Friday, 14 February 2014

Business Agility

In this post I would like to share with readers my experience as  a member of a panel discussion on the subject “Building Agile Organizations.” The madras school of social Work a reputed educational institution  which celebrated its diamond jubilee in 2013, organizes a HR meet every year in the style and name of “symphony”  which is an opportunity for its HRM students to exchange notes with experienced professionals from the industry. As an alumni of the school I was delighted to receive an invitation to be a member of the discussion panel of the Symphony-2014 organized on 4th January at Hotel Savera in Chennai. I was even more enthused & excited at what transpired during the course of the day.

The event kicked off with a key note address by Mr  John Baby CEO of funskool (India) Ltd. What was noteworthy was that unlike as in most conferences all the speakers of the day  were present and listened to the very illuminating key note address which  set the  tone for what was  to follow. He mooted the idea that like people, organizations are born and go  through the process of infancy,adulthood(maturity), old age & death.In this journey, some who are not agile die and do not reach adulthood. 

In the young age,the organization is characterized by direction & parent support, functional support from specialists, and rapid growth. In adulthood  the focus is on delegating authority, decentralization,diversification and team working.By old age the organization slows down on account of its having become larger in  size and  more complex in structure. Slow response, crisis of red tape and lack of motivation are other characteristics. From this stage many die while some revive, similar to a rebirth of an eagle.The eagle can live up to 70 years.At around 40 years its beak and talons become weak & old.It then goes up to the mountain and beats its beak and talons on the rock until they fall off. Then it waits for the new ones to grow back.With the new talons & beak  it can live for another 30 years.This is a very painful process but worth the effort since it means 3 decades more of life.Similarly, with some pain & effort organizations can regain its agility and extend its life.

After the key note address,there was  a tea break during which time, we the members of the panel  and the moderator,Ms Vidya Murali,Director Kubos consultancy services had a breief chat on what the flow would be and in which order we would speak. Vidya would give a brief introduction of the subject and invite the panel members to speak to be followed by interactive session.Apart from me from Hyundai, the other members of the panel included Mr Pawan Desiraju from Dell, Mr Ragaland Thomas from Shell,Mr A.Muralidharan from Amra associates and Mr G.T Sambandham from Ramky Enviro Engineers Ltd.

Among other things what came through clearly  from the proceedings was that today, not only is there a need to be adaptable, speed is equally important. It is like a  triathlete champion who competes in swimming, sprints and cycling  requiring  not only the stamina but also speed, flexibility & technique in order to be successful. In business parlance this would mean exhibiting the  staying power to drive core business in the long run while being prepared to  shift focus fast as per requirement  to multiple kinds of business & quickly  execute at right time. It would also mean being highy innovative for achieving higher performance. Agile organizations with multiple locations would have the "non-negotiables" or core values  in the center with local units being given the freedom to be more responsive and adaptive to the local markets, customers and trends. Agility is about the ability to execute and not merely to strategize.Organization culture is the biggest challenge in creating an agile organization. HR has a big role in meeting this challenge.

One key aspect of this panel discussion was that all speakers spoke with examples from their own organizations. I shared  about our training initiatives in the area of core values, mind reprogramming exercises to imbibe new behaviour,developing collaborative culture through training programs etc The  other speakers gave examples from their own organizations viz Shell , Dell and  small scale sector.As for example Shell, when it started of was a sea shell  company which had the flexibility and agility to move into diverse areas like petroleum. Mr A. Muralidharan gave examples of Indian  organizations like Amul., Lijjat Pappad etc which exhibited the agility to adapt and thrive in the competitive environment. 

A lively discussion followed after the thoughts were  expresssed by the panelists and quickly summarized by Vidya, the moderator.What I found  as  refreshing  was that all the panelists involved in the discussion  as a single team. Often times we see in conferences  that a  question is addressed to a particular member of the panel and then the others tend to switch off thinking"well it is his baby.Let him answer." Here the members of the panel were paying rapt attention to what is being said by another member.There were instances of one person completing what he has to say and invited another panelist to add to it. The members of the panel were involved in a process of giving the best possible response as a team  to  questions.It is this quality of the proceedings that I shall long cherish.In fact I coveyed as much during lunch time to the head of the department of HRM , Ms Jayanthi Peters.  

It is seen that when professional bodies organize events, their first priority is to get sponsors. Then, it is to get big names who would be "too busy" to spend time beyond his or her presentation..In India, your prestige is also enhanced when you put on an  air of being  a  very busy person. Another thing I have noticed is that very rarely do people share their actual experiences as a  working professional They prefer to devote most of time in their presentation to theoretical stuff that would be available on the internet anyway. Whether by chance or design, when events like that of 'Symphony 2014' happen, it can set us thinking on the possibilities of how we could make our conferences, seminars and workshops more productive and meaningful which would be possible if we were to shift some of the time devoted to the hype, to the basic purpose of organizing an event.   


  1. Excellent topic with lots of learning.

    I completely agree with Rajeev sir, Organization culture is the biggest challenge now a days.

    How we manage difficult situations is one of the biggest contributors to the creation of organizational culture. It’s easier to build a culture when everything is going well. But strong cultures are partially built by what we do during hard times.
    Ultimately, everybody needs to take responsibility to personally live the culture that we want to create. None of us will get there perfectly as individuals. But that’s where diversity is so great; if we can a) build a group/team that together embodies all the characteristics that we’re seeking and then b) actually handle that diversity with respect and inclusiveness not divisiveness, we’re moving toward the organizational culture we seek.

  2. Thank you Ankit, as usual being the first one to share your thoughts.Lot of substance in your sharing...

  3. Because at this point its very important to your business ahead though the help of things that improved so yeah agile business lets us learn the ways for making it better and at the same time getting good at it.

  4. Thank you Abihu for sharing your thoughts.

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  6. Thanks Rajeev, for sharing your insights and the proceedings of Symphony-2014 on the theme of Business Agility. The process of aging of an oranization and the factors that lead to it, have been so well explained. That brings in the need for the organizations to constantly evolve and reinvent themselves, in keeping with the business trends and competition. Also diversification plays a major role in business agility, in keeping the organization alive and alive to the business environ. Tata group is a case in point.

    Going by the last para of your superbly written article,it is high time the event managers too displayed agility in bringing about necessary changes in the structure and design of the event "to shift some of the time devoted to the hype, to the basic purpose of organizing an event." Great and purposeful write, as usual, Rajeev. Kudos and respects.

  7. Thank you so much Padmaja! Your comments add so much value to the theme of the post!