I often take part in expert interviews on the blog and thus help students and other researchers. I am often asked about my assessment of the following question:

  • How agile / digital do companies become?

The question is often aimed at 5 or even 15 years. On the other hand, I am also asked the question in another form:

  • Will only agile companies survive?
  • Do all companies have to become agile?

Furthermore, the Andre Häusling’s blog parade with the question: “Is agility an obsolete model or a future model?” and the hashtag AgileDeadOrAlive to this article.

I would therefore like to write a blog article with my assessment. I will go into this a little further and give a specific answer. However, this is only my personal opinion.

2 theses on agility and digitization of companies

In my PhD I have a roundtable carried out. This brought together 12 board members from medium-sized companies and corporations. We were able to agree on two theses:

  • Not every area in the company needs agility / digitization
  • Not all employees want to work agile / digital

This means that, on the one hand, skilled workers do not necessarily always prefer this type of work and not every area is dependent on it. Regarding thesis 1, the board of directors of the data center says in the round table: “We have highly creative areas where collaboration has to be constantly reinvented every day when new requirements arise. But on the other hand there is the classic data center, where it really comes down to it: someone has to do some kind of electrical system, that’s repetitive.

The manager of the pharmaceutical company also adds to thesis 2 that not every employee wants to work agile: “And they don’t even want to be inspired and organize themselves and so on. But […]: I’m doing my job! Tell me what to do! And then I’ll go home! “ Tip: Feel free to ask me about my study on this: Lindner and Leyh (2018).

Of course, we should always coach employees in agile methods and the use of technology, but there are still employees who simply do not want agility. If you exert too much pressure, they will simply quit. On the other hand, you will still have enough areas that work great without a high degree of agility or digitization.

It is therefore important to determine the level of agility / digitization required in each area and only allow those employees to work there who actually want this.

Forecast: hybrid form between agile and classic

Of course, the question of agility and digitization is becoming more and more important. However, it is important to specify: How important is this for each area? Companies have often been successful in the market for many years and often only a few adjustments are necessary to continue their success.

So a balance has to be found between tradition and change. This is also what my participants in the roundtable believe: “And the problem[sind] clear processes, security processes that should be very static and, on the other hand, flexible cloud technologies that change daily “( Board of the IT data center). The executive board of the consulting company also sees it similarly: “Because we’ve been with the company for thirty years,[heißt es:] I’ve always done it this way. And on the other hand, we have things that are extremely new. And finding the right balance is definitely an exciting thing. “

Practical tip: A, B and C employees and areas

A small impulse comes from Steve Jobs. He divided the Apple employees into A, B and C employees on. You can also divide the areas and employees into A, B and C. I would like to illustrate this using the example of employees and the necessary agility. These are defined as follows:

  • A staff : Take responsibility and make the company work. They develop ideas and strategies, strive for more and ultimately guarantee the company’s success (source: Mindset magazine )
  • B employee: These employees are neither positive nor negative. They know exactly what your job is and they do it. B-employees are often known as “NINE-TO-FIVER” or Duty to Order.
  • C employees: Internally terminated, grouchy – also towards his colleagues, makes his work listless, mistakes are always taken into account, but not avoided. Often they are known as underperformers or low performers. (Source: ABC staff )

Every healthy company has at least 20% (preferably 30%) A-employees, who according to Steve Jobs significantly advance the company. These are important but also difficult to manage. The reason is that A employees always need exciting projects, feedback and campaigns.

They are also often quickly bored with routine and unfortunately there is also a lot of work in the company that “simply has to be done”. B employees (mostly 80 – 60%) often do exactly this job. You don’t need much guidance and the quality of the work is usually great!

According to Steve Jobs, C employees (10 – 30%) disrupt operations and demand a high level of management work. However, especially when there is a shortage of skilled workers, you will never own 0% of it (except perhaps micro-businesses).

Employee abc ratio
My recommendation for a healthy proportion of A, B and C employees

My practical tip: Now it might make sense that you would prefer to use A-employees with a few B-employees in agile methods and highly creative areas. All stable areas with a moderate need for agility (e.g. less complex customer orders with long contract terms) could preferably be supplied with B employees. You should rather place C employees in stable areas and coach them accordingly.

Agile organization
A company consists of three degrees of agility. Standardized central services, stable departments and small startups in the company.

Forecast 2019: At least 30% agile and digital

I believe that almost every company at the moment should have at least 30% of the departments or teams set up in an agile manner and have a corresponding digital maturity without fear of dissatisfaction or loss of sales. Of course there are industries that require much more or less agility. For example, small rural businesses could probably do without agile methods for a long time. However, I am assuming the average in the assessment.

However, if you look at the numerous SMEs that have long-term supply contracts and often good customer relationships: I believe that a slightly increased agility is often sufficient. DAX companies are also currently converting their IT departments to agile methods (approx. 30%). Many departments are still classically set up, which is often enough to cover current projects.

Another point is that the advantage of classical methods is stability. A stable core in the company is required especially for the many B employees. It is therefore important to find a balance between stable departments and flexible teams.

My prediction for the here and now is that companies should have made certain dynamic business areas more agile and digital in order to be future-proof. This is around 30%.

Forecast 2024: 50-80% agile and digital

I believe that change will continue to advance in the next 5 years and that agility and digitalization will continue to find their way. After the highly critical areas, it is also important to continue to flexibly and reorganize the edge areas. Then some central services remain, such as accounting or travel booking as well as classic services, which do not have to be very agile or digital.

Conclusion and limitation

I believe that agility and digitalization are very important and should find a place in dynamic core areas of the company. The world is becoming faster and more dynamic and skilled workers are demanding agile methods and digital work models such as Home office and New Work . However, the balance between constructive agility and actionism should also be kept.


Image source: Pixabay.com


I blog about the influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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