What We Think

August 24, 2020

Doing vs being: lessons on building an agile organisation

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced organisations to take swift actions to address the manner in which the pandemic is affecting their business. When the COVID-19 outbreak evolved into a pandemic, organisations took drastic measures to try and protect both their business and their employees at very short notice.  

Being agile at an organisational level, entails shifting strategy, structures, changing processes, technology and people towards a new operating model. Research has shown that, during an enterprise agile transformation, it is very often transforming the culture and ways of working that proves to be the most difficult to get right. Other common challenges faced by organisations undergoing agile transformations are lack of proper leadership, establishment of a clear vision and implementation plan, insufficent resources and overcoming technological bottlenecks. Changing culture requires dedicated effort. Each organisation is unique and therefore requires its own culture to give life to its new agile operating model. The following are some trademarks of agile organisations.

  1. Specify the ‘from – to’

An important task for any organisation to undertake would be to determine the behavioural shifts the team would need to introduce to thrive in the new agile operating model. When leaders have identified these shifts, the ‘from – to’ expectations should be shared with all employees in order to ensure that the ‘from – tos’ are more than words on paper.

Oraganisations that manage to set clear and purposeful visions, ensuring that this vision is authentically bought into, from the bottom right through to the top, are in the best position to see through the change required to transform them into an agile organisation.

  1. Make it personal

To guarantee that changes take place both at an organisational and at a personal level, leaders need to nurture an agile mindset within their employees. The definition of an agile mindset will differ among senior leaders, middle managers and frontline staff and being agile will have different implications across the different roles. Change programmes that place personal transformation first, are often found to be more succesful. Afterall, orgnisations are built and led by their leaders and the way they think and the manner in which decisions are taken shapes every part of the organisation. This dynamic is amplified in agile organizations, which have an unusually high degree of openness and transparency.

  1. Cuturally engineer the achitecture

Supporting a new mindset and culture requires structures, processes and technology to be rethought to support behavioural expectations. For an organisation to thrive, the intended cultural change needs to be rooted in all elements of the business. The best-designed culture programme would fail if the surrounding context does not support or actually hinders new mindsets and behaviors.

  1. Monitor and learn

A core principle of agility is ongoing learning and improvement. Successful agile transformations have set out the importance of monitoring progress, assessing behavioural change and the effect this has on performance. Enabling a successful agile transformation requires a fundamental shift in culture. Organizations can be agile by changing their structure, processes, and technology. But they cannot be agile without changing the way people work and interact daily. Therefore, feedback mechanisms and in-built review programmes are a fundamental building block of agile organisations.

Agile organisations are designed for achieving both stability and dynamism, even though this might sound to be conflicting.  This balance between these two opposing forces will actually allow organisations to perpetually evolve.  Organisations adopting an agile operating model have the ability to quickly and efficiently reconfigure strategy, structure, process, people and technology towards value-creating and value-protecting opportunities. The pandemic is one of the many challenge of our times.  It is becoming increasingly clear that returning to a degree of normality will be a very long process and some structural changes will definitely leave their mark on most industries. It is precisely because of this, that organisations should transform into agile ones. Fortune will favour the bold, and the speedy.


This article first appeared in The Sunday Times

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