Purpose, connections and relationships are the three pillars of agile organizations

by Didier Marlier on Saturday December 5th, 2015

I just finished touching base with Laurent Bonnier, Managing Partner of Strat-X, the company who is behind the Strategic Marketing simulations used by 90 of the top best MBA’s. Amongst the things that surprised him was the fact that, no matter which conference or lecture he recently attended (Strat-X has a strong academic background, having been founded by Prof. J.C. Larreché, Alfred H. Heineken Chaired Professor of marketing at INSEAD), the word “Agility” kept on coming back as the new mantra.

But agility is a result, not an aim per se. The other day, I was listening to a conversation between high flying execs of a US multinational who is so serious about “Agility” that they now have a process for it… I smiled.

So why becoming agile and how do you create an agile organization?

Why becoming agile?

The Disruption economy requires that we become agile in strategic (“from strategy to strategize”, meaning creating an intelligent organization), organizational (“from organizations to organisms”) and leadership terms (“from seniority means superiority to engaging leadership”).

In the Disruption Economy, competitors are not only the “usual suspects” we know and who know us well, but they can also be completely out of our radar screens and hit us, as a collateral damage on their course. Constantly watching, pre-empting, changing, adapting, testing, trial and error are all becoming part of the norm now.

How to become agile?

  • Purpose: The great danger in becoming an agile company is to be placed in a permanent state of reactivity. Ten years ago, a consultant (whose name I unfortunately forgot) was claiming that a lethal strategy was to keep your competitors reactive. In a sense this is what Apple did extremely well (they did not only do that well, their ecosystem based strategy was deadly to their competitors still hooked on the “hardware is important” orthodoxy). But what Apple did (and continues to do) so well, was to keep everybody scrutinizing, anticipating, guessing and gossiping about their most probable next bold move. Can anyone seriously believe that a drunk engineer of Cupertino once “forgot” his experimental ultra-secret prototype of a new IPhone on the table of a Californian bar? Apple is keeping their competitors on their toes, exhausting them by forcing them to permanently react. Reaction-based agility is dangerous, consumes heavy resources and puts you in the position of follower, never of a leader. So having a clear, emotionally engaging and intellectually compelling purpose is a must for a company that wants to be agile to pursue and deliver on its strategy and does not want to change course by guessing what their competitors’ next move is going to be. An emotional purpose is what reassembles people behind a shared banner and project to fight for. It is both strategic and motivational.
  • Connections: As last week’s post suggests, “Relationships are pathways to the intelligence of the system”. In the Disruption Economy, isolated intelligence and “lone wolves” will find it difficult to give their best and adapt sufficiently rapidly. Creating organizations, work environments that enable intelligence, conversations, ideas, people to connect will be fundamental. I like the simulation here below which shows the power of connected intelligence.

  • Relationships: None of the previous will happen if people do not want to relate to each other. Relationships are at the basis of vibrant organizations. Fear, distance, arrogance create submission or rebellion, fear to take risks, diminish creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation. Relationships are not about becoming friends but about “connecting” with our people, spending time with them, offer them the possibility to talk and engage with us.

Purpose, connections and relationships are three of the levers I would encourage you to think of if creating an agile organization is what you are heading for. It is very different than “having a rigorous process to become agile” 😉





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7 Responses to “Purpose, connections and relationships are the three pillars of agile organizations”

  1. Didier, thanks for sharing your thoughts and remind us that … in the end… things are simpler than we think… Purpose is key to our life and work, Connections is the basic prerequisite of the human race; and Relationships are the basic element for a happy and healthy life! I hope that we can all build organizations with this 3 pillars in mind. Thanks again for sharing! Cheers, Denys

    • Thank you Denys, when such a feedback comes from one of Brazil’s leading Exec Search C.E.O. it means a lot to me! Good luck in your own new venture. I have no doubts that lucky will be those who you will choose to accompany you! Abraço!

  2. One Dimension that we typically associalte to agility is size, small size Company should be typically more agile than large international corporation . The agility of a small Company is a pre-requisit to breakthrough in its market and develop, so in most of the case any Company must have been agile at their starting point . But now how to keep (or retrieve) the “original” agility in a large international corporation ?
    I think Didier of one of your favorit Management value : “Engagement”, getting our employees engaged in the Company’s purpose , keeping alive the inspiration for their product or value, as when the Company started up , I believe this will forster instintively the agility of the origin. I think Apple is a great example of such Company and I think that steeve Job was keeping alive the Spirit of Apple origins, bringing along the agility of the early days.

    • Thank you Pierre,
      Going back to the sources, as for example, Le Cirque Du Soleil did, and understand what is “the Essence” of your success may be a good advise for larger firms who have forgotten where they came from. Once reaching a certain size, level, rank, “fear of losing” creeps in and structures, processes and procedures seem to become the aim, which is, of course, the beginning of the end…
      Thank you for taking the time to comment here, once more. I hope you are well

  3. To my eyes, an interesting approach to promote agility and improve long term survival odds in our world of growing uncertainty is to seek for organisational ambidexterity (the ability to combine new knwoledge – exploration – with existing competencies – exploitation). To do so, organisations must create a proper (engaging!) context for their employees, a context made of a right balance of trust and support on the one hand, and stretch and discipline on the other hand (Ghoshal & Bartlett, SMJ, 1994; Birkinshaw & Gibson, MIT Sloan, 2004).

    • Thank you Jean Christophe… Interesting thought yes… Goshal and Bartlett are probably referring to what IMD Professor C. Prker, ued to call the “Support and Challenge matrix. Excellent, thanks


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