The Hidden Cost Of Our New-Found Agility

May 18, 2021 Maddie Grant

This post was written by Jamie Notter and originally appeared on Forbes.com.


Looking back at how organizations have adapted to the continuous craziness of the last year or so, I would suggest that a significant organizational myth has officially been busted: It turns out we’re more agile than we thought. It started with the sudden shift to a nearly 100% remote workforce — something that many organizations would have told you was impossible just months before it happened. Yet, we adapted rapidly.

And it didn’t stop there. We have adjusted how we make and deliver our products and services. Many of us have been forced to develop new products and services, or even entirely new business models, and all of this is happening at a pace that our 2019 selves would have considered inconceivable. The conventional wisdom has always been clear: Change is hard and it takes a long time, with lots of change management workshops required.

In my company’s culture assessment, we measure the presence of eight major characteristics of culture — like innovation, collaboration and transparency — but in our aggregate data of more than 1 million data points, we found that agility came in dead last. We simply don’t experience our cultures as “agile.”

But before we pat ourselves on the back for having conquered our agility challenge over the past year, I think we need to take a closer look at the toll this new-found agility could be taking on us. A Harvard Business Review study (paywall) claims that we are “beyond” burned out right now, with 85% of the respondents saying their well-being had declined in the past year. There are many sources for this burnout, ranging from the physical danger of the spread of the virus to the lack of basic human connection many have felt during lockdown, but the increasing demands for agility in the workplace are certainly adding to it as well.

But what will happen when those other stressors diminish? Let’s say our safety and relationship needs start being met more consistently as things move closer to the “normal” we knew in the past. That will certainly be a relief, but at the same time, the demand for agility is not likely to decrease. Now that we’ve proven that we can be this agile, it will become the expectation, the norm. And that’s potentially a big problem.

Because all this time that we have been so agile, we’ve been doing it wrong.

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Photo by Jacek Dylag

Maddie Grant

Maddie Grant, CAE, is an expert culture designer and digital strategist who focuses on helping organizations unlock the power in their culture and navigate culture change. She has specific expertise in digital transformation and generational differences in the workplace. She has explored the language of workplace culture for several years through her books, co-authored with her partner in business and life Jamie Notter, including Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World (2011), the Amazon category best-seller When Millennials Take Over: Preparing for the Ridiculously Optimistic Future of Business (2015) and the Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement (2019).