runningAgility means moving quickly with grace.  Sportscasters comment on the agility of athletes at the top of their game.  But, how many commentators talk about agile businesses which are at the top of their game.  When you look at the fact that the life expectancy of companies in the Fortune 500 is less than 15 years (vs. 75 in 1937 and 40 on 1970), it seems that a business’ agility quickly wears off. According to Steve Denning, author of A Leaders Guide to Radical Management, companies lose their agility because of the management structure.  These structures become cumbersome, slowing down companies’ ability to respond quickly to the fast-paced changing game around them.

It is not new knowledge that the world is rapidly changing.  The impetuses for the changes are more often than not people who are outside of the structure they affect. Denning believes that the marketplace has shifted from the seller to the buyer.  And, in today’s world, when a buyers’ loyalty is shifting sand, businesses need a new way to predict customers’ choices and respond quickly.  In other words, companies need agility.

Ray Williams, CEO coach and author of The Leadership Edge, writes that a company’s ability to move quickly can be hampered or enhanced by how management views its role.  Is management a one that directs and controls knowledge or is it one that respects the knowledge of the employees and gives them freedom to assess customer needs and respond accordingly?  Small groups of employees can draw from within the organization to specifically answer today’s customer demands. Also, establishing different working groups within a company gives a business other avenues that it can pull from to quickly move a company in a new direction.  And, if tomorrow’s demands are different, then the employees can reorganize.

Developing an agile management structure is not widely taught in business schools writes Williams. Traditional business school programs still teach that management is the knowledge holder and employees react as they are expected.  This not only disengages employees, it is a hierarchical management style that is alien to younger employees.  Younger employees want to feel freedom for creativity and innovation and develop independent drive, much like what they see in young and successful companies like Google and Facebook.  Management benefits from recognizing the new working style that that more and more up and coming employees expect.  Learning how to attune your company means that the management often needs to be trained in new beliefs about how to manage in a swiftly evolving business structure so that by responding to customer needs and respecting employee abilities, management will be able to react quickly with grace.

With implementation of integral approach management as we know it is actually fading away. Ultimately, people correctly connected into one system and functioning as a one coherent body naturally become agile and need very little management. What they need is humble leadership and then sky is the limit!