The world is changing – and fast! Are you ready? Is your business ready? Are you and your leadership team prepared to tackle new workplace challenges and adapt to new norms?
Do your managers have the capabilities and mindset to transform and inspire a whole new generation of employees? Does your workforce have the skill and the will to meet innovation demands, productivity requirements, company goals and customer expectations? These are important questions to be asking yourself as a business owner seeking to thrive in today’s complex and ever-changing world of work.
As a consultant, I have observed that when business owners prioritize building strong cultures and take time to identify clear strategic directions, they are invariably ahead of the curve. I have found, however, that the most critical attribute to success in recent years is an organization’s ability to adapt and change and to take on a mindset of agility – always willing to capitalize on new opportunities (even if that means veering from traditional paths) and are able to shift directions seamlessly and efficiently (with the support of their staff and their management teams leading the way).
Keen awareness of market forces and the foresight to see what is coming around the corner in terms of new opportunities will ultimately lead to a greater competitive advantage. And it starts with stopping organizational inertia dead in its tracks and having the courage to put down the “old ways” of doing things and the “traditional hierarchies” of yesteryear and instead build a more collaborate, responsive and flexible work environment – one now known as an agile organization.
Perhaps you’ve been selling computer software based on “product features” that were once appealing to customers and the only reason they bought from your company. Now you see that the features are secondary to the need to cultivate trusting and long-lasting customer relationships and a “solutions-orientation” that has become more desirable to customers. In other words, you sense that your target market is now more interested in comprehensive solutions from sales reps they trust and respect rather than merely purchasing software with specific product features. Time to shift gears! You may need to hire sales reps who have these desirable qualities (and an expertise in solutions-selling) and also develop incentive and performance programs that reward establishing solid, enduring customer relationships.
A mindset of agility and taking steps (even small steps can have a significant impact) to create a more agile organization will be the keys to success in 2019 and beyond! Begin by thinking about your business and organizational culture. How would you describe your workplace culture? How about your vision, mission and values? Do they effectively lend themselves to inspiring a more flexible, creative and highly engaged and empowered workforce? Are all your other workplace policies and practices aligned with this type of philosophy? Bottom line – we know now that a company’s ability to adapt, move quickly, and rapidly seize opportunities will be vital differentiators and the secret to future success.
So where do we start? With a focus on AGILITY!
There has been a lot of buzz in the last several years about the idea of “agility” and the notion of an “agile” organization. What do these concepts really mean? And why should business leaders care about them? Building an agile workplace and having an agility mindset are not elusive concepts. On the contrary, they are real… and they are critical. They are truly what will impact an organization’s bottom line growth and financial viability. While you may be thinking that an agile workplace is one that simply reacts swiftly to change, that is a large part of it but not the entire story. Let’s start from the beginning and dive deep into what agility really looks like and how an organization can become fully agile.
1. Get comfortable with change
As business owners, we need to recognize that our fast-paced, technology-driven society is drastically changing the way we work and live. With a perfect storm of technology advances, digital everything and automation and artificial intelligence growing at an exponential rate, there is not one business or organization left untouched by these 21st Century realities. In addition to technology, workplaces are seeing an increase in diversity and the desire of employees (i.e. millennials) wanting more flexible work arrangements and a better work-life balance. Laws and regulations are also evolving, prompting employers to take on more proactive mindsets and encourage different behaviors (such as dealing early and directly with workplace misconduct, harassment or bullying behaviors). Companies large and small are dealing with so many new issues and obstacles, nudging employers to think differently and even change their entire outlook on how people work and how business is conducted. Agile organizations are comfortable with change and do what they need to do to address these new challenges.
2. Be clear and simple
Being agile as an organization is a concept that continues to surface over and over again in workplace and organizational studies and research across the globe. One reason it has become a center stage issue is simply because it works, and the impact of having an agile organization is extraordinary. A culture built around agility concepts will significantly increase overall company performance and profitability. The amazing thing about creating an agile workplace is that it’s more about simplicity (and scaling back) than about putting in place additional processes and procedures, so every business is capable of doing it! When an organization starts to move toward becoming more agile, they begin by refining their strategic direction and reworking their policies and procedures to be more flexible, clear and simple. Leaders must get clear about their purpose and communicate a clear roadmap and expectations – keeping the message simple and straightforward. Simplicity is the name of the game in an agile culture. Any process, procedure or policy that is overly cumbersome must get kicked to the curb and replaced with a simpler approach, and one that perpetuates and supports faster decision-making and more responsive actions.
3. Balance stability with agility
When you look at a truly agile workplace, you see two main philosophies that inspire strategy and values – First, the perfect blend of standardized and structured rules and processes combined with individual freedoms and flexibility needed to seize market opportunities and respond swiftly to customer demands. Second, you see a workforce and leadership team functioning in perfect harmony and high collaboration, high trust work environments. Being truly agile means an organization can effectively balance needed flexibility with necessary structure. There is a sweet spot found between a free-for-all work environment and overly rigid policies and hierarchies. Businesses looking to incorporate a more agile mindset will begin to examine any lock-step corporate process (that may have made sense years ago) and make adjustments to loosen it up when there is a business rationale and compelling reason to do so (allowing employees to respond more effectively to client needs for instance). Balancing stability with agility takes deliberate effort to discern when a backbone of stable structures is needed and when it’s time to take a more flexible approach.
4. Trust and Empower employees
Because agile workplaces must move quickly and head in new directions when markets fluctuate or customer demands change, a foundation of trust is essential. Trusting and empowering employees, divisions and teams to shift their focus and develop new products, services and methodologies is imperative. There is no longer time to waste and the moment is “now” to tap into market opportunities. Cultures must provide safe spaces (and psychological safety) to innovate and take risks. If there is too much time that lapses because of long lag times to make decisions or company protocols make it difficult to go outside the box, these delays will impede an organization’s ability to capture market opportunities. Employees must also be entrusted to make decisions at the lowest levels. They should be trained and feel confident to do so. They should also understand the overall vision and mission of the company in order to make effective decisions and always have the company’s best interests in mind. People employed by agile organizations are self-starters, purpose-driven employees.
5. Collaboration and Teamwork
Agile workplaces foster genuine collaboration. Siloes and barriers to teamwork are broken down and leaders lead the way to facilitating healthy dialogue and reward those who collaborate well. Agility- focused leaders know that having more “brains in the game” will lead to better ideas and innovative developments. Since the need to continually innovate is critical, agile organizations relax policies that hold employees to strict workplace schedules and productivity requirements, interjecting opportunities during the day to brainstorm and allow a free flow of ideas and thoughts. To further facilitate a collaborative environment, agile companies will create physical spaces to encourage collaboration and participation by all employees, not just a select few. Collaboration and teamwork are essential in an agile organization and, therefore, you will typically see employees acting in these ways – giving others credit, seeing someone else’s perspective, respectfully and constructively dealing with conflict or differing opinions, encouraging all employees to have a voice, steering clear from gossip and drama and supporting each other in genuine ways (never saying “that’s not my job!”).
The smartest companies today are making strides to create a culture that promotes agility, flexibility and adaptability. Everything from their policies, systems and core values encourage this type of workplace. Leaders of agile workplaces respect traditions and a certain level of structure; however, they are not so wedded to a strategy or process to a point of being unmovable. They are constantly scanning for new opportunities and will shift the tide if necessary. Agile leaders inspire their employees to not get “stuck” and to also be looking for new ways of thinking and doing. Agile organizations accept (and even thrive on) disruptive events and challenging forces and view them as a catalyst to map out new (and possibly better) strategies for success.
As a consultant, I have had the opportunity to meet with many clients and discuss “what’s working and not working” and how do we keep up the pace with market demands and create an organizational climate where employees feel engaged and valued (because we know when this happens, productivity and profits go up!). Agile companies, when re-evaluating a strategy, never say “but that’s how it’s always been done.” Rather, they say “what’s next, what’s new and how can we do it better.” And then they say “team, let’s shake things up and make it happen… I trust that you can do this!”
If you haven’t already done so, it may be time to take a high level, objective view at “how things are done” at your workplace. Always good to periodically question the “why” behind your policies, systems and structures. Is it time for a change? Have you built up so many bureaucratic policies and procedures that it’s become seemingly impossible to change courses even when the market demands that changes be made? An outside consultant can be a good way to start this process, providing insights on current workplace best practices and how to implement these practices to better engage employees and satisfy customers. Retaining a third-party workplace expert can be the perfect way to start building agility within your workplace!