What Does Agile Performance Mean?

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What Does Agile Performance Mean?

We toss the word performance around a lot in organizational learning, particularly when it comes to employees and organizations.

“He’s not performing.”

“She’s increased her performance on the job.”

“That team performs well under pressure.”

“That manager needs to pick up his game.”

And on it goes. We hear these sort of comments all the time. But what do they really mean?  

What does it actually mean to perform in a transformational global economy?

Does it mean exceeding certain KPIs? Is performing at work more than a set of KPIs? What’s at the heart of organizational performance? Instead of regurgitating several well-quoted definitions of performance from a bunch of reputable sources, I want to define agility and its various dimensions and their relevance to organizational learning and performance. Further, I want to introduce you to a framework of agility to performance.  

Acute competition, the bewildering array of choices open to the consumer, and the commoditization of goods and services means speed and responsiveness are the difference between the performing and non-performing business. Enterprises prospering in this hypercompetitive global marketplace do things faster than their competitors, with the same—if not better—quality.  

As a customer, I expect new and better products and services at a competitive price. I want swift turnaround time for any “screw ups” and my preferences met. I’m sure I’m not alone in these hopes.   

If companies can’t—or won’t—do all this, then I’m shopping elsewhere, either virtually or physically. So performance is ultimately about speed, and speed comes from applied learning and the capacity to be agile.

Here are the seven dimensions of agile performance:  

Let’s briefly review these seven dimensions.  


Innovation means being in the marketplace first with new goods and services that customers want and need. It’s about constantly experimenting with new features that give customers what they want, before a company runs the risk of losing them to a competitor who is more innovative.  


Processing means dispensing everything through the organization as quickly as possible—faster than competitors. Shortening cycle times for designing training programs, company restructures, and processing products and services from order to delivery are examples of agile processing. This can include the prompt processing of applications, with appropriate and thorough checks. Approving finances swiftly for an investment property may give a banking or finance institution an edge over its competitors. Processing speed is not about cutting corners and forgoing proper QA—it’s about getting things done faster, without sacrificing quality.  


Recovery refers to the time it takes to respond to rectifying a customer mistake. A fundamental tenet of superior customer service is how quickly a company can put right a mistake made. In other words, how they correct a difficult situation concerning a customer transaction. Customers—if they feel their complaint is being dealt with in a speedy manner—are often forgiving. Apart from doing the right thing, holding onto an aggrieved customer and not losing them to a rival business is the objective when it comes to recovering from a mistake.   

Continuous improvement  

Continuous improvement agility is not the same as innovation agility, despite often being discussed together. There’s an important distinction between the two dimensions. While innovation is about creating something new, continuous improvement is about building upon something that already exists.  Well-known inventions such as the Post-It Note, smartphones, and travel luggage with wheels, for example, are examples of innovation performance.  

Customer responsiveness  

Agility is essentially a customer-driven concept. All seven dimensions of agile performance impact the customer somehow. The dimensions of recovery and customer responsiveness directly impact the customer. But the other five dimensions of agile performance are indirectly related. Since business is dependent on customers and agility is a customer-centric idea, customer responsiveness is an important dimension of performance.   

Problem solving  

Workplaces are intricate organisms with an assortment of multifaceted problems, predicaments, and dilemmas that need solving. A few decades ago, workplaces were slower, localized, and predictable. How things have changed in the blink of an eye. Now—instead for being predictable and steady—creative problem solving is the hallmark of the high-performing employee. These people are highly sought after and in short supply. Even though problem solving is a core skillset in a diversified, transformational working world, performance systems universally don’t emphasize its relevance.   

Changing direction  

The agility to change direction is a culmination of the other six agile performance dimensions:  

  • to innovate is to change direction;  
  • to process faster means changing normal practice;  
  • recovery from a mistake requires taking a different tack;  
  • continuous improvement is altering the way something is done;
  • customer responsiveness is shifting priorities to cater for the need of a customer; and  
  • problem solving is often about thinking outside the box.   

Agility is ultimately about changing direction in some form. Everything an employee thinks, says, and does ought to bear this in mind.  

This new performance framework fleshes out what it means to perform with agility.  

This article is from Dr. Tim Baker’s latest book, Performance Management for Agile Organizations: Overthrowing the Eight Management Myths That Hold Businesses Back