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The Importance of Business Agility

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In the ever more complex business world that we operate in today, companies have to be able to adapt rapidly and cost efficiently to changes in the environment and customer behavior. In other words (and in reference to something that an executive of a Fortune 500 company told me recently) 'dinosaurs' must learn to become 'pumas'.

I believe that the idea of becoming a 'puma' is imperative, as businesses operate in a more ruthless environment than ever before; a ruthlessness that has been reflected in the number of high-profile companies that have entered administration in 2013.

It seems to me that those companies that went bust earlier this year all had one thing in common: they failed to adapt in the market that they operated in, which in turn, nullified their value proposition.

There is no better example of this than HMV folding in early 2013.

At that time, who was better placed to exploit the internet than HMV? The power of the brand, its heritage in music, its unrivalled access to content from film, game and music companies. The company was ideally placed to take advantage of social media and all its subsequent advantages.

HMV could have put together a strong online offering when the going was good in the late 90's, but instead it took a wrong turn, attempting to diversify into other electronics that were already failing on the high street.

HMV soon found itself in deep trouble, and fell into administration in January 2013. Through a mixture of stubbornness, arrogance and hesitancy to adapt, HMV failed because it didn't react quickly enough to its customers' changing behaviours.

As a result, I believe that companies need to develop a 'customer obsession' if they want to avoid such pit falls, and ensure that they are able to react quickly. Customer obsession is absolutely crucial in making a business agile because the better you know your customers, the quicker you can adapt to their needs. Customers ought to be the focus of any businesses' strategy and companies ought to focus all their energy and budget on processes that enhance knowledge of and engagement with customers. The following priorities must be put in place in order to deliver on customer obsession:

  1. Keep pace with your customer trends and the changing market dynamics
  2. Design, architect and deliver engagement with your customers ( for example: IT systems that support engagement and build customer knowledge)
  3. Deliver customer delight through relationship management and outstanding customer service
On top of this, I would encourage businesses to take a further step by strategically placing themselves as thought leaders in their field - a company that is hyperaware of their customers' needs for tomorrow, as well as today, and forecasting for those innovations accordingly.

All businesses that wish to be agile also need to show a degree of organisational intelligence. Companies that show this intelligence are able to make sense of complex situations and act effectively. They are also acutely aware of relevant events and signals in the environment and have the ability to interpret and react to them: they are able to develop, share and use knowledge relevant to its business purpose only.

As a result, structurally agile companies usually operate in an entirely different way to those that lack this organisational intelligence. They seek the middle ground between the global and the local and find a balance between a centralised and decentralised structure. An agile organisation will also empower local units and geographies to be more responsive and adaptive to local markets, customers and trends. This in turn, will create the right mix of bureaucracy with nimbleness and innovation.

I believe Sermelo is continuing to experience growth largely because of the emphasis that we place on understanding our clients and providing them with innovative services that match their needs. We strive to become trusted advisers to our clients, and we have employees with a diverse skillset that can assist with public affairs, employee engagement, public relations, and issues management. This allows us to be agile as we can react to the issues that our clients face quickly and assertively.

The agility we have developed as a company has allowed us to continue growing, and is, I believe, a crucial characteristic for all businesses that are looking to flourish in 2013.