Many leaders confuse rapid growth with agility. To be clear, selling more widgets, getting more users, and operating more efficiently are great things and will help you to grow (more profitably). Keep doing them. However, organizations as well as leaders that are truly agile are constantly improving and even reinventing themselves. They challenge the status quo and reinvent their approach, even if it means risking cannibalizing their existing business (e.g., who remembers how Kodak invented the digital camera yet failed to capitalize?).

Strong growth and market tailwinds can breed complacency which, in this bull market, leads to lost potential or being blindsided. In a down market or rapidly evolving industry, this complacency can be disastrous. Is anyone planning to stop by Blockbuster on the way home tonight to pick up a movie?

While there are several drivers that promote agility in organizations, I wanted to touch upon the most critical one today: modifying the makeup of your workforce.

The Learning Agility Spectrum

We see three primary actions that best in class companies are taking:

1. Hire more Agile Culture Enablers. Add screens in your interviewing processes for candidates who have a track record of innovating. Ask the following question to the references: “How often does ___ drive you crazy because they are pushing on new ideas for your organization?”  And, hire some ‘trouble makers’ that are willing to push!
2. Replace Active Detractors. These folks are the first people to highlight failed attempts (and underscore that the company never should have changed in the first place). Add buckets like ‘Brings innovation,’ ‘Reflects on mistakes,’ and ‘Takes calculated risks’ to performance management systems to identify and weed out these blockers of change.
3. Push the Capable Followers up the agility curve. Identify them through the performance management system and foster the capability through coaching, ongoing training, and ensuring receptivity to new ideas.

Finally, as a leader, perform an honest assessment of where you fall on the curve. What are three things that you personally need to do differently to promote change within your organization? If you are a CEO and not in the top third of the agility scale, it’s highly likely that you are holding the company back from innovating.