How Urgent is Agile? Very, Says McKinsey

Your organization is agile like (A) a leaping gazelle or (B) a lumbering elephant. You want to pick (A), but sometimes (B) might be more accurate—no offense to elephants.
The principles behind organizational agility are well-known by now. Agile groups can thrive in an unpredictable, rapidly changing environment. They are both stable and dynamic. They focus on customers, fluidly adapt to environmental changes, and are open, inclusive, and nonhierarchical; they evolve continually and embrace uncertainty and ambiguity.
It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Yet even as agile concepts have taken hold, the average large firm reorganizes every two to three years, and the average reorganization takes more than 18 months to implement. Agility doesn’t mean constant reorganization or constant flux, though. It means building a structure that allows people to react in real time.
To organize for our current age of urgency, companies have to take the principles behind agile and use them a little differently. Let’s call them the three “insteads”: Instead of making a decision when you have 90 percent of the information, make it when you have 70 percent. Instead of imposing decisions from top down, encourage real-time decisions across your organization, decoupled from title or rank. Instead of relying on charismatic leaders who get results by force, recognize that leadership can come from anyone, and is earned not appointed.
The urgency imperative places a premium on agility, which helps enable the shift to an emergent strategy, while unleashing your people so they can reshape your business in real time. It’s also a powerful means of minimizing confusion and complexity in our world of rapid-fire digital communications where everyone can talk with everyone else—and will, gumming up the works if you don’t have a sensible set of operating norms in place. Agility is also the ideal way to integrate the power of machine-made decisions, which are going to become increasingly important.
In the spirit of urgency, we’ll close by directing you to The five trademarks of agile organizations, written collaboratively by the McKinsey Agile Tribe.