At KPMG we learned the benefits of agile working when the market was at its most challenging – but it’s now helping us to drive growth as a business and be the clear choice for our clients. So what is an ‘agile’ organisation? For me it’s one which is able to adapt continuously to our changing world in order to achieve a competitive advantage and sustainable growth. It means more than simply being flexible. In fact, to be truly agile requires tough decisions being made and clear ground rules.
For the last two years KPMG has been privileged to be a member of the Agile Future Forum (AFF). Part of our involvement includes working together on a research project to review the agility of Forum members, by surveying a sample population of their organisation. To do this, we used an index developed by KPMG in consultation with other AFF members to assess how ready an organisation is to utilise its agility to gain significant advantage.
This has provided some great insights into the progress that is being made. The feedback that we have had from participating members is that the index is an excellent tool to assess their agility. We are now working with a number of members to extend the use of this index across their organisation, in order to gain further advantage. If you would like to read more about the index, a summary is available (PDF 142.57 KB).
The first key finding of our research was that the majority of organisations evaluated, are moving from being exposed to the forces of change, or being ready to adapt to change when needed, towards having a far more proactive approach of exploiting the benefits of change.
The second finding that stood out to me, was the lack of discipline being applied to becoming more agile. This was shown to be holding back half of the member organisations.
The third, more positive finding, was that organisations which have made most progress in improving their agility have taken a bottom-up approach to develop an effective business case for change. This has tended to involve looking at individual business units and applying innovative approaches to working that have tangible commercial benefits to productivity or addressing demand issues.
I also want to share, using an example from KPMG, the key behaviours which the research highlighted, as being able to improve organisational agility. These really resonated with me. At KPMG we are on a journey continually looking to improve our agility.
The first, not surprisingly, is to encourage the contribution of ideas about how to become more agile. Innovation from those who have practical experience on the ground is of real value, as well as the indirect benefit of employees feeling that their contribution is valued.
KPMG has seen the results of such an approach, for example, when a compelling opportunity was identified to improve the way in which tax compliance services were delivered by centralising this activity. This resulted in the creation of a Tax Centre of Excellence in Glasgow, which opened its doors in July 2013.
Establishing a Tax Centre of Excellence was in itself an innovative approach which demonstrated real agility in meeting clients’ needs. Taking the bulk of the technical tax returns away from the wider workforce also freed up specialist consultants across the country to spend more time, and strengthen relationships, with their clients.
But much more was achieved than centralising service delivery. This innovation proved to be a catalyst for a shift in the relationship between an organisation and tax compliance staff – a shift which has proved able to deliver benefits to KPMG, staff and most importantly their clients. If you would like to read more about this, a case study is available (PDF 82.82 KB).
Empowering employees to take the initiative and do what’s best for customers is the second change cited for its importance.
Again, we see this every day at the Tax Centre of Excellence. For example, ways of working have been developed which enable staffing to be linked directly to the peaks and troughs of customer demand throughout the year.
Within KPMG we recognise the need to trust our employees use their initiative and do what’s right for clients.
And finally, keeping a ‘finger on the pulse’ of the detail of organisational performance is critical – the need for effective performance management should not be understated. A disciplined approach where individuals are held accountable for the value they add to the business is a ‘have to have’, not a ‘nice to have’. The focus needs to move from inputs and presenteeism to outputs and business value. Within our Tax Centre of Excellence we have employees on annualised hours who may be out of the business for three to four months at a time so our performance management approach needs to be able to accommodate this.
I’m really encouraged by the progress I’ve seen being made by UK organisations, with most embracing some aspects of agility. However, more needs to be done as there are still so many opportunities to build on the strengths and overcome the constraints of organisational agility. We continue on our journey within KPMG and I would urge business leaders to assess how agile their organisation is and what can be done to exploit the benefits of change.
This article represents the views of the author only, and does not necessarily represent the views or professional advice of KPMG in the UK.