“To be agile” is often a badge of honor. It conveys your flexibility, nimbleness and your ability to be adaptive. Agility is today going far beyond just being responsive,it goes into constantly adjusting and being versatile, modifying to meet rapidly changing conditions.
Yet this often seems the very opposite within many of our organizations and the very people employed within them. They seem rigid, inflexible and determined to stay ‘resolute’ to the established ways and routines built up over years. They love stability, it is their bedrock but equally they do need a greater fluidity to their performance and structures as well.
The challenge is to keep the stability but to build around it a more agile, dynamic set of capabilities. Today this stability is your platform, your backbone, the anchor points you need to return too but it also does mean the need of being far more ruthless on jettisoning the legacies and some of the hierarchies that have built up.
So why is that?
Many of our established organizations are often caught up in legacy systems and procedures, hierarchies, structures and process descriptions that can often trap them in rapidly changing market conditions unable to respond. Also today our organizations are falling behind in their innovation, it lacks a level of boldness or degree of novelty. They have honed their incremental skill-set right down to keep the core intact, to allow the business to keep moving along to a steady, comforting beat.
Those that follow this incremental path are often rewarded the most, they never want to ‘rock the boat or challenge the status quo” as this provides them the expected financial rewards in the year-end bonus. The organization is structured so the measurement and rewards cascades down so all are nicely aligned. Everything is controlled, it has rules yet when disruption suddenly arrives, and it will, watch out.
Stable worlds are brilliant but they never seem to stay that way
Now this alignment is great in a stable world where the market is simply moving along at a steady pace but what happens when a sudden usurper suddenly appears on the horizon, determined to take away all that you felt was rightly fully yours. Suddenly the world changes, you become far more aware, tuned in to the changes that have been going on, for sometimes a long time, all around you.
Suddenly what you had become comfortable with is about to become a straight-jacket. You feel constricted, trapped, blaming the bureaucracy for allowing this to happen. You crave for some agility, some freedom to do things differently. The problem often lies in the simple fact the muscles have ossified, frozen into the given routine that kept you happily moving along but not greatly stretched or extended, apart from meeting certain deadlines, responding to the constant stream of regular and predictable requests.
You become alert, you tune into lean management, having a start-up culture, and you seek to move beyond the boundaries, you are encouraged to think out of the box, you are asked to imagine the unpredictable. It is such a shock to the system. Organizations go into cardiac arrest; they are placed in the critical ward desperately hanging on through life support and self-dependency. This then calls for some radical solutions that open up across broader communities as you are suddenly fighting for your very own survival, to stay attached and connected, to open up and engage, watching helplessly as the very life of all you have been part of is drifting constantly away until you radically embrace the changes required..
Life does not always need to be like this
The health of our organizations, of each of us, is judged far more by this ability to adapt, move quickly and seek out new ways of doing things. We all need to seek out that badge of “agility”
The power of agility, has been suggested as quickly becoming what amplifies the power within today’s management practice. It is exercising those organizational ‘muscles’ that can distinguish those that are more agile and adaptive. So what are they for us to practice? Also what is the associated outcome?
If we take a really useful guide produced by McKinsey, taken from their article “Why agility pays” it does offer up many of the factors and associated outcomes that allows agility to flow within organizations. Ones to put in place to make us more agile and adaptive. Some of these practices may already be in place but it is viewing these through the agile lens, it certainly does shift the dynamics on ‘being agile’.
Many of our slow-moving organizations need to change their game. Here are some initial suggestions:
The quality of the interactions you are participating in, the engagement practices being undertaken can change by spending considerable less time on one-way dialogues or presentations, this can make a huge difference, you spend the time actually listening to each other, you are adapting within conversations.
We need to think more of providing an organizational backbone that we build upon as our stable part, that acknowledges both our continued need for stability but it needs increasingly is looking for ways to ‘add on’ more dynamic capabilities. We need to think dual designs in some ways that equally exploit and explore. We need to have a greater confidence in the use of the cloud for processes that are kept up to date, responsive and crowdsourced for relevancy to your needs.
We also need to take hold of all of the constant re checking, re-working, clarifying all that is going on in many organizations and stop this time-delaying tactic that often hurts the business caught in this ‘analysis paralysis’ . This can be replaced by the lean principle of “good enough” often overcoming this sense of slow response. We need to develop these habits of simply testing it, experiment with it, prototype it, so it ‘tunes’ increasingly to the market needs for you to then rapidly scale this up. Being adaptive and quickly learning, then translating the value potential into real meaning.
The fourth one is acting quickly, the ability to move fast. The constant striving between keeping the organization on the one hand stable to manage all the ongoing activities yet increasingly making it more dynamic and responsive, exploratory, means certain parts need to be far looser, allowing a more free-flowing, nimble and quicker decision-making mechanism to prevail, pushing the “empowerment to act.”
Today it is all about managing the tensions, adjusting to the dynamics and being responsive at increasing speeds and flexibility. Yet it is also ensuring you have a stable framework that (in)forms your backbone, or compliments it and allows you to quickly learn and see those increasing points of value as they happen, adjust to them and be responsive in today’s far more dynamic and responsive world in new agile and adaptive ways.