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Why is Organizational Agility So Hard?

I am totally committed to losing weight! I’m excited, I’m ambitious! But when that alarm goes off for a 5:30AM run...not so much. Similarly, many organizations are excited about “Organizational Agility”. But are you willing to do what it takes?

“We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are HARD!”

JFK introducing the Moonshot

When I tell companies that it’s a hard transformation, I usually get one of two reactions:

  • We’re not afraid of hard work.

  • Stop scaring people.

Let’s work through these reactions by unpacking what we mean by hard, and why you should be prepared.

There is no process to follow. Organizational Agility seeks to create responsiveness to market changes and future unknowns. Following a process is the exact opposite of being responsive. No process can solve the problem of too much process.

There are, however, practices that you can experiment with. New practices are emerging every day. The job to be done is in creating a company where you can experiment with new practices, where some will work, some will need to be adapted, and some won’t work at all.

“Doing what you’ve always done, will get you what you’ve always gotten.” - Einstein

Agility Practices will unearth some serious shit.

$1 for the swear jar. I didn’t want to water this down, it deserves a swear word.

Traditional processes were designed to smooth things out, to create order and harmony. Agility practices are designed to expose, uncover and unearth all the dysfunctions. People don’t like having their weaknesses exposed. In many cases, the dysfunction that gets exposed is something that people have been rewarded for in the past.

Consider these examples:

“I built this PMO, it made everything so much more organized, I got promoted for this work! And now you’re telling me that it’s blocking responsiveness?”

“My department’s whole job is administering the budget process. We’ve won awards for this. And now you’re saying it’s not effective?”


Agility means facing hard truths. Organizational Agility is a different kind of hard work than companies are used to. People expect hard work to mean working long hours, thinking a lot, etc. This is emotionally hard work for the culture. It’s the organizational equivalent to overcoming loss or addiction.

Companies underestimate the extent that Agility will challenge them emotionally. Are you ready to hear that the skills you’ve built through your entire career are not valuable anymore? Are you ready to face the fact that the things you’ve valued have no value?

What kinds of hard truths? Middlemen are no longer valuable. Agility values the ‘makers’ the ‘doers’.

  • Power no longer comes from control and authority, it now comes from connection. If you like to feel in control and you don’t like uncertainty, you’re not going to like Agility.

  • There is no checklist, no best practice, no definitive answer on how to do it. It’s uncomfortable not knowing the answer in a culture where knowing the answer has been

  • Jobs that oversee and evaluate others are no longer valuable. Jobs that plan and report valued.

  • Most companies run on fear-based management. The proverbial carrot and the stick. But no company will admit it. Once you delve into Agility, the fear-based culture will knock you in the head. Leaders who have been taught to lead with fear will be embarrassed to admit it. Help them save face.

Brain Twist: Make a list of things that have been hard about Agility in your organization? What has been hard for you as an individual? Share your list at your next staff meeting. Do others share your insights? What can you do to support each other?

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