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How Leaders Build Agility and Resilience Is Not How You Think

International Keynote speaker at the 2023 Virtual ACSG Conference

on 16 March 2023 from 18:15 - 17:15 SAST


Interest in agility has grown tremendously in recent years, leading to considerable theorizing, research, and practice aimed at creating more agile individuals, teams, and organizations. The goal of agility interventions is to enable organizations

to compete more successfully in today’s hypercompetitive and rapidly changing work environment, but relatively little research has examined the impact of agility interventions on organizational performance. This talk will describe the results of The Agility Project – a global research study involving hundreds of companies in which a model of organizational performance was developed and tested that examines the role of agility and its potential antecedents as correlates of competitive success.


Survey data and financial-outcome measures were used as the basis for The Agility Project research, as these provided a consistent way to measure both the organizational factors of interest and business success across a large number of companies. Survey items were developed measuring the three organizational characteristics—rightsized teamwork, self-correcting teams, and stability—that we hypothesized would be important contributors to organizational agility and resilience, and in turn to competitive success. We also developed survey items to measure organizational agility and resilience. The survey items were explicitly intended to measure employee perceptions of broad organizational characteristics rather than idiosyncratic employee attitudes, thus lending themselves to organizational-level research design.


Respondents from 325 companies, many of which operate globally, completed the survey. The organizations included a wide range of industries, small and large, spanning both private and public companies. Those completing the survey were full-time professionals in predominantly leadership positions or other senior roles who were broadly knowledgeable about their organizations’ operations and characteristics.

The results revealed that agility was a blend of both proactive and reactive components. This agility-resilience construct was shown to be significantly related to measures of corporate financial performance, with companies high on agility-resilience showing 150% higher return on investment (ROI) and 500% higher return on equity (ROE). The three organizational characteristics—stability, rightsized teamwork, and self-correcting teams—were all shown to have significant direct effects on agility, which in turn, served to mediate relationships to organizational financial performance.


The findings from The Agility Project showed that organizations that proactively get in front of change and bounce back quickly from jolts deliver higher performance. The most important condition for driving agility – and most paradoxical – is that agility starts with stability. You simply can’t be agile if you’re not stable. Second, too much teamwork and collaboration can undermine agility. The most agile organizations realize that not all work is teamwork – and they use teamwork judiciously in getting work done. Finally, agile organizations recognize that leaders alone can’t manage performance in today’s complex environments, and they need to teach their teams to be self-correcting.


These findings challenge some commonly accepted “best practices” assumed to create agile organizations. This keynote address will share a path, along with practical tips and skills, to help leaders develop the agility and resilience their teams and organizations need to manage through disruption and perform more effectively.


Elaine Pulakos, PhD, is CEO of PDRI and an expert in building organizational and team capabilities that translate into business growth. She is well-known for her research and writing on agility and resilience and has extensive global experience helping companies build these capabilities to increase their competitive advantage and performance. She is regularly invited to speak on these topics to business leaders and professional audiences. Three recent articles describing this work have appeared in Harvard Business Review and another in Consulting Psychology Journal Research and Practice.


Elaine is also a globally recognized leader in the areas of performance management reform. She has authored numerous articles, book chapters, and five books on various talent management topics, as well as three best-practice volumes for the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM). Her most recent book, Performance Management Transformation: Lessons Learned and Next Steps includes a set of performance management reform case studies from marquee companies, the latest research, and new directions for the future.

Elaine’s work has been recognized with several awards, including the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology’s (SIOP) Distinguished Professional Contributions Award and the William A. Owens Scholarly Achievement Award. She is also a 2-time winner of the M. Scott Myers Award for Applied Research in the Workplace. Elaine is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and SIOP, for which she also served as President.She currently serves as the editors of SIOP’s Professional Practice Series.

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