C.K. Prahalad Discovers Corporate Agility

I was very pleased to read C.K. Prahalad’s back-page commentary in the September 21 issue of Business Week (“In Volatile Times, Agility Rules“).

The message is a basic one:  when the future is uncertain, you’ve got to be able to shift both your strategy and your operations in a nanosecond.

. . . Terrorism and pandemics pose threats of major disruptions. Changes in consumer sentiment, such as “going green” or shunning conspicuous consumption, can rewrite established patterns of demand in a remarkably short time–just ask automakers. Volatility is here to stay.

What this does is force managers to harmonize two critical capabilities: on the one hand, strategic clarity and consistency; on the other, agility and resilience in operations. This may seem counterintuitive, but organizations can handle extreme change only when they can address it within a clear strategic framework. Otherwise, companies can only wait and react.

All I can say, Professor Prahalad, is welcome to the future of work! And I’m just sorry that you do not seem to have seen our 2007 book, Corporate Agility (link is to the book’s own website).

I’m also sorry your column addressed only two of the top three corporate assets that have to be transformed to generate true agility. You talked about evolving from a full-time workforce to a more contingent/outsourced set of human resources, and about shifting IT to an outsourced basis, drawing much more heavily on publicly available tools, networks, and servers.

All well and good, and an important aspect of driving your corporate breakeven point as low as possible by shifting from fixed to variable costs.

But you’ve left out one of the most important ways of achieving that goal – transforming (and shrinking) the real estate/facilities portfolio. We’ve said it over, and over again:  if you move to a flexible work environment, enabling your staff to work from home or a “third place” even just a few days a week, you can save 40% or more of your operating costs.

That’s not a typo; almost every large organization can save millions of dollars and ramp up its ability to respond to pandemics, terrorism, and other natural disasters just by enabling employees to work anywhere/any time.

Here’s just a few sources of more information on this idea – one we’ve been promoting for years:

Corporate Agility (the book is full of case studies as well as a formal methodology)

How Come Distributed Work is Still the Next Big Thing? (a free white paper – downloadable pdf file)

What are You Waiting For?” (a bit of a rant that focuses on the business case for flexible work programs)

Going Mobile Overnight” (flexible work as corporate insurance for responding to natural disasters and pandemics)

Consider that a starter kit. And contact me directly if you want to talk about what it would take to make your company truly agile.

3 replies
  1. Cory Williamson
    Cory Williamson says:

    Points well made, Jim, but we shouldn’t forget to include the effect the agile workplace has on employee satisfaction. Sure, with unemployment continuing to plague the economy, and millions looking for work, employers can still afford to turn a blind eye toward workforce satisfaction, but those days are numbered. Global demographics, and the startling changes in the workforce’s attitude on the balance between life and work, will soon force a shift in employer’s attitudes regarding the traditional workspace.

  2. TJ
    TJ says:

    Hi Jim,
    Good post. We are often under-prepared. I am going to share the link to this in a post next week. The PDFs are great. I had a friend who had a radio communications technology that helped cities keep comm lines open, via radio, for email and SMS even when cell towers or landlines went down. It was pretty cool. But being prepared was not.

    Even without the emergency, though, this is a brilliant and needed strategy from many perspectives. Thanks for writing it.

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