It was earlier in the year that I made the connection between agility and social organizations. Agility is one of the big problems that can be solved when organizations become more human (the other big one is engagement). Traditional organizations are bad at agility because they are steeped in mechanical thinking. I guess that’s to be expected. Machines are not designed for agility. They’re not designed to change directions rapidly or adjust to shifts and changes in the environment. Machines are designed to run (in one direction). If we find that isn’t working, then we replace the machines. Or at least we shut them down while they can be modified to fit the new reality. So here we are in organizations whose management has been based in machine thinking for 50 years, so I’m not surprised we’re having agility issues.
But social organizations are trying some new things. They are experimenting with structures, processes, and behaviors that enable agility. In a recent Fast Company article, Faisal Hoque talks about ways in which some companies (Zara, Proctor and Gamble, and Berlitz) are doing things differently in order to achieve agility.
One method was an emphasis on innovation:
“All enterprises typically engage simultaneously in the improvement of operations and the innovation of processes and products. The level of emphasis on these two activities will determine an enterprise’s ability to respond to changes in their competitive landscape. Speed is a key factor, and the combined level of emphasis on operational improvement and innovation is a direct reflection of it.”
Hoque’s point is you have to do both. Fast organizations have a good “combined level” of these activities. I think in many companies that combined level is low because they put all their resources into simply getting the job done, and they have little time left for improving processes, let alone innovating. But without innovation, it becomes difficult for these organizations to “respond to changes in their competitive landscape,” as Hoque says.
In other words, without innovation, organizations cannot be generative. The only way you keep up with an ever-changing market is to be ever-changing yourself. Social organizations are generative. They expect innovation and they find ways to put resources towards it. They are not ALWAYS focused on efficiency (which is about getting the job done). They move towards activities that generate learning, that are experimental, that generate opportunities for new collaboration. That’s one reason why they embrace social media. It’s just a great way to do all those things.