Agile Cultures Take the Fear Out of Change

Change is omnipresent--be it from instability in global politics, advancements in technology, demographic shifts, climatic events, disease, social trends, or a myriad of factors that impact markets and defy prediction. There's no guarantee where it will come from, but change is guaranteed to happen. And let's face it, shaking up the status quo--especially when things are going well--can be scary.

So why are some companies able to ride the waves of change while others flounder? A major determinate is the level of agility built in to an organization's culture and the ability of its leaders to see opportunity where others see only risk.

i4cp's recent report, The Secret Formula for Organizational Agility, took an in-depth look at what makes cultures agile. What we found was that high-performance organizations were 6.5x more likely to respond quickly to change, 3x more likely to adapt to those changes, and 4.5x more likely to exploit or gain advantage from change.

What makes high performers so much more adaptive to change?

High-performance organizations foster cultures that embrace change instead of fearing it, finding market advantage where others see only turmoil that must be weathered. As one of the 25 key performance indicators (KPIs) that correlate to market performance, according to i4cp's The People-Profit Chain™, high-performance organizations are 3.2x more likely to have cultures that support change. These cultures are built on specific practices, shared values, and instilled leadership behaviors.

6 practices top companies use to support change and stay agile

Practices that build agility boil down to forethought and contingency planning. Organizations that adopt these practices are less likely to get blindsided and are more likely to have infrastructure in place (or a plan to get it there) so they can absorb the shock of a change event. This infrastructure allows companies the ability to quickly enact preplanned scenarios and get down to the business of exploiting the disruption of their less-agile competitors.

The six practices most highly correlated to market performance are:
  • Rigorous environmental scanning
  • Decentralizing the organizational structure to enable information flow and creativity
  • Making sure change management is a core competency at the enterprise level
  • Establishing and fostering a continuous learning culture
  • Empowering employees at all levels to make decisions
  • Hiring for values-fit
This final practice segues well with the next aspect of agile cultures: the values that drive the way an organization does business. One of these values--transparency--is specifically suited to reducing fear of change, while the others create an environment that builds responsive capability.

5 Values of Organizational Agility
5 organizational values that drive agility

Five organizational values are most predictive of agility (and change-ready cultures): innovation, transparency, creativity, diversity, and collaboration.

Organizations with deeply rooted and visible commitments to one or more of these values are 2x times more likely to be effective at agility, and highly agile organizations are 10x more likely to indicate that all five values are embedded into the culture.

At i4cp member-company Qualcomm, a spirit of innovation is at the heart of the culture. One of a variety of programs that supports this is the Qualcomm Innovation Network, a web-based tool that any employee can access to submit, review and/or evaluate ideas, and ultimately be rewarded for them.

Values that are well-defined, consistent with leadership actions and behaviors, and woven into the fabric of the organization provide the foundation for culture.

No-fear leadership behaviors

The values above must be consistent with leadership behaviors to be considered more than lip-service. Living the values is a top-down practice that will make or break cultural change and management initiatives. Fearful, risk-averse thinking among decision makers is a sure way to limit the effectiveness gained through the practices and values listed above.

The leadership traits that promote agility are:
  • Open-mindedness
  • Tolerance for ambiguity
  • Willingness to be transparent
  • Comfortable taking risks
  • Approaches change with positivity
  • Stays focused in times of uncertainty
  • Facilitates teamwork

So ask yourself: Is my organization's approach to change driven by fear or opportunity?

To discover more information on the characteristics of agile cultures, download an executive summary of i4cp's The Secret Formula for Organizational Agility.
Eric Davis
Eric received his master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Marshall University in 1996. He has had 20+ years of workforce experience in a variety of fields. Before coming to i4cp, he worked as a laboratory technician for DuPont, a conference planner for Marshall University, the public relations manager for the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Technical Manufacturing, and a graphic designer for COX Communications.