The cornerstone of competitive advantage and performance is the design of an organization. No matter how incisive and cunning your strategic plan is, an organization’s ability to reach its potential is jeopardized if the design, culture, and structure are not aligned.

The alignment challenge is ongoing because of increased complexity, unpredictability, and instability of external environmental change. An organization design needs to be performance efficient today while embodying flexibility for the long-term unforeseen future.

We have been researching and studying the components of sustainable high performance and share some observations for you to consider as you evaluate practices to evolve your organization for ongoing success.

Traditional strategic planning focuses on creating stability in the conditions among an organization’s customers, its suppliers, competitors, and distributors or delivery channels. An agility framework is designed and constructed differently; each element and feature embeds flexibility as the foundational practice. The pieces are then aligned to support long-term adaptability with high performance.

The agile organization has three common elements:

1. Robust Strategy produces results regardless of the environment.

  • Take advantage of momentary opportunities with the assumption that one single opportunity will not last forever, yet the profit generated exceeds the cost of change.
  • A robust strategy does not minimize enduring traits and dynamics of the organization; it fully leverages them for an advantage.
  • The agile organization moves with speed and elegance as its Board and CEO approve and orchestrate the change.
  • Elements needed are a broad range of products and services supported with passion, urgency, enthusiasm, and engagement; and, a compelling competitive advantage in offerings, quality, service, and support.

2. Adaptable Organization Design features maximum surface area, transparency in information flow, relevant and deft recruitment and talent management and rewards systems, and fluid decision-making.

  • Promote a shared perspective on motivating and engaging employees.
  • Implement clear and open information-sharing practices and processes for real-time communication.
  • Use multiple reward and bonus practices aligned with the strategy and expectations. Each person understands how his or her contribution is meaningful and relevantly rewarded.
  • Recruit employees who are quick learners and appreciate the change.
  • Employees are self-accountable and conduct frequent goal-setting reviews.
  • Use a talent management strategy wherein the employment contract states change is an expectation and a condition of employment.

3. Shared Leadership and Organization Identity understand that any change effort requires more than a single leader and an aligned organization identity.

  • Leadership is an organization capacity rather than an individual expectation, thereby maximizing the surface area.
  • Share knowledge and spread power, empowerment, and accountability throughout the organization.
  • Minimize with intent, top-down direction, and decision making.
  • Create organization identity with intention. Integrate internal culture, external brand, image, and reputation.
  • Proactively promote value-creating capacity and capabilities. Ongoing learning, including double-loop learning, generates current and future value.
  • Integrate critical thinking, competency building, and capacity.

Transforming an organization to be truly agile is not easy in the short term. People will readily accept some of the changes and resist others. We notice employees excited about understanding how their contribution connects to an objective, that their rewards are tied to individual performance, and the expectation to be self-accountable. However, getting to that excitement and understanding is a challenge, and once on the other side of the transformation, it makes the new practices worthwhile in sustaining an organization in a complex environment. Leadership alignment, in thought, words, and actions, is the most important factor of success.