Adaptive capacity is a critical factor to success for the future
71% of American and English companies consider ‘agile management’ as a priority for their company, as is revealed by an InSites Consulting survey on social media integration. The term agile management is described (in Wikipedia) as a company’s capacity to adapt rapidly to a changing situation. Agile management is sometimes confused with speed. Reacting rapidly to a tweet is not sufficient for being an agile company. Reacting rapidly to customers’ tweets and blogs is all part of it, evidently, but that’s only the easy part. The hard part is to make your company flexible so that it can always rapidly responds to the correct trends.
Agile management: reduce all processes
Furthermore the challenge is to go beyond an increase in communication speed. There is the need for a production processes reduction. A customer giving feedback about a product wants more than a â€˜thank you for your feedback tweet’. They want to see the product adapted. They also want to see the result in the next few weeks, and not after 6 months or so. No matter what the size of your company is, it should keep following the spirit of a small one.
When I wrote my new book The Conversation Company, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ekaterina Walter. Ekatarina is part of the Intel social media strategy team and is a regular Mashable blogger. She considers the creation of adaptive capacity as the main challenge for Intel: â€˜Intel was already making efforts to integrate conversational thinking. The real challenge will be to make our company rapid and flexible. Intel is an oil tanker which will have to manoeuvre as a speed boat in the future. The duration of our marketing processes needs to be halved in order to keep up with the market speed.’
Adapting the planning and aim for a flexible budget
An agile company creates a planning every 3 months, every month, every week, or in some cases even every day. Step 1 towards becoming agile is to step away from a year planning. A yearly budget and planning creation forces your company to respect it. But the future is changing so rapidly that a year planning will make your company cumbersome. Real time feedback entails real time action. That is why you need to be sufficiently flexible. Quarterly budgets, planning and actions automatically make you a lot more flexible.
Furthermore an agile company has a 100% flexible marketing budget. I used to plead for a 20% flexible marketing budget. But I now realize that 20% is insufficient. Companies that are using the 20% rule see this budget disappear immediately in the first budget round. That is how it changes from being a flexibility budget into a buffer in the negotiations with the top management. That means that the target, flexibility, will not be reached. So here is a more extreme suggestion: make your marketing budget completely flexible. You have a vision and a mission with the corresponding plans. You estimate a budget for it. The specific way it will be used can be determined at the relevant moment.
Adaptive capacity by investing in micro-trends
By investing in micro-trends you are never late in reacting to a new trend. A modern company should aim at constantly trying new things. This refers to new media, new technology, new websites… Even if the new trend does not immediately seem to apply to your company, you should still investigate how it functions exactly. By reacting rapidly and taking the main micro-trends seriously you will never miss an important evolution. Of course this does not imply that you have to adapt your company to every single new trend. The main aim is to learn, to experiment and to see which way the world is evolving in.
Adaptive capacity does not mean that everything is decided based on instinct, quite the opposite even. An agile company is very analytical. During the tests you should measure as many relevant parameters as possible. If a new medium is being tested, you should immediately make an analysis of its impact. That is how, after a while, you can consider all new aspects against each other and make a decent evaluation.
Get rid of the meeting culture
In the end an agile company is not hindered by a bad meeting mentality. In the US there are about 11 million meetings a day. That makes 3 billion a year. A majority of the meetings is inefficient or ineffective. How often do you find yourself in a meeting where you think: â€˜What am I doing here?’ or where there are no clear agreements on follow-up actions? On top of this there too often is a need for a new meeting before the next steps are taken, because every â€˜relevant’ person needs to be consulted. Holidays and other priorities can sometimes cause months of delays for urgent actions. And your company is missing numerous opportunities.
Two strong cases: Google & IT company Atlassian
Larry Page sees his major challenge in making Google more adaptive. Their competitors, Facebook and Groupon, are much more adaptive and flexible, so says the Google CEO. Nonetheless a giant such as Google manages to stay flexible. Of course their culture, which allows failure, supports this. Agile marketing can only succeed if your company culture has introduced â€˜open’ as a value. Google is continuously in a â€˜beta’ environment. The collaborators can spend 20% of their time on thinking out innovations. When they are nearly ready, these innovations are launched. Some of them are successful (e.g. Google Earth) and others aren’t (e.g. Google Wave). By investing a structural part of their time in micro-trends, the company is always ready to react to a new trend. But even then it is sometimes too late (e.g. Google+).
Another less well-known example is Atlassian, an Australian software company. I found this case in the book ‘Drive’ by Dan Pink. Atlassian has about 200 collaborators. At a certain point the management decided the company was not progressing rapidly enough in innovation and internal IT project. So they decided to try out a radical experiment. Every quarter they gave their IT team a day off. On that day these collaborators could work on finding solutions to a specific problem, the nature of which was their decision entirely. The only condition is that, 24 hours later, they have to present their result to the rest of the company. The results are amazing. A lot of work is done on these days. Every time again it resulted in numerous new ideas and existing problems were dealt with one at a time.
Adaptive capacity is a critical success factor for the future
I am convinced that building in more flexibility and more adaptive capacity is crucial for a company’s future. No matter how large or strong your brand is today, if you don’t act upon the changing context you are taking major risks. A prime example is Kodak…
Of course a company is in dire need for a long-term strategy. This cannot change every so many years. However its implementation will need to be sufficiently flexible in order to succeed. Those who are stubborn and stick to their current methods may one day well be confronted with the inevitable.