4 Priority Capabilities to build Business Agility & Resilience

By Julie Choo

Published: April 29, 2020

Last Update: June 12, 2020

Running a business is hard enough, but when it is faced with disruption from outside events such as another economic crisis, or innovations from your competitors… what should you or can you do? As we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, Business Models can disappear from disruption… overnight.

Do you have the means to transform your business, pivot and change?

This is the question that comes to mind first for many business owners, shareholders, and the staff who depend on their business’s survival for their livelihoods. But the real question you should be asking is:

Do you have an AGILE OPERATING MODEL that supports your business to operate with business agility?

The Operating Model is how a business runs itself and operates to deliver the value to customers, users, partners and stakeholders too, comprised of all its business activities and the resources that perform them. It is what delivers and achieves the desired targets, set out in a company’s business model. Check out our article for more detail on what is the difference between the Business Model and the Operating Model.

Building business agility should be a ‘key’ goal for every enterprise because this is what gives the business its ability to be nimble… with the capabilities to transform and make the necessary changes in its Operating Model when it faces any kind of disruption, big or small. It is what gives a business its ‘speed to market’ and ‘speed of execution’, and enables the business to adapt quickly to different influencers from the markets that it operates within.

The benefits of building business agility include:

  • More time to learn, adapt, and improve
  • Better outcomes and hence more value add
  • Better and faster solutions

And you achieve this business agility naturally and over time, from continuous transformation and learning as we outline in the 5 steps to build business agility following THE STRATEGY JOURNEY Framework. Of course you can speed up with the aid of technology, especially if you focus on data and use AI in order to enhance your business’s processes. This requires a lot of funding to support your resources too.

Is there a simpler, better and faster way?

In this article, we shall explore how can you build business agility with 4 Priority Capabilities and how to fast track this strategy journey?

Let’s start by considering companies like Amazon, Apple and Tesla. The first two especially are well known for their amazing and highly Agile Operating Models.

It still took Jeff Bezos more than a decade to build Amazon and two decades to get it to how it works as of 2020. Apple’s reinvention and disruption of the mobile phone market using smartphones still took 8 years, and it wasn’t until Tim Cook joined and changed Apple’s Operating Model that the company started to really transform how it functioned with insourcing and outsourcing of services to complement Apple’s USP in design.

In 2019, Tesla was still working on its business agility to deliver its cars to customers on time, by really scaling its Operating Model after more than 15 years. And despite the disruptions from the COVID-19 lockdown, Telsa is starting to accelerate its delivery of cars in 2020, with customers able to take early delivery.

If these market leaders have taken so long, how can other businesses build business agility, especially a small business?

Whether you run a smaller business or a big one, the BIG QUESTIONS most people have are:

Where do you start?

What are the priority capabilities to build on a tight budget?

Is there a way to fast-track your strategy journey?

After all, time is money.

For those who are already aware of THE STRATEGY JOURNEY Framework as a problem-solving methodology, with techniques and tools to help you develop your business’s Mission Model, Business Model, Value Model, Operating Model and Transformation Model… the question then is, which of the 5 models in the framework do you start with? Do you have to use them in sequence? You don’t have the time and you can’t afford to get it too wrong as you will have run out of funds to start again. So how you avoid waste?

From our own and my own personal experiences in building the Stratabiity Academy and writing THE STRATEGY JOURNEY book, the experiences of our experts in all the enterprises they have worked in or consulted for, and the research that we have conducted, we have learned that there are 4 priority capabilities to focus on. It’s where you should start and how you can fast track your transformation journey to build an AGILE OPERATING MODEL.

The 4 priority capabilities including some examples to learn from are:

1. Digital Infrastructure (or Technology Application)

Contrary to popular belief, going digital doesn’t mean you need big budgets.

I’ve seen big budgets in the many 100s of millions spent on big transformation programs within some big banks, with very little output and a very unremarkable transformation were it matters – that is in changing and improving the customer experience.

I won’t name and shame any specific bank, as this can apply to more than anyone of them and I certainly hope that they will improve soon… but many years after over 200million was spent, and despite offering recommendations to them both as a consultant and then a customer… I’ve all but given up on when one particular bank’s Internet Banking app will improve to the level of many of their smaller and newer Fintech rivals. Why do I need to fill out a paper form and send it in via post which takes several days to open a new bank account, when I can create a video of myself with my identify documents and upload both via my mobile app or email them. As a customer, I have simply switched providers, but not before I made several compliants and was offer over $200 in compensation for my troubles and the hours spent on the phone with them.

Going digital especially for smaller businesses or entrepreneurs and consultants on a tight budget or any bigger business is all about using digital services or SaaS applications on the cloud to support the operations of your business. It’s more than just having a website though, as a static website that isn’t at least SEO enhanced will barely be seen by anyone, no matter how much design effort you put into making it look great. It’s about replacing specific processes or business activities, with a software application, so essentially you are automating with software. So in the case of a small business, some great processes to replace or automate in your business include:

  • about moving payroll and accounting to an app like XERO or Quickbooks,
  • managing customer relationships better by tracking interactions as well as sales with a CRM application like ActiveCampaign or Salesforce that happens to also have marketing automation capabilities,
  • buying relatively affordable ads from Facebook and using social media and Youtube videos to promote your business,
  • adding project management tools like Notion and Trello to help you track and manage tasks and check on progress,
  • communicating with customers in real time with less queues using scheduling apps like Calendarly to book meetings on ZOOM or Skype
  • adding E-commerce capabilities to your website to take payments online using Woocommerce, Shopify, Wix or Squarespace,
  • selling through platforms or online marketplaces like Amazon, Teachable, Udemy, Deliveroo, Upwork… (NB: there are many more industry-specific marketplaces to consider),
  • adding a self-service FAQ or knowledge base and support services for customers through Zendesk
  • using industry specific SaaS apps to manage bookings and track customer records… including apps for dentists, veterinarians and recruiters and yoga teachers…

And when you chain many of these software applications together through integration of these SaaS services and the data between them to deliver your business services more effectively and efficiently, then you are starting to scale your Operating Model.

If you can’t code because you’re not a software developer, so how do you integrate your services, you might ask? Well, you can use integration apps like Zapier, or pay relatively low fees to hire a developer from platforms like Upwork or Fiverr to do it for you. Again, large corporations are already using these services too.

We’ve listed a very small sample of what is a huge list of digital services you can use to build your digital infrastructure in your business. Many large corporations are using these same services too already, and some of the apps mentioned above are used to run the Stratability Academy. We learned which ones to use from a bit of trial and error, as well as emulating what bigger organizations like Harvard, Udacity, and Tony Robbins have done with their digital infrastructure.

Most larger businesses and corporations have always used different systems and technology to support their business activities and this is how they have scaled their operations, in their Operating Model. It is with these systems that they have been able to build competitive advantages and grow their business.

They have used software apps as part of their process and operating procedures, including core banking platforms, books and records platforms, finance systems, CRM applications, and more… Many of these applications just cost a lot to procure, because they offer more specialist functionality or there is an element of customization that is added to them by the software vendor selling the service to the larger corporation, and the larger volumes of licenses required for a lot more staff. In fact, many SaSS applications are from the same providers, who offer different tiers and pricing packages based on the needs of each client business. For example, you can license Salesforce.com software for less than $100 a month or your business might be paying an undisclosed and customized amount under the ‘tier’ called Enterprise Services on their website.

The sheer amount of SaaS applications available at relatively affordable prices for small businesses and even sole traders, has help to level the playing field when it comes to technology application and going digital.

Many of these applications even offer done for you compliance services with specific rule and laws too, like being GDPR compliant, automatically calculating taxes for you and even reporting. And many of them definitely save you money, in the time and effort you spend servicing customer enquiries, admin or complaints when an app could do that all for you. Don’t forget the data you could possibly collect, which will support the second priority capability that you need to build, Data Intelligence.

So the question should not be, whether you use and add digital infrastructure to your business and ensure you have the skills to use and leverage them… BUT which ones should you use because they are the best or most suited to your business, and how do you use them…

How do you use and integrate your systems and apply technology to deliver your business activities EFFECTIVELY, to give you the best Return On Investment (ROI)?

2. Data Intelligence

This is all about actively making an effort to collect data about your business or competitors, or your competition for your next job or gig when it comes to your career, in order to learn from it, to make better decisions and actions, faster.

Data and information is the most powerful tool you could have in your arsenal if you know what data to collect, and then how to use it, once you have analyzed it for new opportunities. You will need data if you are going to start to explore how to apply Artificial Intelligence (AI) beyond the normal data analytics and data intelligence.

There’s a lot of free data out there too that you can get from the Internet, if you know how to search for it. And you don’t necessarily need to invest in extremely expensive Artificial Intelligence (AI) to become smarter with your data. In fact, many of the apps we mentioned earlier in the Digital Infrastructure capability come with the data analytics and AI included and this level of functionality is affordable for smaller businesses too, as they come including with the apps’ middle pricing tiers. eg. Activecampaign CRM software has a predictive emailing and very smart reporting, as well as providing APIs for those who know how to use them, with their software. [NB: We don’t have an affiliate marketing link to Activecampaign so I’m not promoting it here just to get a kickback, this is just an example.]

With the right data, you’ll be able to gain insights and become more intelligent as you’ll have the data and information to make better decisions on what actions to take in your business or career to achieve your transformations.

This is the strategy and capability that behind the success of Amazon. Jeff Bezo asked his Chief Data Officer to define 500 data attributes about customers and Amazon is tracking our behaviors with every tool they offer us, through their Alexa Voice Assistance Service.

Check out our blog on ‘How to build and increase value with Data’ for more tips and techniques on this specific capability, to help you fast track your business agility.

3. Service Design & Innovation

Jobs only exist when there are businesses that perform them. Businesses exist if there are customers who need or want to be served by them. This supply and demand of goods and services is what drives economies. Increasingly, customers have increased their expectations of what they expect, in the services provided by businesses, because of the digital technology which depending on the service, has the ability to serve them much better and faster, or to support and provide a better experience.

In your job, your service that you provide is for the company or organization that your work for. In you are a business owner or shareholder or part of the frontline in a business, then you provide services to external customers. In both cases, you need to ensure your services to customers or your employer is able to meet their expectations or even exceed them, as that is what will them wanting more – to create stickiness.

This is why Service Design & Innovation is so important in business and in a person’s career too. You need to constantly innovate and reinvent your services to make sure they deliver on their promises as well as keep your customers (including employers) interested, so that they will stick with you. You need to keep learning and improving what you offer, and build new skills and capabilities to support your efforts to offer that remarkable service that your customers are willing to pay for.

When services are no longer wanted by customers, that is what leads businesses to see a decline in sales and this is what leads to jobs getting cut, and people being made redundant. Of course, in the extreme case of COVID-19, many businesses are simply not able to offer their services because of the government lockdowns, and not necessarily because customers don’t need or want their services. But, post COVID-19 will customers still want the same services or will their behaviors change?

Well that is what you and your business needs to work out through Service Design & Innovation. It is a capability you need to build with specific skills you need to learn. The survival of businesses, including governments and jobs and your careers depends on this. And if you have data about your customers, and their behaviors, then you will be able to make better decisions on what services your cusotmers and users want and how to serve the in the best way to create the most value, through having an Agile Operating Model, where your costs are optimal, processes efficient, and outputs perform at their best.

This is the capability that Apple has so effectively mastered through their sticky ecosystem of Apple and IOS products and services that people are willing to pay premium prices for.

A strong capability in ‘Service Design & Innovation’ is the ultimate tool to combat the threats from disruption.

So HOW do you design services and innovate? Are there special techniques you can learn as skills for the future? And what role does data and technology applications play to support Service Design & Innovation?

4. Managing Transformation

How good or bad are you or your business at transforming is often forgotten because you’re so busy just trying to make the changes and deliver the solutions right away (and as many like to say… you needed the changes ‘yesterday’).

Most people and businesses often invest in the activities to deliver specific solutions, but fail to learn how to transform effectively, so they miss the fact that transformation itself is a ‘capability’ that needs investment.

When a business is able to transform how it operates and conduct its business activities effectively, including plugging gaps in other important capabilities, to quickly change and improve its services to customers, that is what actually differentiates it. This is what it means to have an AGILE OPERATING MODEL with business agility.

Effective transformation with an Agile Operating Model is what gives the best possible ROI on whatever existing resources a business has to start with, which we know will be different for every business, based on their size, industry, existing capabilities and skills from their staff, and many other factors.

This is the same in a person’s career, when they have specific skills that are easily transferrable to other tasks, in different industries, to solve any type of business problem, anywhere.

When you transform poorly you are often wasting time and resources. This is actually how not why failure in business occurs. We discussed why businesses failed in our article on ‘How to shape your business and career with THE STRATEGY JOURNEY Framework’.

Transformation, that is managing transformation as a ‘capability’ and business agility in your Operating Model will take time to build and you will need to apply all 5 models in THE STRATEGY JOURNEY Framework, as well as being able to join·the· dots and plug the gaps in the enterprise’s business architecture efficiently and effectively.

So where do you start? Are there specific components or attributes that make up a business’s transformation capability that you can focus on?

Well that depends on where you have problems, and their severity? There’s no getting around the fact that its about solving problems?

The key attributes or components to address in your Transformation capability can include:

  • Organizational Culture – mindset and attitude play a big part in how a business is able to change. Are the resistant, and of a fixed mindset? Or is the organization of a growth mindset and always learning to be better at what they do and what services they can offer to customers?

    Check out our article on Growth vs Fixed Mindset Cultures in an enterprise.
  • Structure and Governance – all the activities in the transformation journey can be methodically executed with speed and efficiency while delivering quality, or they can occur randomly based on who shouts the loudest because there might a shiny object to explore without knowing what the benefits are. Investment funds and limited cashflow can so easily be wasted on the wrong things too, if the wrong decisions are made. Now, the word ‘governance’ might sound quite hierarchical, and so you might not think that it applies to small businesses, but it does. Small businesses need to be disciplined in how they spend their money too, and that’s why a little structure, be it using a checklist or a spreadsheet or a some product management software as we suggested through the ‘Digital Infrastructure’ capability will go a long way.

    Being able to Manage the Transformation Journey so that it provides the best ROI, comes down to HOW you made decisions on what actions to take. This, as we have mentioned earlier, requires data especially on your customers behaviors and how existing services are performing, both your services and those of your competitors.
  • The skills in people and systems, to solve problems in how your business operates, so your problem-solving skills and your Service & Innovation skills, to identify what changes to make and then define HOW, WHERE and WHEN changes are made in the Operating Model.

Most people and definitely the systems they operate, even AI systems have to be trained to perform their jobs, the different business activities that it takes to run and operate a company, big or small, so it is important to invest time and money in both, or you will have lots of problems from poor quality services that customers will not only complain about but it is likely to force them to leave or switch to other service providers.

And you can apply or use technology applications and digital infrastructure in the business to support all of these transformation activities including using AI applications to analyze your customer data, transactional data and performance data, to see how your enterprise is performing in its transformation efforts and on its transformation journey.

I hope you can see that we’ve even sequenced and ordered the 4 priority capabilities to illustrate some of the dependencies between them and to give you 4 steps to build your enterprise’s business agility. Yes, overall business agility will take time, but by starting to develop your Digital and Technology Infrastructure, becoming more intelligent with your data and upskilling your staff, you can fast track this journey, even when resources are tight. If you are smart with choosing what quick wins you want to implement, by making them strategic too, then you will certainly be able to fast track this transformation journey.

Perhaps start by using a few apps to support key business activities, where the data matters so you want to collect it and learn from it and achieve some quick wins. Then design the appropriate changes you want to make to specific services that you offer, and in doing all of this, get structured. Finally, create a positive attitude in the company by motivating your staff to develop a growth mindset, so that the business is better at making decisions in how to transform itself.

These capabilities and steps apply to enterprises of all shapes and sizes and across all industries, and to your career too, especially for entrepreneurs. They are especially potent in times of instability and uncertainty, to support you in your efforts to overcome disruption.

Julie Choo

About the author

Julie Choo is lead author of THE STRATEGY JOURNEY book and the founder of STRATABILITY ACADEMY. She speaks regularly at numerous tech, careers and entrepreneur events globally. Julie continues to consult at large Fortune 500 companies, Global Banks and tech start-ups. As a lover of all things strategic, she is a keen Formula One fan who named her dog, Kimi (after Raikkonnen), and follows football - favourite club changes based on where she calls home.

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