For the past year, we’ve seen corporations strive to adapt to the “new normal,” whatever it meant to their industry. From fine dining restaurants’ pivoting to takeout, to Beam Suntory using its alcohol expertise to produce hand sanitizer, these sorts of stories are what passed as “good news” in COVID times. A respondent to a research question put it best: “Agility will win. Companies have to get better at quickly assimilating info and pivoting to deal.”
The common denominator to all the companies that found success in 2020? Agility: their willingness to change, combined with the ability to act quickly and communicate effectively.
Several studies coming out of this year’s International Public Relations and Research Conference set out to explore and define the concept of agility. The most comprehensive was the PRWeek/Boston University Bellwether Survey, based on 2158 responses from communications professionals.
Back in 2019, respondents to the Bellwether Survey felt that agility was needed for their organizations, and highlighted the need for it within communications departments. For 2020, the Survey expanded its research to add definitions and dimension to the concept of agility.
The Survey first asked respondents whether their organizational corporate culture was agile, and then whether the comms function was agile. Not surprisingly, employees of agencies reported the highest levels of agility, while government employees reported the lowest. Communications departments were consistently seen as more agile than the corporation as a whole.
Results also showed that communicators view the agility of their cultures as impacting a wide spectrum of organizational outcomes, from ethical behavior to preparedness for crisis to change management, diversity, CSR, and fake news.
Among other implications, if you are a highly agile company, then:
- You are seen as more ethical than counterparts in less agile companies.
- You are more receptive to employee feedback.
- You encourage a diversity of opinion.
- Employees feel more empowered.
- You are more likely to build a diverse workforce.
- Communications is more likely to be involved in corporate policy.
- The corporate purpose drives decisions.
- You understand the importance of creating social value, not just shareholder returns.
- You use more technology to drive marketing and communications functions.
- You are less likely to be victims of fake news and disinformation and can better handle the weaponization of social media.