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Agility: The New Stability In An Unstable World

June 30, 2020

As 2020 forces business to fight for survival, radical adaptation has been critical. But are current business models agile enough to change? 

This was a key consideration of business leaders at the virtual 2020 Shared Value Summit Asia Pacific, during a panel discussion entitled Agility is the New Stability. In the words of moderator, Rosalie Wilkie, Partner, Social Impact at PwC Australia, the group explored “how traditional business, which has provided stability, can live up to the challenge of agility”.

Mark Kramer, co-creator of shared value, acknowledged that business has shown commendable agility in its rapid response to COVID-19, but must now apply this agility to longer-term crises: “The biggest challenge for business to adapt is to give the same sense of urgency and purpose to these slower crises that we do to the shorter crises.”

Ramana James, Executive General Manager, Safer Communities, IAG, spoke to the need for stability in addressing these slower crises: “Agility cannot only happen at speed; it needs to have some certainty and some stability in there as well, so you need to get that balance right.”

When asked about new ways of viewing agility, Erin Byrne, Senior Director, Corporate Sustainability & Social Impact at Novo Nordisk, suggested it may not be as unattainable as it seems: “Agility is actually innate in almost everybody, and it took a crisis like this, I think, for everyone to realise that.”

Kramer added to this by challenging the conventional definitions of ‘agility’. Rather than seeing agility as adaptability or flexibility, he likened it to “walking on a tightrope, where you’re able to balance and keep your balance with many different pressures on a rather precarious setting”. 

The panel argued that a commitment to agility can become a source of stability through a shared value framework. Drawing on the work of Novo Nordisk, Byrne said, “the science of epidemiology is always changing, and so trying to stay ahead of that and being agile to really meet those patient needs has been constant.” 

James agreed: “If you have clarity around your purpose as an organisation and you build your strategy on the back of that purpose, then the things that matter and that you stand for are likely to be consistent.” 

Agility as a form of stability can leverage business into exciting new possibilities, allowing business to respond to complex social issues in a “long-term authentic way”, in Wilkie’s words.

Kramer looked to racial injustice as an example: “My hope is that [in] this combined crisis, of COVID-19, of unemployment, of racial equity issues, of climate change… companies will come out of this not back to the old normal that they were in, but will use this opportunity to find a new normal that is rooted in creating shared value.”

James applied this to the Australian context, asking the audience to consider, “How do I reframe my thinking to Australia?”, and “What role can business play in advocating for change?”

He added: “Committing to Indigenous employment rates, looking at addressing the disparities in leadership… there’s a range of activities we can undertake ourselves and I think agility, thinking about shared value, shouldn’t be done just because we feel like it’s a good thing to do… but because it actually creates opportunities for our business.”

Kramer concluded: “We need to find ways to use the influence, clout, resources, expertise and capabilities of business to help create cross-sector collaborations that can really address the critical issues that our society and the world is facing.”