Agility is no longer a boardroom buzzword

Agility is no longer a boardroom buzzword

  • Bill Thomas, Leadership |

I often hear CEOs talk with envy about how quickly start-ups can adapt to changing opportunities. As a result, agility has become a boardroom buzzword. But as with so many buzzwords, it can lack substance.

Its true meaning only becomes apparent when you see what happens to organizations that fail to demonstrate it. I doubt there is anyone reading this who can’t name an organization that once dominated its industry but is now merely a footnote in history. Suddenly, agility has meaning. Without it, the consequences can be counted in jobs, livelihoods and shattered brands.

CEOs have always recognized that they are a steward of their business. But in KPMG’s fifth annual Global CEO Outlook, over two-thirds of Chief Executives now go on to say that they believe that agility is the new currency of business. And if they fail to be agile, their business will become irrelevant. 

This is a stark choice for any CEO in 2019. 

This focus on agility is also redefining what business means by resilience. In the past, resilience meant slowing down change and protecting your core business. It was about battening down the hatches in the face of short-term headwinds that you could ride out, often through scale. But no more. 

The environmental, social, economic, geopolitical and technological changes that have emerged in recent years are no longer short-term. They are here to stay. New competitors arise daily, customers’ needs change faster than ever, technology continues to evolve at phenomenal speed (and cost), employees need new skills and opportunities can emerge from left-field. For a CEO, resilience - how a company can continue to survive and prosper - now relies on their organization’s ability to disrupt itself, its competitors and its market.
Confronting long-held market orthodoxies and assumptions is not easy. And for a CEO, they have precious little time to make those changes. Our survey shows that CEOs expect to be in their role for five years or fewer - far shorter than in previous generations. Waiting for their organization, let alone their own leadership team, to realize that what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow, is no longer a luxury that most CEOs have. It’s why eighty-four percent of CEOs said that they are actively transforming their leadership teams to be more resilient and agile.

It’s an exciting time to be a CEO. Growth is still out there. And for many, that growth is within touching distance. But this optimism is set against a complex, volatile and ever-changing landscape that is forcing CEOs to rewrite the rulebook.

You can read more in KPMG’s 2019 Global CEO Outlook.