How to Lead an Agile Revolution at Your Company


With so many business models being reinvented today, it may be time to turn your attention to your executive suite. In their new book Talent Wins, Dominic Barton, Dennis Carey, and Ram Charan, argue that the speed of business today requires agility in the c‑suite. Here’s what they mean.

Back in the day, CEOs had to worry about getting the right product to market at the right time. Large investments revolved around major pieces of equipment like mainframe computers. The supporting organizational structure required multiple layers of management to keep the company running.

Barton and his co-​authors urge today's CEOs to make strategic decisions in conjunction with input from the CFO and the chief talent officer. These two execs can help the CEO, because it's talent that will lead the organization to success in achieving new initiatives. And the CFO, as always, must figure out how to balance the cash flows.

You’re in a talent war for the best people. Your challenge doesn’t stop there, because you need to match the skills of your star workers to the rapidly changing strategic initiatives. To keep up with competitors, a flat organization works best. And, you need the flexibility to move the right talent onto teams which may quickly form, carry out a task and then disband.

As you begin to carry out your vision, you’ll identify positions which are pivotal to the strategy’s success. Whether it’s designing products, building products or getting products to market, there are positions in every organization that must be responsible for these tasks. In studying talent-​driven organizations, the authors conclude that about 2% of positions account for a company’s success.

As a leader, you and your executive team should develop the talent necessary to fill these pivotal positions. You may have some success training your in-​house talent.  In addition to training, you’ll need to rely on the CFO and CHRO to develop affordable and attractive compensation packages to lure new talent to your organization. The authors point out, “when a company doesn’t have the skill sets or the innovation firepower it needs for the future, it’s up to the CEO to go out and recruit.” Beyond that, insist that your managers commit to your agile positioning. You can follow the examples of organizations that are so intent on maintaining agility, they’re measuring their managers on how well they are doing in creating the next group of leaders.

Barton, Carey and Charan call this form of leadership “G‑3” – the commitment of the CEO, CFO and CHRO to work together on revolutionizing the organization. If you fail to take steps to improve your agility in the current marketplace, your company risks the fate of many businesses the authors studied, those with “paternalistic practices [that] had fostered bureaucracy at the expense of innovation.”