Large organizations are more agile than you think

Breaking dogma, $5B+ companies proved more adept at pivoting businesses

Large organizations were able to improve business agility to successfully pivot during COVID.

Conventional wisdom says smaller, leaner organizations can better adapt to changing market conditions. But when push came to shove during the COVID-19 pandemic, that’s not what happened. Instead, large organizations—with their bigger budgets and more developed processes and technology—proved to be more agile.

In fact, in a global survey conducted by ESI ThoughtLab of 200 C-level leaders, organizations with revenues of $5 billion or greater were more than three times as likely to be “considerably or very agile” compared to small organizations with $500 million to $999 million in revenue. The survey ranked companies by their level of business agility—classifying them as leaders, intermediates, or beginners—based on a maturity framework that evaluated 14 business functions and seven key processes nearly one year after the onset of the pandemic. They include risk management, workplace management, customer experience, employee services, IT support, decision-making, new product launches, and corporate culture.

So, what did large companies do over this period that smaller companies can learn from as the economy enters the next phase of the pandemic?

They focused on employee experiences and accountability to customers.

Like other firms, large organizations invested in supporting flexible and remote working so their people could stay engaged and productive. But they were more likely to create leadership teams to handle the shift in business. More than half also improved coordination across departments and functions. They also prioritized customers and improved how they communicated. And executives in these organizations were twice as likely as others to create new experiences to engage customers and staff. In the next year, they will focus on training and development and on building a culture of innovation.

They changed their plans—in writing.

More than half updated their company’s goals and implementation roadmaps for the new business environment. In the next year, they will invest in streamlining processes and finding further efficiencies.

They invested in digitizing workflows and integrating functions.

Large organizations are much further ahead in implementing a digital enterprise platform that integrates multiple functions: 38% versus less than 20% of smaller firms. In the next year or so, that chasm will grow to 73% versus 27% or less. In particular, they are focused on integrating employee and customer experiences, as well as technology and data.

During the pandemic, they invested in mobile technology, digital workflow automation, risk management solutions, and digital enterprise platforms. Over the next year, most expect especially high returns from Internet of Things (IoT), risk management and data solutions, and mobile, cloud, and digital platforms. In the next year, half of this group also plans to invest more in function-specific technology, as well as data management solutions.

The future looks brighter for large organizations that prioritized agility—those that fell into the agility “leader” category. Still, the majority of these organizations worry whether the return on investment in these changes will really boost their agility for the long term. Only time will tell.