Agile transformation is no longer a state of nirvana sought only by tech companies. As we move deeper into the Digital Age, every business needs to become more agile to avoid disruption and better serve customers.

In fact, agile work solutions are becoming more prevalent in companies around the globe. Here are several examples of companies that created more agile working environments to meet specific business needs:

  • Merrill Lynch & Co. created a cost transparency initiative to improve management of common IT utilities among businesses.

  • PNC Financial Services Group trained nearly 3,800 branch and phone center employees in only five months to meet the needs of new federal regulations.

  • Harvard Business School used existing resources to create an online research and course-planning application and launched it in three weeks.

  • H&R Block created a resource pool of project managers to act as internal consultants. Because of this, they were able to meet a 17-day deadline to open new offices in 552 Walmart locations.

  • Anthem built an entire service model for 72,000-customer accounts in less than 90 days.

The pace of change is accelerating. Businesses need to keep up to adapt but this cannot happen in more traditional businesses with siloed departments and long, overly complicated processes.

Unfortunately, many businesses are still reluctant to invest in agile transformation. They know their customers are on-the-go and their needs are rapidly changing and evolving, yet they're too afraid to re-organize the business to quickly serve those changing needs.

Assessing the risks and challenges

Yes, there are risks involved in agile transformation. A few to consider include:

  • You may lose talented employees who'd rather continue doing things the way they've always been done, or feel these changes may threaten the need for their role in the company to exist

  • You may find that managers struggle to embrace this new way of leading and working--or they're unable to effectively manage in a more agile working environment. Sometimes managers can get accustomed to too much process.  

  • You may need to let some people go. They may no longer be the right fit for the more flexible working environment.

  • You might lose customers in the process. You could lose them based on the rockiness of the transition. Or you could lose them because they don't like the direction your business is headed in or how you now service them

  • You could potentially change the entire DNA of the company or blur your intended vision. Without certain departments operating how they've always operated, then business could go off the rails.

Reaping the potential rewards

When you tear down silos and get your teams working together at a faster, more flexible pace, it can result in several rewards for your business, including:

  • You're able to meet evolving customer demands quicker than your competitors.

  • You can respond to new laws and regulations with increasing speed and accuracy.

  • You can react fast in certain situations that call for it without having to worry about red tape and office politics.

  • Your teams have the freedom and flexibility to explore innovative new ideas, processes, and products.

  • Your processes and operations can be streamlined and made more efficient.

The list continues to go on, but the most important thing to consider is timing. Customers today expect on-the-go convenience when, where, and how they need it. Creating an agile workforce is the only we can deliver on those expectations.

Crafting the right solution

When it comes to agile transformation, the rewards are worth the risks. But you need to be strategic about kicking off the process. Start with a small department or team and reimagine how they could do business if silos were torn down and barriers were removed. Give them the freedom to stretch their wings and complete their mission as quickly and efficiently as possible. If the program works, then consider rolling it out to other departments and fine-tuning the process as you go.

Final word

If your company is going to survive and thrive in our current Digital Age, agile transformation is a must. Yes, there are certain risks, but if the outcome is better serving your customers, then it's well worth the rewards. Just remember that you don't have to dive headfirst into agile transformation. Instead, create form a strategy or plan, and methodically chip away at it over time. Eventually, your business will transform into an environment where you can quickly pivot to meet changing consumer needs.

Published on: Aug 14, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.