Today's Successful Small Businesses Must Be Agile

Date: May 15, 2013

Give your employees the freedom to adapt quickly to changing conditions.

In my experience, you can only attain the speed and agility necessary for success in today’s fast-paced business world once you empower your employees.

These days you must satisfy both dependability and adaptability thresholds to grow and be successful. When you’re at the top of an organization, it’s easy to kid yourself that all the troops are behind your vision, but in most cases they’re just dealing with today.

This is why you need input from everyone throughout the hierarchy. Liberating information, creativity and a willingness to change sounds like chaos to people who grew up in a practical managerial world. It doesn’t have to be.

What we’re finding at John Kotter International, the consulting firm I founded in 2010, is that, increasingly, the most successful small businesses are led by individuals who have figured out the right formula for dependability and adaptability. Success, today, is about operating in such a way that frees up your employees to get the speed and agility necessary to stay ahead of the competition—all while maintaining a solid organization that can perform consistently every day.

The winning formula often includes three strategies:

  1. Creating a sense of urgency among employees to achieve a significant opportunity. We’re not talking about responding to today’s crisis or this week’s customer order. We’re talking about helping employees gain the deep intellectual and emotional sense that, “I want to get up and go to work to help us leap into the future.”
  2. Opening lines of communication so you can get crucial information from individuals at all levels and in all silos of your organization. Draw on the natural networks they have built with their co-workers to get a realistic picture of what is happening at the company—the good and the bad—that will help you make informed decisions. More often than not, technology is driving new opportunities in your company.
  3. Build a network of employees alongside the traditional organizational hierarchy that liberates this information and unleashes employees’ energy to drive change. This will help you find new opportunities and act on them quickly, as long as you apply that energy to big strategic issues.

Without these three pieces in place, your business is likely to be left behind. But, if you get the formula right, you’ll find yourself at the helm of a turbo-charged organization that is able to accomplish truly extraordinary things.

John Kotter, the chief innovation officer at Kotter International and Harvard Business School professor emeritus, is widely regarded as the foremost expert on leadership, strategy and innovation.


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