A MITRE Innovation Project Headlines in Las Vegas

Organizational Change Management experts, Sarah Miller (left) and Shelley Kirkpatrick (right) speak to a packed audience at the OD Network Annual Conference.


Author: Lisa Pacitto

Every year, MITRE’s independent research and development program receives over 1000 research project ideas from across the organization and selects approximately 200 for funding. When Dr. Shelley Kirkpatrick received funding from the MITRE Innovation Program (MIP) in 2017 to research the principles of organizational agility, little did she know that three years later her work would be a big hit in Las Vegas.

Organizational agility—the ability to anticipate and respond to an environment quickly and effectively through sensing, interpreting, and responding routines—is crucial to fulfilling an organization’s mission in today’s environment of constant change and disruption.

As a result of two MIP projects over the past three years, Kirkpatrick, a MITRE Principal in Organizational Change Management, and her colleague Sarah Miller, Organizational Effectiveness and Change Management Lead, have created a number of tools for defining, assessing, and teaching organizational agility.

At the recent 2019 Organization Development (OD) Network Conference in Las Vegas, Kirkpatrick and Miller presented one of their tools, the organizational agility framework, to a packed audience that included government sponsors, Fortune 500 companies, and academicians.

A Framework for Organizational Agility

The OD Network Conference is sponsored by the Organization Development Network, the leading global association of organization development practitioners and scholars, and a resource for cutting edge trends and proven practices on creating healthy and effective organizations. The theme for this year’s Conference was Agility & Resilience – Navigating Complexity and Transformation.

Navigating complexity proved to be the perfect backdrop for Kirkpatrick’s and Miller’s presentation, “Managing the Polarity between Flexibility and Stability: A New Framework for Organizational Agility.”

“People often think that ‘agility’ means doing everything quickly and without regard to planning or minimizing risk,” Kirkpatrick says. “In fact, agile organizations are intentional about where they are stable and where they are flexible, managing the tension between those two polarities.”

During the presentation, Kirkpatrick provided an explanation of the organizational agility framework. Developed under MIP funding and based on extensive review of organizational agility literature, the agility framework focuses on three main areas: Environment, Organization, and Outcomes.

Environment looks at what’s happening in the outside world that impacts an organization, such as new tech, customer demands, or in the case of our government sponsors, new laws or an administration change. Organization focuses on internal factors, for example, how decisions are made and how the organization is set up to support the sensing, interpreting, and responding routines needed to be agile in a constantly changing environment. Outcomes include being able to respond in a timely and effective manner to environmental changes or new situations, higher employee engagement and job satisfaction, and fulfilling organizational goals and mission.

Throughout the presentation, Miller led the audience through a number of exercises designed to generate group discussions on agility and its challenges.

“We expected 30 attendees, but more than 90 showed up for our presentation,” Miller says. “We quickly adapted our exercises to accommodate a much larger audience.”

In an exercise called Visual Explorer, Miller placed cards with pictures on them on each table and asked audience members to pick a card that represents their ideas about agility and discuss why they chose that card.

“For example, one person chose a picture of a dry, cracked piece of earth because agile organizations should have stability yet be able to absorb changes like a desert can absorb water,” Miller says. “Another participant chose a fast car and talked about how agile organizations can maneuver quickly while moving fast.”

Another group exercise asked people to identify the agility challenges they experience within their organizations and then brainstormed solutions or actions to address those challenges. As audience members participated in the exercise, Kirkpatrick and Miller continually referenced back to the organizational agility framework, reinforcing the concept that agile organizations are both stable and flexible at the same time.

MITRE Innovations Make an Impact

The organizational agility framework is the foundation for two additional tools developed under MIP-funding—the Government Organizational Agility Assessment (GOAA), a tool to define and measure current levels of agility, and the MARS Agency Organizational Agility Serious Game, a hands-on, table-top game designed to teach organizational agility concepts.

“We no longer have MIP funding, but the work is ongoing,” Kirkpatrick says. “We’re now putting this knowledge into practice. It’s gratifying to see our sponsors, business partners, and other companies reapply the benefits of our work in organizational agility.”

After their presentation at the OD Network Conference, Kirkpatrick and Miller were approached by members of two government agencies who requested a copy of their organizational agility framework. A representative from Zappos, the online shoe and clothing retailer and corporate culture icon, also requested information on their framework.

As further confirmation of the positive impact of their work, Kirkpatrick and Miller spoke with a representative from Berrett-Koehler Publishers who asked if the pair would be interested in writing a book about organizational agility.

As a fitting end to their successful presentation at the OD Network Conference on agility and resilience, Kirkpatrick and Miller celebrated by zip lining, superman style, down the Las Vegas strip.

For more information about the organizational agility framework, the Government Organizational Agility Assessment, and the MARS Agency Organizational Agility Serious Game, please contact Shelley Kirkpatrick, skirkpatick@mitre.org.

Strategic Communications Contract Writer Lisa Pacitto covers innovation and technology for MITRE. She handles external communications for the Innovation Seminar Series and MITRE’s Pepper robot, @mitrepepper. She has written for The Boston Globe and MIT’s Technology Review magazine.

© 2019 The MITRE Corporation. All rights reserved. Approved for public release. Distribution unlimited. Case number 19-3471.

MITRE’s mission-driven team is dedicated to solving problems for a safer world. Learn more about MITRE.

See also:

Supporting sponsors to solve their own challenges: Moving from exulted expert to guide

A serious game enhances organizational agility

The Lunch and Learn is not the Solution to Everything

Beware of Low-Hanging Fruit

Thinking Outside the Boxes and Lines: Factors to Consider Before Restructuring

Changing Organizations Using the Power of Localism

Communication — the Special Sauce of Major Change

Mistakes and Transcendent Paradoxes: Dr. Peter Senge Talks on Cultivating Learning Organizations



Nov 24, 2019


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