McKinsey Quarterly 2015 Number 4: Overview and full issue

By Allen Webb

This issue of the Quarterly, available here as a PDF download, explores the paradox of combining speed and stability to achieve agility.

Download the full issue of McKinsey Quarterly 2015 Number 4 (PDF–3.25MB).

It’s almost a truism these days to say that modern corporations must be agile. The pace of industry disruption arising from the digital revolution, combined with nimble, new competitors—including many from emerging markets—have raised the cost of complacency and rigidity.

But what does it mean to achieve agility? This issue’s cover package tries to answer that question, starting with intriguing new McKinsey research. Using data from McKinsey’s Organizational Health Index, Michael Bazigos, Aaron De Smet, and Chris Gagnon show how organizations that combine speed with stability are far likelier to be healthy than companies that simply move fast.

The utility sector is a striking example of one industry that needs to combine flexibility and stability. Although digital competitors, new data-based business models, and renewable-energy sources are changing the landscape in certain markets, the industry’s sprawling base of heavy assets remains core to its future. Sven Heiligtag and his colleagues Dominik Luczak and Eckart Windhagen describe how a number of leading utilities are trying to straddle these two worlds, suggesting some lessons for companies in other sectors.

The importance of balance in our agile age extends to individual executives. Many are overwhelmed by information, and it’s not clear they or their organizations are extracting as much value from it as they could. London Business School professor Julian Birkinshaw and his coauthor Jonas Ridderstråle suggest the answer may be to create organizations that can maximize “return on attention,” which they define as “the quantity of focused action to generate a possible solution divided by the time and effort spent analyzing the problem.” Such organizations, say the authors, are more likely to look like an “adhocracy” than a traditional bureaucracy or meritocracy.

The forces at work in today’s large organizations demand more than agility, of course, and we’re using both this issue of the Quarterly and the next to further explore what it means to organize for the future. You’ll find here, for example, new research from McKinsey and Gallup on matrix organizations, as well as thinking from Ashridge Business School professor and McKinsey alumnus Andrew Campbell and his coauthor INSEAD professor Gabriel Szulanski, on ways to deter the corporate center from inadvertently subtracting value. Finally, our global managing director, Dominic Barton, along with Sandrine Devillard and Judith Hazelwood, examine a critical challenge for many organizations: achieving gender parity. Through the lens of McKinsey’s experience, they explore why it’s been elusive, and what we can do about it.

The leaders of Chinese organizations—whether local companies or the local business units of multinationals—have had a challenging year amid economic and financial-market headwinds. This issue also presents new research about how they are responding. The article featuring those insights, “How China country heads are coping,” is part of a broader package that takes China’s pulse. Despite economic and financial-market difficulties in 2015, research from the McKinsey Global Institute and our colleagues on the ground detect a wellspring of innovation and significant resilience. Global leaders shouldn’t be writing China off anytime soon—in part because of the agility with which its companies and leaders are responding to changing circumstances. We hope this issue of the Quarterly will inspire agile responses to your biggest challenges, too.

Download the full issue of McKinsey Quarterly 2015 Number 4 (PDF–3.25MB).

About the author(s)

Allen Webb is the editor in chief of McKinsey Quarterly and is based in McKinsey’s Seattle office.