Global Study: Organizational Agility Is Crucial During Global Pandemic

The second installment of our global survey, “Organizational Agility At Scale: The Key to Driving Digital Growth,” found that the pandemic has forced business leaders the world over to take a hard look at what they’re doing right, and what needs improving inside their own organizations.

Josh Krist October 16, 2020
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The beginning of 2020 was full of advice on what to expect in the year ahead, but even the experts got this one wrong. In fact, rather than looking ahead, we’ve all been forced to look within. The second installment of our global survey, “Organizational Agility At Scale: The Key to Driving Digital Growth,” found that business leaders the world over have been forced to take a hard look at what they’re doing right, and what needs improving inside their own organizations to drive digital growth.

Conducted from late June through early August of 2020 with 1,024 senior business executives (C-suite or their direct reports), the research found most agree that to do nothing to accelerate digital growth is no longer an option. And agile organizations—those with the capabilities to react quickly and effectively to opportunities—have never been as strongly positioned to benefit. 

In fact, the biggest change from the 2019 survey is that growth from digital revenue—using digital technology to do anything from sell more T-shirts to host another company’s business in the cloud—is more critical than ever. Over one-third of firms now expect 75% or more of their revenue to come from digital efforts in three years’ time. Consider that this percentage has tripled since 2019, when just one in 10 firms had the same projection.

Fast Responders

While expectations for digital revenue growth keep rising, before you can swim towards that goal you need to stay afloat when the waters get choppy. Enter those companies that we’ve identified through our research as “fast responders”—those that responded the most quickly to the incredible business disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic highlights the business case for agility, as organizations look for innovative ways to future-proof revenue streams, operations, and people. We found that organizations that responded fastest to the pandemic are more likely than all others to have embraced agility by embedding things such as data accessibility and cross-functional collaboration. 

Let’s take a closer look. Our research asked firms whether they were equipped to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic at speed and scale. The answers to this one question identified two groups: the “fast responders” (73%) and the “slow responders” (27%). And, we saw that fast responders were always at least slightly further ahead in their digital transformation journey. We were heartened to see that so many companies rose to the occasion, whether by design or necessity, and our takeaway from the sometimes very small differences between fast and slow responders in other areas is that even a little bit of progress can make a monumental difference.

What else do fast responders have in common? 

  • Slightly more focus on digital growth during this time, with 35% of fast responders ranking accelerated digital growth as the most important change to ensure resilience in a future crisis versus 32% of all firms. However, although there wasn’t much of a difference on the importance of digital growth, fast responders reported much higher levels of digital revenue growth during the pandemic than slow responders.  
  • More than a third (36%) of fast responders make timely, accurate data accessible to those who need it, while data is completely or somewhat siloed among 50% of slow-responder firms. 
  • Fast responders report higher levels of alignment between the CEO and the rest of the C-suite, and a greater propensity for employees to self-organize in collaborative teams.
  • Fifty percent of them take a continuous approach to planning—compared to 43% of respondents overall.

But also, to be clear, even fast responders were caught unaware. It’s their quick pivot that deserves accolades, not necessarily their state of preparedness. An overwhelming majority (84%) of all business leaders surveyed reported barriers to working remotely when the pandemic hit. This year’s study also included interviews with business leaders across geographies and industries. Many of those interviewed said the pandemic has forced their companies to speed up digital acceleration timelines while juggling a whole new set of priorities. 

Our takeaway from the sometimes very small differences between fast and slow responders is that even a little bit of progress can make a monumental difference.

Building a Roadmap

In our 2019 study, we identified the key characteristics of organizationally agile firms and the connection to successful digital efforts. We found that agile organizations are better placed to unlock digital revenue streams at pace, to digitally innovate, and to react to external market shifts with speed and agility. 

In 2020, we set out to understand how firms are embedding the agile capabilities deemed critical for success, with the aim of providing a map to guide organizations on their transformation journey. We find them doing it in six ways:

  • Smart technologies
  • An adaptable culture
  • Analytical and tech skills
  • Data accessibility
  • Cross-functional teams
  • Integrated, cloud-based systems

The bottom line is that agility—the ability to react quickly and productively in a changing world—is no longer a “nice to have,” but is an essential must-have for all. 

In our next blog, we’ll do a deeper dive into this year’s overall findings and examine more deeply the hard lessons of the global pandemic and examples of the great resiliency of business leaders and companies.

Stay tuned here for the roadmap on how to make your organization more agile, no matter where you’re starting from. In the meantime, be sure to register for Conversations for a Changing World, where we’ll be sharing more of the takeaways from this research, other studies, and the wisdom of our customers. 

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