The Agility Imperative: Tune Up for Future Success

The future belongs to the agile.

August 23, 2010
KEYWORDS agility , leaders , teams
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Changing the game

For credit unions, agility is the ability to consistently recognize and capture business opportunities before our competitors do. It’s the power to constantly think and draw conclusions, and then quickly take action.

The question becomes, “To what degree is my credit union agile, and how do I build the necessary skills, talents, and drive into my organization’s culture?”

In “How to Thrive in Turbulent Markets,” published in the Harvard Business Review in February 2009, Donald Sull indicated that organizations can achieve agility in three ways:

1. Operationally, through focused business and quick action;
2. On the portfolio level, by shifting resources into more promising business lines, and;
3. Strategically, by seizing game-changing opportunities.

While these three issues are in many ways interrelated and depend on similar approaches, let’s focus on the operational aspects—dealing with five primary areas to evaluate whether you have the agility to effectively deliver products and services in the face of so many unknowns.

Within each area (organization, market, delivery systems, technology, and operational support) there are a number of questions you must consistently ask, assess, and answer if you are to lead a truly agile organization:

Organization (people, teams, division of labor, and structure):

  • How effective are managers and vice presidents in change management?
  • Do managers and vice presidents have the requisite skills of tomorrow to be effective leaders? Do I know the skills I need tomorrow?
  • Are vice presidents leaders or doers?
  • What skills do team members need to fulfill member needs in the future? Have we identified these skills and equipped the team to be successful?
  • What are the roles and responsibilities of each unique department/branch? Have we set expectations and clearly conveyed these expectations, and are they understood?
  • Have we organized teams in an efficient and effective way, both functionally and synergistically? How is the credit union structured for effective risk management?
  • Are all goals and targets in departments/branches aligned to the organizational goals & targets?
  • Are metrics in place to understand performance and early warning issues/flags?
  • Are we measuring the right things?
  • Do we reward the right results/behaviors? Do we have clear performance goals for teams and individuals?
  • Do we have focused and few organizational priorities?

Market (market intelligence, products and services portfolio, marketing effectiveness):

  • Do we understand the marketplace?
  • Do we know what members think and want?
  • Do we do surveys or research?
  • Do products and services exceed members’ needs?
  • Should some products be retired/decommissioned?
  • What is our value proposition to members?
  • How successful are we at getting the value message out to members?

Delivery systems (branch, phone, Internet, mobile):

  • How long does it take to implement new products and services?
  • How effective are we at knowledge management?
  • Can our teams easily and quickly learn/absorb/use new information regarding members, products, services, and changes to systems and operations?
  • Are our delivery systems intuitive to our teams and members?
  • Are we doing necessary work and eliminating unnecessary work?


  • Is the structure of our technology built for performance, speed, and change?
  • Do we consistently know and understand the changes in technology and evaluate if an emerging technology is adaptable and beneficial to members?
  • Do we know what technological advances competitors are using?
  • Are we managing too many projects and priorities, or too few?
  • Do our technology plans align with business needs and plans?

Operational support (adaptability, automation, regulatory compliance):

  • How quickly can operations adapt to changing products, services, and regulatory changes?
  • How automated are we?
  • Are we allowing regulatory compliance to be an excuse for excessive operational burdens or lengthy implementation?
  • Are we effective in implementing regulatory changes in a way that is in the best interests of our members?

Next: Times change, leaders lead

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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