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How to build an agile business that can ride the wave of mobile technology

By: Nick Horney, Ph.D. (Retired Navy Captain, Special Operations.

It began conventionally enough. They drove over to a major chain store, pulled some options off the rack and bunkered down in the dressing room. The teenager tried on a series of dresses and asked her mother and the sales attendant for feedback, but then she wanted a few more opinions. The girl took digital snaps with her iPhone of the different outfits and sent them to a handful of her closest friends. Asking for their votes and vetoes remotely and in real-time, her in-store decision was hugely influenced by factors far beyond the four walls of the store.

Online commerce has traditionally been seen as a challenge to brick-and-mortar retail, with some pundits predicting that desktop-browser "window shopping" would replace walk-in outlets altogether. However, the advent of mobile and tablet technology has led to a new synergy between cyberspace and real world. By the end of 2011, smart phones and tablets will overtake PC shipments.  Downloads of mobile applications, or “apps,” are expected to surge from 11 billion in 2010 to 77 billion in 2014.

Business leaders have long used information technology to improve productivity and efficiency, reach new markets and optimize supply chains. What’s new is that customer expectations have also changed along with ease of access to information. Mobile barcode readers can scan physical products and compare price points and product details to those of competitors. Groupon has revolutionized the laws of supply-and-demand by aggregating individual consumers into bulk purchasers, awarding online consumers electronic coupons that can only be claimed in person. The mobile application Shopkick provides consumers rewards and exclusive deals when they physically walk into a participating store.

These developments are creating an exponential explosion in data, which, in turn, accelerates the demand for business leaders to be more agile and take full advantage of these shifts. At Agility Consulting, we call this The Agile Imperative, the title of our forthcoming book. So, how can executives and their teams stay flexible enough to adapt?

In 2006, Agility Consulting was asked by American Management Association to design and deliver a 2-day seminar “Strategic Agility and Resilience:  Embracing Change to Drive Growth.”  Since then, hundreds of leaders in many industries from across the globe have participated in the seminar.  Successful leaders are learning to dynamically sense and respond to these mobile technology and social networking changes in the business environment with actions that are focused, fast and flexible.  We refer to this capability as leadership agility. 

Anticipate Change. How can leaders better prepare themselves and their workforce for mobile technology and social networking changes in the business environment?

Generate Confidence. What can leaders do to ensure a clear understanding by the workforce of how its daily work contributed to the company’s strategy?

Initiate Action. How can leaders demonstrate and reinforce a sense of urgency and speed in the workforce?

Liberate Thinking. How can a culture of innovation be created in a firm?

Evaluate Results. What kind of performance metrics help support the implementation of leadership agility?

Join the Conversation: How do you measure up as an agile leader?  Complete this 15-item quick assessment to see how you would rate yourself on the five leadership agility drivers listed above (http://www.agilityconsulting.com/agility-test.cfm). 

About the Author(s)

Nick Horney, Ph.D. (Retired Navy Captain, Special Operations. Dr. Horney founded Agility Consulting and Training in 2001and has been recognized for innovations in the fields of leadership and organizational development. Prior to forming Agility Consulting, he served on the Executive Committee of the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) as Vice President of Client and Constituency Relations. 

His first-hand knowledge of agility and change management was developed during his 23 years as a Navy Special Operations officer leading diving and explosive ordnance disposal teams, where change was daily event.

He serves on McKinsey’s Online Executive Panel, the Chief Learning Officer Magazine's Business Intelligence Board, and the Advisory Board for the Business School of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

He received his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from the University of South Florida.