ensures performance goals are a stretch but not unachievable. Renewable performance means people are able to play to their strengths and recovery time is built in.

Organisations exist through people, and people are a complex mix of physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual perceptions and behaviours. Therefore, for an organisation to be sustainable, successful, and possessing strategic agility, they have to be grounded in resilient, productive, mentally healthy people that can successfully navigate and thrive in periods of high intensity and rapid change.