How agile are we, indicators to measure organizational agility

Organizational agility has ceased to be an option and has become a requirement. Among the different elements that make up agility, dynamism of processes and routines is essential to be able to make the right decisions at the right time. How to ensure these routines contribute to good decision making? How can executives focus on what adds the most value to the business, leaving aside those issues that only distract them from the focus? 

Agility is today, for many organizations, a minimum and necessary requirement to be able to operate in a changing and highly volatile context. Developing it implies understanding and attacking multiple aspects to ensure an effective ability to detect, adapt and respond to changes. 

In recent years, we have seen many companies incorporate agile methodologies to generate value in a short period and quickly incorporate learning along the way. We have also seen organizations transform their structure, replacing the traditional hierarchical design with an agile model that enables faster and more direct interactions. 

In this same sense, we see that one of the challenges that many organizations are facing is to achieve organizational agility to have processes and routines that make it easier for decisions to be made in a timely manner. 

At Tandem, we understand and measure organizational agility following a model that helps to better understand the phenomenon and work on it in an orderly manner. The first step to carry out this measurement is to quantitatively evaluate the effectiveness of our management processes and routines, in order to find out how agile we are, and above all, to know where we must invest to improve our dynamism as soon as possible. 

With a clear understanding of some basic indicators, these routines can be realigned to get the most out of them, to use resources effectively and focus the organization on those decisions that can add the most value. And, for these decisions to be made properly and at the right time, it is essential that meetings are focused on facilitating decision-making, thus generating greater value for the business. 

Our time, the most valuable resource 

The most valuable resource an organization has is probably the time of its executives; however, it is quite often the most neglected resource, wasted by management processes and routines. The excessive number of low-value meetings that we face consume our time and prevent us from investing in those activities that generate the most value for the business. 

That said, meetings should not be stigmatized as the source of all evil. A well-managed meeting, with a purpose aligned to the strategy, that brings together the right people, for a short time, and with the right information, will surely be a very powerful tool for making good decisions. 

It is important, then, that management routines can be flexibly adapted to the needs of the business and the urgency of the decisions to be made. In that sense, there are some key indicators to measure in order to achieve this: 

The footprint of meetings. Like the carbon footprint, meetings leave an imprint that can be harmful to the ecosystem of our organization. Too many meetings will drain our energy and leave us with little time to do other tasks. How can we reduce meeting times? Eliminating those that do not add value would seem to be the ideal answer; however, it is difficult to put this into practice, especially when we do not know the value they will generate, until we have gone through them. Two indicators can help us reduce this time: 

Simplicity: when you can’t eliminate a meeting, perhaps you can reduce the number of participants, thereby lowering the total man-hours spent. Surely, many of you have asked yourself, “Why am I at this meeting?”, or ‘”What am I expected to do or say here?” On numerous occasions, we are invited to meetings without it being clear on our role, and what is even worse, nobody controls the cost of that invitation. To buy the coffee or snacks that will be consumed in the meeting, you will probably need a cost center, but to count on the most valuable resource we possess, our time, most likely not. 

Brevity: if the number of participants cannot be reduced, perhaps the duration of the meeting can. Is it necessary to meet for an hour? The inertia of our sexagesimal system pushes us to occupy the meeting, up to the limit of whole hours or, worse still, their multiples. Meetings of 18, 23 or 42 minutes can be just as effective. And there is something even less healthy: we schedule hour-long meetings, one after another, as if teleportation had already been invented. Five to ten minutes to answer urgent messages, travel, say goodbye and connect to the new room seem to be necessary. 

Decision-focused meetings. We seldom get good mileage out of meetings. We spend time sharing information, points of view, discussing, communicating, informing. All of these actions may be valuable to the business, but they will generally involve one-way communication routes. Is this the best way to make the most of our time? Could some of these spaces for communication or information sharing be replaced by other more modern means that do not require being in the same room simultaneously? A simple way to measure it is to establish in meeting agendas which spaces will be used to make decisions, and which will only be used for sharing or communication. Two metrics that can guide us: 

Time in decisions: a good indicator of this use can directly be the ratio of time dedicated to deciding. An effective meeting should have at least 80% of its time dedicated to the activity that adds the most value to management: making decisions. 

Meeting productivity: Another way to measure effectiveness is to quantify the decisions made per meeting. Sometimes the time spent may not be a good indicator, but the number of agreements recorded in the minutes can give an indication of how effective we are being. 

Flexibility in the management routine. Once ensured that meeting time will be dedicated to making decisions and that the right people will be present to make them, it will be essential to guarantee they can do so at the right time.

Decisions cannot wait for people: they must be made when they maximize value for the business.

And the cycles of management routines must ensure they are taken at the right time. Two metrics in this regard: 

Frequency: the frequency of a meeting must be perfectly synchronized with the frequency of its decisions. Shorter, but more frequent meetings, will give a team a faster reaction time by adding more moments of interaction. Short sprints between meetings will allow progress to be reviewed with less advance on tasks, being able to detect deviations and correct them early in the process. 

Adaptability: this frequency, in turn, must allow things to change. Rigid commitments on flexible parameters will be necessary to respond to unforeseen events. For this, the dynamics of reallocation of resources must allow rapid mobility to direct people, money, and time to those activities with greater added value and thus, provide agility to our management model. Variations in this allocation of resources may be a valuable indicator of our ability to adapt and respond. 

In contexts in which flexibility and the need for efficiency are increasingly vital, it is therefore essential to accurately measure the agility of our management routines. Thus, we will be able to know what we need to change to have a meeting ecosystem that encourages rapid decision-making in our organization. Bureaucratic and cumbersome routines may provide us with security, but they will probably take away the much-sought flexibility and speed of response. The ability to detect in advance, decide on time, reallocate resources and learn with short cycles will give us the necessary agility to face the permanent changes in the coming competitive context.

Gastón Francese
Partner at Tandem.

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