With unparalleled threats to survival, how do we stay agile enough to keep ahead of these threats and even turn them into opportunities? Drawing on 20 years of boardroom experience with leading FTSE 100 directors, Jen and Pippa, will share why agility is critical to the survival of businesses today.

In this video, they will cover:

  • Why is agility more crucial than ever to survive?
  • What will it take to be truly agile right now?
  • How does the "agile employee" think and behave?
  • How do we make our teams more agile?

You can also read our event summary below, written up by Martin Cudden.

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Why are we talking about agility now?

Jen pointed out that the average life of a company in the S&P 500 in the 1950s was 61 years – but since then this has fallen dramatically, and today stands at just 21 years. Why has this happened? With a world that is changing at an astonishing pace, businesses that were perfectly optimised to survive and thrive yesterday have no right to be the winners today, and certainly not tomorrow. It feels like only recently that debt was cheap, and inflation was essentially just an academic concept that had no great material bearing.

The staggering shifts in the business environment recently now mean that it’s the organisations that are agile in their operations, in spotting opportunities and identifying risks that are going to be the winners. To look at it another way, this is not something to cower from. If your organisation doesn’t have the podium spot in your sector, it’s a chance to take advantage of the complacency of others. Because these days, no organisation has a guaranteed tenure.

What are agile organisations doing that others aren’t?

Drawing on her first experiences of being in the boardroom, Pippa pointed out that although the executive and non-executive directors were thoughtful, strategic, and held great insight into the external market, something went awfully wrong in the boardroom. The discussion was slow, backwards-looking, and lacking in energy – hardly the dictionary definition of agile. You can’t just put a group of agile leaders together and call it a success; you need to think much harder about how you set them up for success.

Expanding on this, Jen remarked that across the full gamut of organisations that Board Intelligence have worked with there are consistently three traits possessed by agile leaders. These are focus,critical thinking, andgreat communication.

However, when beginning work with an organisation, we get a lot of answers to the question, ‘What are you focused on? What are the key priorities for the organisation?’ – and just a few of these answers will be represented in the board agenda and board information. In these instances, it’s hardly surprising that what gets discussed in the boardroom doesn’t reflect what board members believe are the things that matter – trying to be agile without focus invariably fails. To avoid this failure you need everybody aligned on what matters most.

Also crucial are the critical thinking skills that one may associate with an agile mind, as these allow you to find the signal through the noise – absolutely vital when we are drowning in data. Ultimately, though, if you are going to get anything done then you must be able to communicate succinctly and clearly, otherwise great ideas never really see the light of day. Once you get these three qualities together in the board and leadership team you’ve got real potential and can begin to make progress fast.

How can organisations go about embedding these skills that underpin agility?

We believe that the greatest agent for change in embedding focus, critical thinking, and great communication is board and management reporting – as Amazon has demonstrated with startling success. Unfortunately, as Pippa pointed out, in many organisations, reporting has become synonymous with bureaucracy – the kind of thing people dread rather than cherish and value. But where else have you already got time in your diary that gives you the space to reflect and ask yourself: What’s going well? What hasn’t been going well? What do I think we should do about it? What do I want back from my reader? Many organisations waste this opportunity by spending heaps of time preparing data dumps that obscure rather than illuminate.

What’s more, we undertook research with the Corporate Governance Institute and, after surveying 2,000 organisations, we found that the average cost being ploughed into reporting was £4.4m. Building on this, Jen gave the example of work we did with easyJet some years ago when Carolyn McCall took over as chief executive. Despite huge pressure to relentlessly focus on cost management, she made clear that her priority would be on building a happy workforce delivering the best possible customer experience – and the profits would take care of themselves.

Working with easyJet, we developed and brought to the fore the data that mattered, forcing management to think deeply each month about what they have done to improve the experience for both the workforce and the customer. Throughout Carolyn’s tenure, she quadrupled the share price of easyJet – so she was clearly onto something.

In summary, using board and management reporting as the agent for change enables you to embed focus, critical thinking, and great communication throughout your organisation, setting you on the right path towards becoming more agile.

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