Unmasking organisational agility: an exploration of characteristics and influences

Mann, Andrew (2014) Unmasking organisational agility: an exploration of characteristics and influences. Doctoral thesis, Birmingham City University.


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The essence of agility is how organisations can remain in tune with and respond to changes within the operating environment, but achieving these aims becomes more problematical when the environment is turbulent or fast moving. Whilst the origins of organisational agility lay within manufacturing, turbulent conditions are not restricted to that sector. Whilst definitions of agility are not hard to come by, just what makes an organisation agile is less clear. There is a consensus that agility is not homogenous but is situation-specific and comprises of a number of characteristics, with the importance of each, idiosyncratic to every organisation. A gap in the literature exists in that, whilst the defining characteristics may be unique to each firm, there is no agreement on what they might be, with virtually no attempts made to quantify how one organisation might be any more or less agile than its peers. The primary aim of this study is to devise a means of measuring agility and this is supported by a number of objectives which make a contribution to theory and practice.

Objective 1 – To examine the existence of factors determining organisational agility

The literature suggests agility is enabled by a range of hallmarks which are idiosyncratic to each organisation, but fails to ariculate what these might be. To bridge this gap, a survey was conducted to test the existence of agility characteristics drawn from the literature. Agility is contested (Bottani 2009) so the hallmarks identified in the literature were tested with industry practitioners using semi-structured interviews. Understanding the relative importance of agility factors addresses a gap in the literature but additionally has commercial appeal for organisations with agile ambitions.

Objective 2 – Explore ways in which organisational agility can be quantified by the development of a measurement tool

Although the literature does not specifiy the hallmarks of an agile organisation, it does suggest firms experience varying need to be agile and this makes the necessary characteristics heterogenous. Reviewing the literature highlighted virtually no attempts to quantify agility which would allow comparisons to be made across organisations from varying backgrounds. Having identified key characterisitcs of the agile firm in objective 1, the Corporate Agility Matrix (CAM) aims to quantify the importance. This 3 contributes to theory by addressing the absence of a dynamic measurement tool which allows comparisons to be made across organisations.

Objective 3 – Using data, verify the validity of the model

The CAM has been tested by means of a survey encapsulating the views of 40 practitioners across the management spectrum drawn from a range of UK service based organisations. A tested model addresses the issue of which agility characteristics might be most relevant to certain types of organisation. Morevoer, the CAM can be used as a diagnostic tool to identify ‘quick-wins’ and a means for managers to allocate resource to areas most likely to yield agile outcomes.

Objective 4 – Using exploratory methods, examine agility from the perspective of practitioners

Bottani (2009) highlights that agility is often considered through ‘fuzzy logic’ which is fully reflective of its contested nature. This study evolved into an abductive enquiry using follow-on interviews drawn from the participating organisations. This allows me to build an understanding of the primary capabilities practitioners felt were needed to be regarded as agile and to consider how consistent these were with the literature. Using exploratory methods such as interviews furthers the theoretical base by identifying emerging themes, with one in particular (risk tolerance) being highly relevant.

Objective 5 – Present a redefined model of agility to assist development of improved practice

Goldman, Nagel and Preiss (1995) are pioneers of agility, producing a landmark publication which has been widely cited by subsequent researchers. Their assertion that agility is constructed around four elements (‘pillars’) still appears relevant, but there is evidence of devergence from the original model which is not surprising given the significant changes in the competitive environment since 1995 when the work was published. This study aims to update and enhance that seminal work, furthering the theoretical base.

Whilst understanding the importance of agility factors has commercial application for industry, the CAM makes a contribution to knowledge by defining the component parts of agility and provides a means for measuring the relative importance of these. This sets 4 a platform for a longitundinal study and allows a means of comparison across organisations.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
January 2014Completed
Subjects: CAH17 - business and management > CAH17-01 - business and management > CAH17-01-04 - management studies
CAH17 - business and management > CAH17-01 - business and management > CAH17-01-05 - human resource management
Divisions: Doctoral Research College > Doctoral Theses Collection
Faculty of Business, Law and Social Sciences > Birmingham City Business School
Depositing User: Richard Birley
Date Deposited: 17 Jul 2017 14:17
Last Modified: 22 Mar 2023 11:49
URI: https://www.open-access.bcu.ac.uk/id/eprint/4863

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