Stories,Storytelling,Story SellinginBusiness

Corporate Agility

corporate team developmentThe initial results of the Future of Workproject confirmed that although the global economy had undergone aseries of rapid, model-shattering changes, most businesses were unableor unwilling to adapt their traditional management styles to newconditions. Prisoners of their own outdated business practices andassumptions about how work gets done, businesses found themselveslosing ground to competitors who had not even been on the map a decadebefore. They became victims, rather than beneficiaries, of advances ininformation technology. And at a time when the attraction and retentionof qualified employees had become an even more critical factor in abusiness’ success or failure, they found themselves out of touch with awork force that had undergone a dizzying transformation in attitudes, abilities and ambitions


The workplace programs of today will age just as surely as the work force will. It is only by continually reviewing market conditions, re-examining corporate strategies and reallocating resources accordingly that businesses can prosper in a volatile and unpredictable global economy. The three major challenges facing business today are:

1. Reducing fixed operating costs.

2. Confronting the coming talent shortage.

3. Institutionalizing innovation.

Corporate agility can be achieved only through the continuous, collaborative management of HR, IT and CRE (Corporate Real Estate).

The book offers a detailed discussion on all three areas, however here we have only included a brief overview of human talent.


Attracting and retaining qualified, engaged employees is the second of the three primary business challenges of the 21st century. There simply isn’t enough human talent to meet the current needs of business, much less the constantly expanding global economy. The bottom line here is that in a few years — say, 2010 — the UnitedStates will have 10 million more jobs than it will have qualified people to fill them.

Wherewill companies go to get the talent? About one-third of the total will comefrom retirees remaining in the work force, though most likely not in afull-time capacity; one-third will come from outsourcing or moving work tointerior population centers within the United States; and the remaining thirdwill come from retraining workers displaced from lower-skilled and lower-payingjobs.

Meaningful Work

From thebeginning, furniture manufacturer Herman Miller’s founder made it clear to allthose who worked for him that the quality of his employees’ lives was asimportant a part of his company as the machinery that produced its furniture.Eighty years later, that spirit survives in Herman Miller’s intentionalEmployee Experience.

Built onits founder’s belief that people are what companies are made of, andthat demographic and cultural shifts are changing the face of the modern workforce, Herman Miller began to build its Employee Experience program in 2004 toensure that the company remained an employer of choice for the future.

In orderto coordinate the program with the company’s evolving business strategies, itsdesigners first assembled a cross-functional core team composed of upper-levelmanagers from HR, IT and CRE, all of whom reported to a chief administrationofficer. The team then defined key ideas and integrated these ideas into thefollowing themes:

  • Meaning. Most people want more from work than just a pay cheque.
  • Choice. Intelligent, qualified employees don’t like being told what to do.
  • Opportunity. Opportunity is necessary for employees to satisfy their need for growth.
  • Engagement. When meaning, choice and opportunity combine to give employees the feeling that they are “owners” of the company, employees will be engaged.
  • Leadership. Leadership makes employees feel trusted and encouraged.

As the relative supply of creative labor shrinks, the pressure to achieve agility will grow.


There are eight major categories of questions that you should be asking — simultaneously and continuously. There is no magic or best way to sort these questions, and of course, there is always some overlap. But if you are devoting resources to continuously investigating these areas, you will be prepared for the next wave of change:

1. Metaforces of change. What arethe global sociopolitical forces that impact how we work? What are the possiblealternative futures, given those forces?

2. Publicpolicy issues. What arethe workplace/work force effects of trade policies, employee benefitrequirements, environmental laws and labor laws? What will these public policyissues be in five years, and how will they affect your business and yourcustomers?

3. Demographic dynamics. What are the multigenerational dynamics of demography, especially in underdeveloped countries? What factors influence generational cultures and values? What are the long-term trends in educational funding, in the United States and elsewhere?

4. Geography or talent pools. Close on the heels of the demographic questions, where will the most desirable talent be living in five, 10, 20 and maybe even 50 years? Why? What is the psychology that underlies mobility?

5. Workprocess and collaboration styles. What motivates humans to collaborate? How docompensation and reward systems affect work behaviors? More research is needed,as we really don’t yet understand these areas very well.

6. Socialand intellectual capital metrics. How should work force performance in a distributedwork environment be measured and audited? How do you capture increased socialcapital on your balance sheet? What is that social capital worth in themarketplace?

7. Challenges and difficulties of managing a distributed work force. What are the specific competencies required to manage distributed workers successfully? What do leaders of the future look like? How do they develop these competencies?

8. Deeperunderstanding of barriers and sources of resistance to the new models. What are the cultural barriersto the fundamental changes that the future of work will bring — and demand?What kind of change management processes must be put in place? How do we getsenior management on board?

Thereshould be a special, identifiable group of people within the organization whoare tasked with answering these questions, over and over again.


Organizations contain three levels — or, more appropriately, spheres — of work. In the activity level, products or services are produced and distributed. In the administration level, different activities are coordinated. In the policy level, general direction is set. The point here is to locate the forward-looking role, the “futures group,” at the policy level.

The threespheres of work — activity, administration and policy — represent a minimum setof necessary levels of an organization in the traditional sense. Executives setpolicy, middle managers coordinate action and non-managers do the work of theenterprise. You have to know where you are in the organization to understandhow you fit into the overall scheme of things as well as how and what you cando to increase the organization’s agility.

Core Issues at Each Level

The core issue for the activity sphere is “What are we doing?” These people are concerned about efficiency, resources and getting things completed.

Administratorsare concerned with “How will we get it done?” They are characterizedby control issues, methods of work and maintaining the status quo.Administrators are interested in survival.

Policymakers look at the question “Why are we doing this?” Their concernscenter on issues of direction, effectiveness, the creation of new abilities forthe organization and renewal.

An agileorganization is one that strategically integrates the management of its realestate, human resources and technology assets. It does that in a collaborativefashion that requires a change from the decision-making processes and stylesthat rely on today. Finally, an agile enterprise organizes itself into three(and only three) levels that center on completion, survival and renewal.

Corporate Agility: A Revolutionary New Model for Competing in a Flat World (Hardcover) by Charles E. Grantham (Author), James P. Ware (Author), Cory Williamson (Author)

Corporate Agility