Five steps toward an agile communications department


Prof. Dr. Ansgar Zerfass - Universität Leipzig

Prof. Ansgar Zerfass

About the research project

Project period: 2017 – 2020

In a world increasingly characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA), agile companies have a competitive advantage. Agility describes an organization’s ability to identify relevant changes and respond proactively, efficiently, and effectively. All of this requires a fundamental rethinking in companies – including corporate communications, which can play a leading role.

Based on nearly 100 interviews in 38 organizations and ten corporate case studies, five steps to greater agility have been identified that a communications department must consider: cultural and leadership change, work processes, structures, agile people management, and evaluation and performance management.


  • How can corporate culture support agility?
  • How is agile work organized?
  • How can the department structure be adapted?
  • How do I lead and develop employees?
  • Which new approaches for measuring success are existing?


  1. Comprehensive literature analysis on the concept of agility and its key dimensions.
  2. Thirty-eight interviews with senior communications executives at multinational companies were conducted to gain insight into the impact of agility on companies and their communications departments. The companies came from a variety of industries (e.g., manufacturing, automotive, insurance, finance, healthcare, pharmaceuticals). Thirteen of the respondents work for medium-sized companies, nine for large companies, and sixteen for very large companies.
  3. Ten case studies were conducted in selected companies with varying levels of agility experience. The case studies involved on-site research at the companies, lasting a minimum of two days and a maximum of two weeks. A total of 92 one-hour interviews were conducted with a wide range of employees, including CCOs, board members, strategy managers, senior communications managers, junior communications managers, HR managers, agile coaches, and other employees involved in the agile transformation. In addition to the interviews, insights were gathered through informal discussions and participation in several workshops and meetings. Documents provided were also analyzed.