By now you have probably heard or read a lot about Agile Organizations: from management consultant’s white papers to your bank’s newsletter, everyone seems to be jumping on the bandwagon.
A lot has been said about it, and there are often two camps when it comes to walking the talk: those that embrace it fully and embark on a deep Organization redesign, and those that are sitting on the sidelines to see where it goes, assuming that it will be one of those Business trends that will fade away.
There is a third model emerging recently in large corporations within their Innovation projects, where organizations are experimenting with Agile principles at a small scale, perhaps concerned that it will disrupt the larger ecosystem.
Regardless of where you sit, as Executive Coaches we increasingly find ourselves working with Leaders across industries including CPG & Food that are in the process of driving Organizational Agility in their business.
Through their learnings on the journey to become more Agile, we have captured 10 fundamentals and 5 key enablers:
10 Agile fundamentals:
1. Having a compelling North Star for the purpose of your business that guides key decisions
2. A true Customer-centric approach that includes business model design around their needs
3. Company leaders that role models of listening; asking inquisitive, insightful questions
4. A high acceptance level of failure and a more aggressive risk-taking approach
5. Building a lean organization with empowered, autonomous teams
6. A fast and simple decision-making process and criteria (key to the previous point)
7. A high level of comfort with uncertainty and change
8. Daily workflows enabled by technology geared for collaboration (e.g. Slack, Asana)
9. Collaboration and Co-creation as second nature
10. A culture of constructive dissent, where different opinions are encouraged and listened to
What does it take to get there?
A lot of guidance and research exists already from consulting firms like McKinsey, Deloitte and Accenture, on how to design Organizations and ways of working to live by these 10 Agile principles.
What they all agree on, and what we have learned from working with Leaders across multiple verticals, is that Coaching is the cornerstone to equip an organization to be truly Agile. Think of it as Organization Design being the hardware, and Coaching for Leadership Agility being the software. There is no point in upgrading the hardware unless you install the right software.
At The Preston Associates, we have developed a specific approach to Coaching for Leadership Agility, including an assessment of both Organizational and Personal Agility, which helps our clients understand where they are on the journey to become more agile. From this we can identify key enablers to help fast-track Agile competences.
The 5 Enablers of Coaching for Agility
1. Courageous Conversations: an Agile organization is one with a culture that goes beyond open and honest feedback. Courageous Conversations are those where people go beyond actions and tasks. They are equipped to talk about what they are thinking, the values that shape their beliefs, how this makes them feel – and therefore why they have or will act in a certain way. This allows for connections at a deeper level, operating with high trust which ultimately drives the speed and agility required.
2. Active Listening: from a place that we call C.A.L.M. – a curious, active, listening mode. As we know, most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. By incorporating tools such as Playback, Meaning deep-dives, and Splitting, a good Coach can help Leaders build better habits to become natural active listeners.
3. Shared Definition of Victory: by applying what we call the Emotional Leadership framework, Agile leaders engage both the hearts and minds of their teams. They clearly define and align WHAT success looks like and how it will be measured, set expectations for the behaviors and mindset needed to achieve the ambition, provide context and clarity for priorities, and ultimately engage by getting consensus and commitment to the shared benefits for the team and each member. Once this is established, true autonomy and empowerment are possible.
4. High Performing Team Manifesto: a very clear set of principles (almost like a DIY contract) on HOW a team defines and achieves collective success; agrees shared values / attitudes / behaviors; enables diversity of thinking and opinion; gives and gets trust & accountability; and how it operates from positive intent.
5. Thinking Partnerships: Agile Leaders understand that asking the right questions is more powerful than giving the answer. And that asking for help to think things through together is more intelligent than trying to crack the code on your own. Consider this: when was the last time someone asked for your help to solve a challenge? What came out of it? And how did that make you feel? The more you do it, the better you’ll get at this. Furthermore, the more diverse your network of Thinking Partners, the faster you will elevate the quality of the solutions you create together.
In a nutshell
Agility might sound like a buzzword, but the value and need for it are clear, even if different organizations have a different approach to embracing its core principles. Since data shows that Agile businesses can develop products five times faster and make decisions three times faster, the imperative for change is here.
Organization Design initiatives, which you can think of “hardware upgrades” are important to embed Agility at all levels of your organization. But we know that they are complex endeavors and not every business is prepared to undergo such profound change management process.
If your organization is not yet ready for a “hardware upgrade”, a lean, pragmatic way to start an Agile transformation journey from the ground up is to focus first on upgrading your “software”, by developing your Leader’s Agility competences through expert Coaching focused on the 5 enablers described above.
This progressive approach with Coaching as the first pillar of an Agile transformation can yield additional benefits. It will also have a positive impact on the culture and performance of your existing business, creating stronger foundations for future Agile growth.
Written by Luciana Nunez – TPA Coach based in New York – June 2019