Tips for Improving Your Business Agility

One of the key attributes of successful businesses is the ability to respond to change positively and without delay. Societies and lifestyles are in a constant state of change, and the development of new technologies accelerates the process even more rapidly. It's easy for businesses to get left behind if they aren't quick enough to respond to changing markets or trading conditions, or if such changes derail their forward movement. No business is immune to the forces of change, but the way to manage any situation that arises is to ensure your business is as agile as possible.

What is an agile business?

The dictionary defines agility as being nimble - having the ability to move your body smoothly and speedily. This is exactly what agility means in business terms as well; it's having the ability to adapt, be flexible, and respond quickly to outside influences or internal changes with minimal interruption to the normal flow of the business.
Business agility is closely allied to change management, but whereas change management occurs in response to a specific set of circumstances, business agility can be viewed as more of a company ethos, an attribute that is fundamental to the business's operation.
Some businesses employ change management techniques to see through a major project, but lack the intrinsically nimble operations of a truly agile business. Others may have some attributes of an agile business, but fail to have a defined policy for continual or comprehensively agile practices.
An essential component of business agility is having vision and foresight. No-one can predict the future with certainty, but by looking forward and adopting new technologies and new working methods, and spotting gaps in the market, you'll stand a better chance of staying ahead of your competition.
 
New technologies

Every day there's a new piece of technology coming out, and it can be quite a task sorting the wheat from the chaff and finding the applications and equipment that would genuinely benefit your business. For example, you might not know that there are cloud computing applications that go far beyond collaborative working and off-site data back-up. Whatever sector you occupy, there should be trade publications and trusted websites that are the best sources of information on new and upcoming tech products.
Keeping up-to-date

It's a good idea to keep yourself informed about what's happening and what's on the horizon by signing up for emails, feeds, or whichever method of notification you prefer, so you can keep track of all the most relevant developments. You can then take advantage of technological developments that will give you genuine benefits at the most opportune moment. For instance, if you operate a retail business have you moved to a cloud-based stock control system? If not, you should find out more info about how this model could help your business productivity; or if you run a service business, are you using cloud computing facilities to allow your clients access to their accounts and offer extra services? These are examples of technological developments that you could be missing out on if you aren't keeping in touch with what's new.
New working methods

It's not only technology that develops over time; human psychology, behaviors, communication, and other forms of understanding are continually being researched. Managing staff is one of the most challenging aspects of business ownership, but if you get it right you'll have a massive advantage. A workforce that is operating at near peak efficiency can make a substantial difference to your bottom line, so keeping abreast of new thinking about working methods, motivation, reward, and any other aspect of personnel management will pay dividends for your business.

Gaps in the market

Few markets remain solidly constant; some come and go on the whim of fashion trends, others merely change with the times and people's desires and expectations. This means there are often new gaps in existing markets, or sometimes new markets altogether that if you're on the ball, you can take advantage of.
 
Reaction times

Agility involves reacting quickly and in a balanced manner to change. If your business is bogged down with unnecessary bureaucracy, or still uses outdated methods that have been replaced with more efficient models of operation, you'll soon find yourself getting left behind.
Physically agile athletes need to react instantly when the starting pistol fires at the beginning of a race. They're poised, focused, and ready to respond the moment they hear the crack of the pistol; if they were still checking their spikes or fiddling with their running gear, they'd be left at the start and never makeup ground to the runners who were ready for the off. This is a perfect analogy for agility in business, too - if you're not ready to react, your chances of success are slim.
 
What makes a business agile?

There are many hefty volumes on bookshelves and extensive web resources that delve into this question in detail, but these are the primary qualities of an agile business:
 
  1. Adopting the right technologies and processes: Agile business owners and staff act quickly to source and implement changes that improve the business, but there is still a process of evaluation and planning to go through. There are the practical aspects of ensuring the new tech will do the job it promises for your business, at a cost that's supportable; then sourcing funding and arranging implementation, training, and reviews. Snap decisions to introduce something new overnight aren't agile thinking - they're clumsy and unlikely to succeed.
  2. Free-flowing communication: every member of your team needs to be kept informed and encouraged to communicate. Open interactions between team members ensure that everyone knows what is going on and can feel confident about contributing. Resistance to change is most notable in environments where communication is lacking.
  3. Learning: a constant review and assessment process enables businesses to learn from the actions they've taken and improve their operations and future decision-making.
If you want your business to maintain its place in the market and indeed increase its market share, you should review how agile your business processes are and take steps to ensure you have a truly agile business.