the art of business agility

The Art of Business Agility – Think and act beyond the structures

Evelyn, CEO of a big company, walks through the building. Overlooking the empty office, she wonders what happened. “We are convinced we have to to change the way we work in our organization. Our customers ask different things from us than before, our employees need a more exciting workplace and today it’s clear, we aren’t responding quick enough to all those changing needs and demands. We don’t want to be the next Nokia, Blackberry or Kodak so we have serious reasons to change the way we work. After some successful pilots, a substantial part of the organization is now transformed into new self-organizing structures. Even the office is totally refurbished to facilitate an business agile way of working.”

“We were well on our way,” she thought. “The teams are multidisciplinary, self-organizing and have more autonomy. We have invested a lot by bringing in the help of consultancy firms and introduced new roles in our organization. Employees are trained on new methodologies and we thought they would eventually get used to the new structures. But it’s not working. We still struggle with silo’s, leadership and people show the same behaviour as before. We are still traditional thinkers.” Sounds familiar…?

In this blog we will dive into the biggest struggles, the why of business agility and why you have to find your own, tailored way to achieve this. Today it has become even more important to reframe our way of working and thinking.


Our biggest struggles to achieve agility

I regularly meet companies that are facing issues like above. Implementing the blue part of a transformation with tools, structures and methodologies is hard, but not the most difficult one. The biggest struggle companies face is the way people think and behave. Often, a new organization is built on the base of old information, without having an in-depth understanding of what business agility really means and asks of their employees. We like to change as fast as possible and tend to ignore that our brains simply can’t follow at the same speed. Telling people how to lead, behave and collaborate in this desired organization is not enough for our brains. It just doesn’t stick after a day or after a certification training.

Latest research of the Business Agility Institute shows that the top 5 challenges of companies face during their transformation are 1) the role of leadership, 2) change-management, 3) the impact on culture and 4) the shift to an agile mindset and 5) alignment in performance. The case for business agility is pretty clear to most companies. But how to get there? Is there a key to transform your organization and create agility? It is disappointing to say that there is not one recipe you can simply copy/paste. The good news is however, that there are different ways to accelerate business agility and sustainable growth in your organization. Underneath you find some distinct elements that gives you a good start to create a differentiating approach and experience on your journey to the future of work:


Explore the WHY

Although there are more companies out there delivering the same kind of products or services, your i.e. retail shop or insurance company is unique and not like any other . The blue ocean strategy learns us that no one is your competitor. If you focus on your competitor your playfield becomes very small. Focus on the big ocean and see all the possibilities. Collaborate and become strong. Start to find out how unique you are by identifying

  • The reason why you exist and what you are great at; What value do you have to give to customers, employees and society? What happens if you do no longer exist?
  • Care about and value; Which values, behaviours and principles are important to become who you want to be? What does that mean for you and all people of the organization?
  • What your collective purpose is – as people make your company; Collaborate with customers, employees and other stakeholders. Find out why customers buy your products or love your service. Why would they recommend you? Why is your company attractive to people and why do employees want to work with you?


Empower the HOW

Describing the purpose and the desired values, principles and behaviours is one thing. So now what?

Some of the elements you can take a closer look at are

  • Empower Rolemodeling – behaviours are not meant to be used as some nice decorating wallpaper. Your understanding of a WOW experience is probably totally different than that of your direct colleague. When you start describing desired behaviours, the entire organization has to start breathing and living these behaviours. Every leader, employee or team has to discover together what those new behaviours mean to them. 
  • Identify Constraints – new ways of working and thinking bring up new and different challenges. You change something in one department, that has effects on another. Existing old processes and programs do no longer fit. We can foresee a lot of challenges, but along the way we will probably meet far more or different challenges. Fix them step by step.
  • Empower different ways of communicating – let people explore how they want to work and communicate together. Business agility is about teams, about we instead of I. Use the intelligence of all people to create ideas, innovate and grow. Communicating is not talking but listening to the stories of all people in the organization to learn and improve.


Enable the WHAT

You can’t see what you do not expect. As a leader that means that you have to probe, sense and respond. Help teams to make decisions and enable them to do their work. The purpose is not only inspiring, it gives direction and also helps to make decisions on what to do and what not. 

  • Enable a Learning Organization – learning new behaviours, new ways of working and thinking needs training and experience. Our brains do not learn at school or from paper we need to experience it over and over again. Mentor, coach and build communities. Create an environment in which you share failures and successes, through the whole of the organization so everyone can learn from it and make it better.
  • Do not copy/paste what you’ve seen elsewhere – your organization is unique, has different employees, different products, different service and a different purpose. What seems to work somewhere else, does not always work the same in your company. Create an environment in which people are able to experiment, learn, align and improve continuously.


What does your future look like?

Purpose drive companies outperform the market by 5%–7% per year, on par with companies with best-in-class governance and innovative capabilities. (HBR 2019) Employees are 40% more engaged and 70% more satisfied about the work they deliver (Source E& Business Agility is not something you achieve by just changing a structure or implementing a new business model. It is a journey that impacts behaviour and mindset. It puts the whole organization upside down. Once you’ve experienced the flow and energy, there is no way back. The journey to the future of work and sustainable growth is exciting and never boring. The things you can do to make the change together with your employees are never ending.  

Going forward we cannot go back the old way. Going forward there is no new normal. There can always be something unexpected coming from the eco-system that has a major impact on our business and personal lives. Going forward we need to think beyond the structures and our own organization, department or teams. We have to reframe our brains and think of the system as a whole of which we are all part of. Going forward is a huge learning journey to the future of work in which we all have an important role to play and act upon. 

Ready to make that change and want to prepare or take the next steps to the future of work? For getting the help you are looking for and to learn more about how you can make it work for your organization or department, contact me.

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