Resilience, agility and change leadership

Resilience is a key concern for business leaders in these uncertain times. As well as political shocks like Brexit, economic and technological pressures mean that many businesses face a range of challenges. As a result, the ability to adapt to the fast-changing environment is critical to success. “Resilience” here means the ability to adjust to challenging conditions so that the organisation emerges stronger (Sutcliffe and Vogus). Resilience is partly structural (organisational design and systems) and partly cultural (agility and change leadership). In our research into high performance cultures we can see keys to both successful agility and change leadership.

According to Aaron De Smet, “Agility is the ability of an organisation to renew itself, adapt, change quickly, and succeed in a rapidly changing, ambiguous, turbulent environment.” Our research has identified five key characteristics of agile organisations:

  1. A relentless focus on customers, including new product or service development and quality
  2. Leadership direction and open dialogue
  3. Clear performance expectations and effective rewards
  4. Effective talent management, including recognising high performers
  5. A focus on wellness so individuals can sustain their energy and performance over time

Through all these elements runs the ability to work simply and to make decisions quickly, which in turn depends on collaboration, trust and effective change leadership. Change leadership means getting away from viewing large-scale change through a project lens, towards ongoing transformation and renewal instead. And effective change leaders do four things particularly well:

  1. Inform the organisation about the future vision, including as many specifics as possible and the top priorities
  2. Engage stakeholders by building confidence and highlighting opportunities
  3. Enable people to succeed by equipping them with the right tools and by removing obstacles
  4. Build trust by understanding the impact of their own actions and behaviour on others

One common challenge is training leaders. In a recent study we found that although 90% of companies do change management training, only a quarter say that training helps their leaders to communicate change effectively. But the performance premium for resilience is significant. Our research has shown that companies that get change leadership right outperform their sector in terms of revenue growth, return on equity, return on assets, and return on capital. As a result, and given the unrelenting pace of disruption, being able to realise resilience through agility and change leadership will continue to be high on most execs’ agendas for a long time to come.


Kathleen Sutcliffe and Timothy Vogus (2003) “Organizing for Resilience” in Positive Organizational Scholarship by Cameron, Dutton and Quinn

Aaron De Smet in “The Keys to Organizational Agility” McKinsey Quarterly (December 2015)

Willis Towers Watson Change Leadership (2015)

Willis Towers Watson How Does Change Affect Employee Engagement? (2015)

Tags: #OrganisationalAgility #Resilience #Engagement

This article was first published on LinkedIn on March 15, 2017

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