A company’s ability to adapt is arguably its core competitive advantage. Research by global law firm Howard Kennedy found that 82% of businesses consider Agility important to their future, driving more businesses to kick-start their agile transformation.
In 2001, my Adaptavist colleague Jon Kern co-wrote the Agile Manifesto. Since then, Agile methodology has grown beyond software development and is now applied across departments and into portfolio management. Companies embarking on Agile need to focus on collaboration and self-organization and their ability to manage constant change rather than being locked into rigid constraints.
Becoming an Agile enterprise requires a holistic, company-wide approach. A cultural transformation, not from the typical “top-down or bottom-up” but also horizontally, across the entire business, including its people, processes, and technology, is fundamental. It is the intersection of these three aspects that will drive change.
As Agile ways of working move beyond software teams, it can drastically improve a company’s resilience and productivity. Microsoft’s Future of Business Resilience report found that Agile businesses are not only close to 50% faster to market, but they also see 20% -30% higher productivity, as well as financial lifts upwards of 20-30%.
However, organizations ready to embrace change must understand it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s okay to experiment as we learn what works best for our culture, our employees and our customers this way. And learning is, in itself, a huge part of success.
In praise of failure
An outdated belief persists that employees should be punished when they make mistakes. It’s a leadership style from the reign of the empirically structured office when workers were expected to deliver error-free work and prove their value by the number of hours worked.
This philosophy was designed to “motivate” workers. But the reality is that it often achieves the exact opposite, ridding workers of their confidence and creating a fearful, inflexible work environment in which they can’t thrive.
The Adaptavist Group conducted a work study that found close to 60% of employees globally believe productivity needs to focus on the quality of work versus the number of hours logged – a clear indicator that the workplace and management must evolve. Yet many executives still dig in their heels – likely out of fear of failure.
This is a real paradox since most successful business leaders embrace mistakes as crucial learning opportunities. As Bill Gates says, “It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” When embracing new ways of working, these words carry a critical lesson – people need time to learn and experiment and to do so without the risk of repercussions.
Experimenting with new ways of working
In other words, you need to be Agile in order for your transformation to succeed. One way to do this is by piloting this cultural shift before implementing it across your entire organization.
As an example, there’s one company I worked with that embraced this concept by first asking everyone in their business, “Who wants to be part of a pilot?” Then, they conducted interviews and assessments to pick their pilot team, who became known as their Agile ambassadors.
They extended the program to other teams and projects, and as they did, they continued to learn and share knowledge and best practices. The pilot became a community where employees discussed problems and collaborated on solutions before communicating their learnings with the rest of their company as “one voice.”
This experiment allows you to learn about the dynamics of the people within your organization and any cultural issues or mindset challenges that might obstruct a successful transformation. Moreover, it gets people on board with the shift by sharing successes and learnings across your company.
Accepting steps forward and backward as progress
This strategy will only work when leaders overcome their own fear of failure. Although becoming an Agile enterprise requires buy-in from every department and team member, your plans won’t see the light of day if there’s resistance to change at the top. From what I’ve seen, a business’ Agile journey usually fails because of fear of change and a lack of understanding.
Executives must treat their transition to Agile as an educational journey, even though this complex and fast-changing landscape might tell them to do the opposite. Moreover, they must embrace greater autonomy within their organizations, relinquishing control and welcoming mistakes as learning opportunities.
After all, the result is an organization capable of making critical decisions faster and more confidently. This Agility is becoming the most significant differentiator among businesses in today’s ever-changing environment.
Written by Tina Behers, VP of Aligned Agility, part of The Adaptavist Group.