Business Agility Deep Dive: Agility Audit Can Prevent Organizational Narcosis™

Agility Consulting |

By Nick Horney, Ph.D., Leadership Agility Practice Leader

Scuba divers know that nitrogen narcosis is a reversible alteration in consciousness producing a state similar to alcohol intoxication in divers at depth. It occurs to some small extent at any depth, but in most cases doesn’t become noticeable until deeper diving depths, usually starting around 30 to 40 meters. I use this metaphor of “nitrogen narcosis” from my 23-year Navy Special Operations experience to describe the adverse behavioral effects and disruptive organizational impact of  Organizational Narcosis™. I have worked with organizations exhibiting characteristics of Organizational Narcosis™ that include confusion about decision-making authority, absence of strategic focus, impaired judgment, a sense of invulnerability or even depression when faced with the marketplace turbulence, often described as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). These are very similar behaviors exhibited by divers experiencing nitrogen narcosis. Due to its perception-altering effects, the onset of nitrogen narcosis may be hard to recognize, its severity is unpredictable, and in diving, the resulting illogical behavior can be fatal. Similarly, the onset of Organizational Narcosis™ may be hard to recognize and can inhibit an organization’s ability to survive and thrive in a VUCA environment.

Regardless of the term used to describe the current and future marketplace (e.g., turbulence, unrelenting change, uncertainty, organizational compression, etc.) the fact is that the world around us is accelerating at an alarming pace. Plans are needed, but they must be constantly assessed and adapted along with changes in the environment. In some cases, they need to be discarded. Without a focused effort on the identification of baseline business agility strengths and weaknesses followed by targeted and often preemptive developmental activities, many organizations are starting to show signs and symptoms of Organizational Narcosis™ as indicated below through the lens of The AGILE Model®:


Anticipate Change

  • Our management team is often surprised by our clients, suppliers or employees.
  • We do not have a clearly defined process for monitoring trends and patterns in the marketplace/business environment that will impact us.
  • We find it difficult to adapt our strategy to changing events or circumstances.
  • We do not have processes in place to identify early warning signs of impending change.
  • Although we may collect trend data, we do not have the right people in place or decision rules to help us anticipate change.

Generate Confidence

  • Employees on the front line do not understand our vision/strategy.
  • Our employees do not know how their daily work contributes to our vision/strategy.
  • We have not had many “wins” lately.
  • As a management team, we do not walk the talk of our strategy/vision/values.
  • Our employees are not engaged/empowered.

Initiate Action

  • We do not act with a sense of urgency to marketplace or other business conditions.
  • We do not focus on decreasing cycle time in our decision processes.
  • Decisions are not reached at the lowest level, thereby slowing us down.
  • We do not have clearly defined decision rules (e.g. consensus, boss decides, etc.).
  • We have to have all of the information before taking action.

Liberate Thinking

  • We do not use “out-of-the-box” thinking.
  • We do not reward or encourage fresh, innovative ideas.
  • We do not have a culture that encourages risk taking.
  • We do not use cross-functional/collaborative teams to encourage alternative views.
  • We do not regularly seek better solutions.

Evaluate Results

  • Measurable work expectations are not established or clearly communicated to all employees.
  • We are unclear about deliverables internally and externally.
  • We are not open to feedback from our clients, partners, suppliers and employees.
  • Key performance indicators are not being used to adapt as conditions change.
  • Technology (e.g., dashboards) is not used to enable real-time feedback for our key performance indicators.

You can prevent Organizational Narcosis™ by conducting and implementing the results of an Organizational Agility Audit™.

The Agility Audit™ allows an organization to rapidly develop:

  • An understanding of whether the organization is aligned with their business strategy and their espoused values or management philosophy about agility.
  • An accurate and grounded understanding of the barriers to implementing organizational agility that requires an alignment between people, processes and technology.
  • A vision of how the company will have to manage to achieve and sustain organizational agility.
  • Clarity of understanding and specific action plans regarding organizational and interpersonal barriers to achieving its strategy.

The Agility Audit™ is a three-step process that examines the gap between organizational agility best practices and a current state assessment resulting in specific actions to close the gaps. 

Step 1: On-line Organizational Agility Survey — The Audit begins with an on-line survey fielded across a broad cross-section of an organization to gain valuable front line perspective on key drivers of organizational agility.

Step 2: Focused Interviews — A series of one-on-one interviews exploring best practice categories with carefully selected members from across the organization to developing greater perspective and organizational insight.

Step 3: Agility Workshop — The finale of the Agility Audit™ process is a full day workshop with the leadership team where it will:

• Get the results & insights from the on-line survey

• Get summary conclusions from individual interviews

• Participate in a creative “Strategic Visioneering” exercise

• Identify the turbulence and hurdles in the organization’s environment

• Create specific action plans to enhance organizational agility


About Nick Horney

Nick Horney, Ph.D. is The Agility Doc. He first discovered the value of agility during his 23 years of service as a special operations naval officer responsible for diving and explosive ordnance disposal teams. In these rapidly unfolding and changing circumstances–and now, as an organizational psychologist–Nick discovered that the key ingredient separating good organizations from best organizations is agility. After serving in a senior role at the Center for Creative Leadership, he founded Agility Consulting and Training in 2001. Learn more about Nick at

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