We need to better learn how to live in uncertain times where rapid change is the only constant, is often heard these days. The world is powered by information, where change is the consequence.
But are we also acting on information? Are we agile enough to quickly adapt to a changing environment, to different situations? Or do we rather stick to familiar, to traditional operational frames? Are we flexible enough to take control back, increase our performance, and become front runners when change is being implemented?
What was business as usual just a couple of months ago has radically changed. I like the term Korn Ferry uses to describe this situation “business as unusual.” It’s a fact the next normal will look very different. Many companies are doing their best to manage short term priorities to “navigate the now” – from ensuring an effective crisis response to managing daily disruptions, to safeguarding the well-being of their employees by adjusting working practices. Many have already started to plan their comeback and want to "shape their next normal", as we can’t wait for the clouds to clear. But, there is still room and there is a need for a greater focus, speed, boldness, and innovation.
Why is agile relevant now?
Nowadays flexibility has been given special attention, as we all expect there is more to come. What we already know, is that the crisis has increased the speed of decision making. In our actions, we are quickly adapting to change. Many have tested remote working and have the learning available. Few companies are already testing what could come next. Piloting the impact of the shorter working week and reviewing how new digitalized operating models are performing. Much is being changed, not only how are we working but also how are we delivering our impact.
A shift of empowerment and ownership toward functional teams to manage the daily situation is being felt. Leaders are expected to set priorities and make decisions quickly with incomplete and rapidly evolving information. Prioritizing inclusion right now is therefore important more than ever. Seeking input from a diverse group of employees, who approach problems from a variety of perspectives, is more likely to deliver innovative solutions.
Stephen Denning, the author of the book The Age of Agile, colors the distinction between two types of mindset very boldly:
“The Agile mindset is very different from the traditional management mindset, which is vertical in its orientation and internal in its focus. A strategy is set at the top and power cascaded down. Tasks are assigned and managers assess performance while individuals compete for promotion. The goal is to make money. By contrast, the Agile mindset is horizontal in orientation and external in focus. The dynamic is not about following the rules. The goal is to delight customers, making money the result.”
How can we better provide value to customers?
Organizations' agility is being tested through the ability to adapt quickly in this changing business environment. While agile mindset, a method that helps teams deliver value to their customers faster, an approach where demands and solutions are designed through a collaborative effort of cross-functional teams, is helping companies to respond better and nimbly to the change.
The aspiration is to liberate the talent and capacities by empowering high performing teams. Supporting them in their effort, without micromanaging. Teams should be tightly connected, united in a common purpose. Have a mandate to define flexible and pragmatic solutions, put them into practice, refine the outcomes - and do it all fast.
This way responsibility for innovation is put in the hands of those who are closest to customers, who know them best, so they can:
adapt quickly to changing conditions and work on the most important tasks first
manage the change by being innovative and competitive by focusing on what matters
human in communication with customers
be responsive to present functional products and relevant solutions to stakeholders and customers
To enable an adaptable network of teams, these need to be empowered to operate outside of the existing hierarchy and organization structures. Constant learning and being allowed to fail fast are the prerequisites to unleash the potential, to keep motivation high, and to build commitment, trust, and joint accountability for the outcomes.
This approach reduces layers of control and approval, thereby speeding up work and increasing the teams’ motivation. On the other hand, this approach frees up senior leaders to do what only they can do: create and communicate long-term visions, set and sequence strategic priorities, and build the organizational capabilities to achieve these new goals.
So, where do we go from here?
When implemented correctly the Agile way of working has been recognized to increase customer satisfaction, achieve faster time to market, greater innovation, a better quality of service, and increased employee engagement.
It’s one day at a time. The new normal will come in waves, with wins and setbacks. An agile mindset can help you embrace the constant change.