“Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course.”  John C Maxwell

Author: Diane Gray of Change Play Pty Ltd (


Being able to change at different speeds is essential for any business to stay relevant in the fast-paced world of disruption that we are in today. We live in an era where learning and the ability to learn fast is a must. Productivity and profits rely on it.

Yet the bigger a company is, the harder it is to change course simply because of the sheer volume of minds and logistics involved to make the change happen. It impacts the rate of learning and the pace of the change required, which can make the difference between keeping up with the market or leading the market.

Part of the problem occurs when companies grow and they do not shed the skin of the previous model. It’s like taking the canoe into the open sea and when the big waves come, they wonder why they find themselves capsized.

As a company grows, the vessel it chooses to sail the seas of business needs to grow too whether it is a virtual or physical means of transport.

Yet at some point the critical mass of the company size will determine the agility of a company’s capacity to change. No longer is the company a recreational speed boat zipping around harbours and inlets, it’s now a huge luxury ocean liner that needs to take on the open seas and ride the big waves.

“Yet at some point the critical mass of the company size will determine the agility of a company’s capacity to change.” Diane Gray

At this size, it is easy to appreciate that it takes longer to turn around, longer to stop, and needs more people to keep it on course and to keep it in top notch condition.

So how can an ocean liner-sized business be agile like a speed boat, yet still maintain its market share through periods of change?

It starts by looking at three categories that are essential to company agility, and which work for businesses of all sizes (only the scale differs).


  1. CULTURE sets the attitude, principles and ethics of a company which start with:
  • What is the purpose of the company? What values, standards and expectations are there to ensure the right synergy flows between the top line management and frontline workers for optimal bottom line results?
  • As a company grows, its purpose and values may not change but how they are lived will, therefore the way the culture is developed and maintained needs to be well cared for. It is much easier to keep the ship’s hull rust-free rather than finding a toxic, rust-eaten patch leaking in the ship that now needs a spell in the dry dock.
  • It also requires clear direction to where the ship is going, and which seas it will be navigating to get there. The last thing any company wants is to be lost at sea or shipwrecked before it reaches its next destination.
  • The leader of the company acknowledges the extra up-keep required to save it from being another ‘Titanic’ and that a ship of this size needs many ‘hands on deck’.


  1. SYSTEMS are the support structures that are put in place to ensure the company runs efficiently and profitably:
  • Systems include the company structure, resources and mechanisms that assist in delivering the purpose of the company. They also support navigating the ship to its destination in the most efficient way possible, while also making a profit.
  • They also shape the parts each person plays, and the work within each part that needs to be completed to ensure the ship’s journey to its destination is sustainable for future journeys, and where changes need to be made along the way.
  • Resources need to be upgraded as the company grows, just the same as the family car needs to be upgrade when more children come along. A five-seater car is not useful if there are six children to transport to school.


  1. PEOPLE bring a company to life, whether they are clients, customers, employees, owners, shareholders or board members:
  • What does it take to ensure the company has the right people on board? And what is the company doing to keep the right people on board?
  • People are our biggest asset in business; they are, after all the ones who determine how effective the systems and the culture work for the company. Sadly, people are often treated like machines, a liability instead of being an investment. When you invest in your people, they will sail your ship for you – your people will invest in your business.
  • Even when resources are in short supply, it is often the companies who invest in their people who find that their people will work with them to find solutions to the problems far quicker, and easier, than when they are treated as a liability.
  • If the ship needs to turn around as agilely as possible, then the company needs people who are happy, proactive and enjoy being responsible, and accountable for their work.
  • The number one thing that people want in the workplace is ‘more communication’. This alone can reduce training costs, turnover costs, and time wastage – all the things that make a ship drift off course.


By investing in these three categories of CULTURE, SYSTEMS and PEOPLE is a great start, but more needs to be considered.

The three categories when analysed separately will certainly create some degree of agility, but it is when they are used together, interdependently, that the agility during change becomes transformational.

By linking each category, expanding and enhancing each other, the ocean liner of a company begins to move with suppleness and speed, yet maintains the strength and integrity to handle the high seas.


Acknowledgement  Author: Diane Gray of Change Play Pty Ltd (, editing CCI

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