Do You Have an Agile Mindset?

Agile Mindset

Assess and Adapt Your Outlook to Thrive When Things Don’t Go As Planned

Whether you have been charged with helping your leaders, team or organization become more agile, are in the process of adopting agile methodologies, or simply recognize the need to be more effective in the midst of change, the starting place is the same: developing and reinforcing your agile mindset.

In previous posts and my book, The Agility Shift I have described this mindset as one that relies less on planning and more on preparing. This shift doesn’t mean that we need to throw planning out the window altogether, but that we recognize that in rapidly changing contexts we must approach our work with a readiness to learn and adapt.

The Agility Shift Book

Training, no matter if we are working out, or planning the future of our organization, means pushing performance to the next level.

 

For many of us, this represents a significant shift in perspective and mindset. Below are a few characteristics of this shift, along with a new resource for you to assess your current state of mind and begin your own agility shift:

An agile mindset welcomes discoveries.

An agile mindset welcomes new discoveries as an opportunity to improve and refine the work at hand rather than seeing them as a threat to anyone’s original idea, plan, value, identity, status, ego or any other barrier that can get in the way of innovation.

An agile mindset expects iteration.

Of course, iteration is at the heart of each sprint cycle in agile methodologies because developers of new software, products and services know that each iteration is an opportunity to test and learn. You don’t need to implement an agile methodology to understand the value of testing and learning. When you expect to iterate, you can hold your ideas and plans lightly, be open to new information, and fail, learn and innovate faster.

An agile mindset is responsive, not reactive.

You know the difference between being reactive and responsive if you have ever said or done something you later regretted. Reactivity is often guided by a knee-jerk impulse based on fear, defensiveness and the hard-wiring of our reptilian brain. Responsiveness can take place in the same amount of time, but includes a level of self-awareness and awareness of available resources, along with a rapid assessment of the situation and ability to prioritize effective action (or in some cases, inaction).

Most of us can’t honestly claim to have an agile mindset 100% of the time, especially under stress or in the midst of a high stakes challenge or opportunity. The stressed or anxious brain tends to revert to its familiar ways of thinking (at best) or go into full flight, freeze, or flight mode (at worst). Neither mode is particularly effective when innovation is our goal. The good news is that all of us can learn to make an agility shift to an agile mindset, even if it is not our first response.

The Agility Shift Book

An Agile Mindset Starts with Awareness.

The first step to making this agility shift is to become more aware of what you are experiencing when things don’t go as planned or when you discover new disruptive information.

I am excited to announce that we have added a mindset segment to the Agility Shift Inventory (ASI) to help you with this first step: Awareness.

As before, the individual ASI is complimentary. If you have taken the ASI in the past, I recommend you take a few minutes to take our 2.0 version. This version includes:

  • New survey questions designed to inventory your current agile mindset state
  • An updated Generative Conversation and Catalyst Guide with explanations and coaching questions to improve your mindset for effective action.
  • A chance to update your answers from the last time you took the inventory (remember, your results are highly contextual, so if your work setting/situation has changed since you last took it, your results will likely change as well).

Of course, if you have never taken the ASI, this is the perfect time to take it to start your journey to improved agility and innovation.

 

 

 

Leading Through Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA)

Leading Through VUCA

Leading Through Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity (VUCA)

Over the past few months, a number of companies have asked me to help their leaders lead in the midst of VUCA.  These organizations include a US-based company that is preparing for a possible, but not certain, merger and needs to continue to serve its customers, grow and innovate as it awaits approval. A European pharmaceutical company that is reorganizing to be even more responsive to the marketplace. A global financial services company that is adopting new technologies and leveraging AI to meet its increasingly tech-savvy customers’ expectations.

Most likely you are familiar with the acronym that stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity and was first used by the US Army War College to describe the contemporary battlefield. Today VUCA is widely used in the changing landscape of business.

 

For each of these above scenarios and many more, business success depends on the ability to compete in a rapidly changing climate.

The Agility Shift starts with expanding our understanding of what it means to be a leader.

 

Everybody is a Leader in a VUCA Environment

When things are changing rapidly, there is no time to run every challenge or opportunity up through the chain of command.

As I define in The Agility Shift, “an agile leader is anyone who spots a challenge or opportunity and effectively responds”. This definition expands the understanding of leadership from the command and control model of yesterday to one focused on communication, collaboration and coordination. No longer is leadership designated by your job title, compensation package or place in the org chart. In VUCA environments, everyone is a leader. Everyone must be empowered to act to serve the customer and the needs of the business.

 

Which Aspect of VUCA Do You Prioritize?

To understand the leadership implications of VUCA, you need to identify which of the four characteristics are most relevant to your current situation. The matrix below, first proposed by Bennet and Lemoine (2014) may help begin to identify your leadership priorities:

Leading through VUCA

VUCA Examples

Ambiguity

  • Moving into a new market
  • Launching a new product, creating a new strategic alliance
  • Expanding beyond your core competencies
  • Big leadership or organizational changes

Complexity

  • Doing business in global markets
  • Multiple stakeholders with competing or shifting  priorities
  • Multiple brands, products, supply chains, distribution channels

Uncertainty

  • Competition is launching a new product/service and the impact on the market not known
  • Merger/Acquisition MAY be on the horizon
  • Proposed legislation/regulations MAY be adopted.

Volatility

  • Natural disaster
  • Supply chain disruption
  • Labor dispute
  • Technology breach
  • Geopolitical instability
  • PR/Ethics Scandal

Of course, each of the four characteristics of VUCA rarely happens in isolation. For example, you might be experiencing volatility and complexity at the same time (A sudden change in leadership at the same time as your competitor launches a new product).

Think about which of these examples and characteristics, or VUCA combinations, best describes the eco-system in which you do business.

Which VUCA characteristics are most relevant to the challenges and opportunities you are confronting in your organization? Department? Your role as a leader?

Make Shift Happen

Now that you have identified the characteristics of VUCA that are most relevant to your current situation and before you start thinking about specific strategies and tactics to be effective, it is time to make the mindset shift to ensure you are setting yourself up for success.

 

Mindset Shift: From Planning to Preparing

In stable contexts, we can rely on the tried and true practices of planning and analysis. When the future, not to mention the present, is uncertain and unpredictable, we must make a mindset shift toward preparing and enter a state of readiness.

Just as improv performers, athletes, and SWAT teams train and prepare for various high-stakes, high-stress scenarios, you can expand your capability and capacity to be effective when things don’t go as planned.

The best practices below fall into two key and interdependent categories: 1) People and talent development strategies and 2) Systems and processes. They are interdependent because you can have the best systems and processes in the world and if you have not developed your people to make the necessary mindset and skill set shift, you will be disappointed in their performance when it counts most.

Leading Through VUCA Best Practices

As you read the following best practices for leading through VUCA, pay particular attention to those that are within your span of control or influence.

Volatility

Characterized by an unpredictable, unstable situation, though not necessarily complicated. Information is available as events unfold.

  • Train for role elasticity and develop “generalizing specialists.”
  • Improve decision-speed
  • Build redundancy into your system and build slack into the supply chain
  • Leverage technology and alternative strategies to ensure continuous communication
  • Regularly train for various disruptions, and ID needed skills, knowledge, and talent
  • Tap your hi-potentials for temporary assignments

Uncertainty

Characterized by a lack of key actionable information, such as timing, duration, cause and effect.

  • Tap your Relational Web to:
    • Reduce uncertainty
    • Gather additional information and insight, including customer data, market analytics
    • Improve access to market insights via resources like slack and yammer
    • Reflect on and share experiences of successfully working through uncertainty
  • Identify the givens of the current situation and focus on what is within your span of control
  • Provide or seek career-pathing and “stay interviews” so you can identify people’s interests and strengths to keep them engaged
  • Implement agile performance appraisals and regularly provide feedback and acknowledge agile success

Complexity

Characterized by an overwhelming amount of information, interconnected or moving parts and relationships.

  • Improve communication, collaboration and coordination
  • Clarify decision-rights
  • Adapt organizational structure and expertise to match the complexity of the context
  • Identify people who have strengths and experience in dealing with complexity
  • Recruit and develop people who can thrive in complexity (See The Agility Shift, chapters 8-9).

Ambiguity

Characterized by a lack of information and precedent, making the ability to predict the impact of actions a challenge.

  • Create (some) clarity
  • Make space for interactions
  • Re-engage and recommit to your purpose
  • Understand and prioritize user needs
  • Focus on your MVP (Minimal Viable Product)
  • Practice rapid prototyping to fail faster and learn quicker
  • Experiment and pilot to discover what you don’t know
  • Make time to learn the lessons from experience and carry them forward

These ideas are not intended as a prescription for the issues and opportunities that are most pressing for you and your fellow agile leaders. They will help get the conversation started and lead to thoughtful strategic and tactical approaches that build your competence, capacity, and confidence to effectively lead through VUCA.

 

Bennett, J. and Lemoine, G., (2014) What VUCA Really Means for You, Harvard Business Review, January-February Issue.

 

Developing Agile Employees Who Can Thrive in the Age of VUCA

Relational WebWritten by Pamela Meyer, PhD

By now VUCA is common language for the Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity of business. The term originated at the US Army War College to describe the changing conditions on the battlefield, and its wider usage now serves as a call to action for all those who wish to be more agile and effective in an increasingly complex global world.

How should we prepare the workforce?

It would be a mistake to lump all aspects of VUCA together, as volatility calls for a different response than ambiguity. Yet, when it comes to developing employees who perform effectively in the midst of the unplanned and unexpected, there is a universal need to shift the way we prepare the workforce.

Most employee development strategies assume a stable future and that the skills and knowledge learned today can be readily applied to tomorrow’s conditions. VUCA challenges those assumptions and urgently calls for new approaches and strategies to develop employees at all levels of the organization who can learn and adapt in changing contexts—in other words, employees who are not only agile but are learning agile. Recent research on learning agility, as well as lessons from those preparing for such diverse roles as those on SWAT teams; and improv troupes, can guide us in developing a more agile workforce.

Rather than develop competence and confidence to execute a set plan or follow a script, agile individuals train to be effective in the midst of the unexpected and unplanned developments and are prepared to adjust in rapidly changing conditions. For most businesses and their employees, this represents a significant shift, one I have come to call the Agility Shift. It begins with a shift in mindset and follows through to a shift in how employees make decisions and the actions they take.

 

The Agility Shift

For film crews, SWAT, and improv teams very little of their ability to think on their feet comes from classroom training or their formal credentials. They develop their agility competence and confidence in hands-on and often high-stakes situations. Similarly, helping employees develop their agility competence and confidence requires a shift away from traditional approaches that rely primarily on pre-planned curricula, delivered via a range of onsite or online channels toward more informal learning strategies, where 70-90% of workplace learning takes place (Kim, Hagedorn, and Collins et al., 2001).

Below I highlight six of the most impactful shifts you and your learning and talent development team can make below:

1. Shift From Planning to Preparing

Most business schools and training programs are effective in helping people analyze data, develop and execute a plan. They are less successful in helping them quickly turn unexpected challenges into opportunities, or improvise with available resources. VUCA conditions require a shift away from an over-reliance on the plan, to one that focuses on preparing employees to think on their feet and be confident in their ability to respond to the unexpected.

Improvisers don’t rehearse, because of course, there is nothing to re-hear, but they do regularly get together to workout by playing games and improvising new scenes. SWAT teams similarly prepare for hundreds of scenarios, which not only expands their repertoire of responses but also their individual and team confidence when they encounter the completely unexpected.

2. Shift From Information to Interactions

In my work with organizations, I discovered that the agility shift also requires employees who can quickly tap their web of relationships and resources, or their “Relational Web,” to respond to new challenges and opportunities. Information is, of course, still valuable; its value, however, is realized through the interactions between and among employees as they make sense of what is happening, and then decide, and take action based on their sense-making. Researchers Beckey and Okhuysen’s study of film crews shows the value of the Relational Web, which includes awareness of available resources, a social-professional network, as well as past experience. On a film shoot, time is money. With hundreds of variables on any given day, from the weather to equipment failure to illness, everyone on the crew must be prepared to adapt, switch roles, and make optimal use of available resources. The time to discover and build this Relational Web is not in the midst of a crisis but through their day-to-day interactions.

3. Shift From Command and Control to Communication, Coordination, and Collaboration

This third component of the agility shift has significant implications for employee development, and even organizational structure. Agile teams and organizations do not miss opportunities or slow their response time because they are waiting for approval, or waiting for someone with the correct job description to become available. Like their improvising counterparts in the theater, they communicate, coordinate and collaborate in the present moment. This means shifting the focus of employee development from narrowly defined skills and knowledge to creating what IT consultant Scott Ambler calls “generalizing specialists” (2014) who can communicate, collaborate, and coordinate whenever and with whomever to respond to unpredictable challenges and opportunities as they arise.

4. Share Responsibility for Learning and Employee Development

In addition to the mindset and strategy shift described above, the agility shift also requires that the responsibility for learning and employee development be shared across organizational roles, especially by the employees themselves. This means helping employees become more learning agile. Just as healthy people don’t abdicate responsibility for their wellness because they have access to doctors, we don’t want our employees to give up responsibility for their learning and growth because the company offers training resources.

Learning agile employees take responsibility for their own learning. They are not only effective at thinking on their feet, but they are also able to quickly tap their prior experience to be successful in new and unfamiliar situations. This ability first gained the attention of Morgan McCall, Michael Lombardo, and Ann Morrison in the late 80s when they studied the significant learning experiences of more than 190 executives. They found that the key to success within a complex organization was the ability to manage something new without having to master it first (McCall, Morgan, and Lombardo, 1988). Learning agility is now widely cited as a critical success factor for long-term leadership success (De Meuse, Dai, and Hallenbeck, 2010).

5. Shift From Formal to Informal Development Strategies

Coach employees to seek out stretch opportunities. Studies of successful executives highlight the value of taking on new roles that stretch employees outside of their comfort zone. These can include expanded responsibilities, a broader scope of current responsibilities (e.g., from managing a team to a full department, or a distributed global team) and/or working in a new culture.

6. Shift From Planning and Analysis to Rapid Prototyping

You don’t need to be a software developer to experiment with some of the concepts of agile methodology. Many organizations, such as Ericsson, are using lessons from agile methodologies throughout their organization to shorten product development time and increase profits.

Rather than develop a detailed plan up front, agile developers collaborate with their customers (who may be internal) to agree on the objectives and prioritize product features. They then move into action in short work cycles to get working versions of the product (idea, project) into the hands of the customer or end-user as soon as possible to test, setting in motion an action-feedback cycle that greatly reduces the implementation time.

Shifting your employee development strategies must include a shift in how and what you recognize and reward. The best success indicator for the agile employee is not only whether or not they meet their sales goals or implemented the strategic plan effectively, but it is also how effective they are when things didn’t go as planned, or when they are thrown into a new situation with little or no preparation. By including indicators of agile performance in your evaluation and recognition programs, you will reinforce the mindset and behavior shift needed for success in a VUCA world.

The ideas in this article are adapted from my latest book The Agility Shift: Creating Agile Leaders, Teams and Organizations.

 

Ambler, Scott W. (2014). Generalizing specialists: Improving your IT career skills. Agile Modeling. Retrieved November 19, 2014, 2014, from http://agilemodeling.com/essays/generalizingSpecialists.htm

Bennett, Nathan, & Lemoine, G. James. (2014). What VUCA really means for you. Harvard Business Review, 92(1/2), 27.

De Meuse, Kenneth P., Dai, Guangrong, & Hallenbeck, George S. (2010). Learning agility: A construct whose time has come. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 62(2), 119-130. doi: 10.1037/a0019988

Kim, K., Hagedorn, Collins, Williamson, J., & Chapman, C. (2004). Participation in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning: 2000–01. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

McCall, Morgan W., Lombardo, Michael M., & Morrison, Ann M. (1988). Lessons of experience: How successful executives develop on the job. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Mitchinson, Adam, & Morris, Robert (2012). Learning about learning agility. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership, Teachers College Columbia University.

Tap the Agile Power of Your Relational Web

Tap the Agile Power of Your Relational Web

By Pamela Meyer, PhD with contributions from Nick Freiling, Director of PeopleFish

Over the past two years, we have collected and analyzed almost 1,000 Agility Shift Inventories (ASI) from people working in organizations large and small, across industries and nations. Each individual who takes the ASI receives a snapshot of their current agility capacity and opportunities, based on their answers. They also receive our complimentary Agility Shift Catalyst and Conversation Guide, that provides a series of reflective questions and action steps to help them begin to make their own individual agility shift.

While individuals are using their results to expand their own agility competence, capacity and confidence, we have been aggregating and analyzing the anonymized results looking for additional trends and actionable insights to help our clients reach their business goals.

Our Surprising/Not so Surprising Finding

One of the first things that caught our attention was how significant a role an individual’s Relational Web plays as a predictor of their overall agility. If you are new to the six dynamics of The Agility Shift, the Relational Web is your web of skills, knowledge, talent, and resources that you need to be able to tap at a moment’s notice when things don’t go as planned or when a new opportunity emerges.

Understanding the Dynamics of Your Relational Web

The Relational Web is woven into each of the other five dynamics of agility and is at the center of the Agility Shift model, for a reason. All of my prior research and experience helping organizations become more agile and innovative showed a link between the size and diversity of the Relational Web to individuals, teams and the entire organization’s ability to be agile.

We were surprised and excited by additional correlations we found between an individual’s Relational Web and other agility-enhancing behaviors. For example, those who report intentionally making and building connections that expand their Relational Web are also significantly more likely to practice other key behaviors linked to overall agility. These include evaluating the diversity of relationships to ensure access to multiple perspectives, effectively making sense and meaning of what is happening when things don’t go as planned, and intentionally becoming aware of new resources in the environment.

The graphic below highlights some of the most interesting and actionable correlations.

These findings align with other recent research, such as the Google study of 180 of their teams, in which they found that the most successful teams had leaders with the largest and most diverse social networks (one aspect of the Relational Web). These leaders were also intentional about making and building their connections by doing things like regularly rotating who they ate lunch with.

We have long known of the importance of networking for career success. Our latest findings highlight the value of consistently and intentionally weaving a dynamic Relational Web for sustained agility.

So What? Turning Insight into Action

Whether you are a sole practitioner, individual contributor, or a leader with hundreds of reports there are things you can do to turn these latest insights into positive action:

Expand your awareness and access to available resources. Attend (or organize) meet and greets for new colleagues. Learn about emerging technologies or other relevant developments in your environment.

Build meaningful connections with other people. This goes beyond sending and accepting LinkedIn invites. It means understanding the value of building connections that are founded on more than their transactional or operational value.

Participate in informal networks and affinity groups. Whether in a focused Community of Practice or simply a community, you can connect and build relationships and share resources with others who share your passion for continuous growth and learning.

Review your on-boarding experience with the RW in mind—does it help people discover who does what, become familiar with available resources, build relationships?

Seek and provide opportunities to expand your/your employees Relational Web and organize/participate in:

  • Volunteer projects
  • Job shadowing/mentoring programs
  • Recreational activities
  • Off-sites
  • Industry, vendor or practice-area conferences
  • Lunch & Learns

In coming weeks, I will share more actionable insights from our research. In the meantime, I invite you to inventory your own agility capacity by setting aside a few minutes to take the complimentary Agility Shift Inventory.

We have also developed a Team version of the ASI designed to give your entire team or department actionable insights for building on their strengths to improve agility and overall business results. Our clients find this resource particularly valuable to jumpstart agility, or to help their team lay the foundation for success whether they are adopting agile project management methodology, or simply wanting to improve overall success. Click here to learn more about the Team ASI, or contact us here.

How Fit is Your Business? Part 5: Endurance

How Fit is Your Business? Part 5: Endurance

Endurance, the final of the five fitness indicators in the “How Fit is Your Business?” metaphor is a measure of sustained success, perseverance, and resilience.

Have you built systems, processes and a culture that supports sustained success?

Earlier this year many of us in North America were treated to a full out deep freeze, followed by the bomb cyclone hitting the east coast. This and my own love (and I know I am in the minority here) of winter weather has me thinking a lot about “hardiness”. Something I admire about my fellow winter sports enthusiasts is their consistent, good natured heartiness. They inspire me and in my own quest to emulate them, I came across some research on “endurance work,” which is an academic term that closely parallels heartiness, and is “defined as the ability to keep going (physically and mentally) in the face of pain, discomfort and suffering, including as a celebrated cultural practice in endurance sports such as triathlon and distance running”  (Allen-Collinson, Crust, & Swann, 2017, p. 4).

How to Be Hardy. In their study of the endurance work of high altitude mountaineers, the authors found that their participants drew on their past lived experiences of pushing past their pain and exhaustion (their embodied experience), as well as an ability to make intentional cognitive choices to push on by thinking about all they had invested in their goal and the goal itself (in this case, summiting). This is the intentional practice of endurance work and “Mountaineers must learn how to interpret sensations in order to render them meaningful, before responding to them” (Allen-Collinson, Crust, & Swann, p. 8). 

When Not to Endure. Like all guiding principles, endurance is not an absolute. Experienced climbers also know when “not to endure”. In fact, it is key to their survival. They learn to assess their bodies and the external conditions, as well as their fellow climbers to know when pushing on would be too risky—either for themselves or their fellow climbers. All too often leaders and their businesses fail because they could not adapt their goal based on new information or discoveries.

Endurance is intentional work. Yes, it requires mental toughness, but also mindful presence and the ability to fully experience and interpret subtle cues from our bodies and environment. Endurance also demands the ability to draw on past experiences of times when we forged ahead and pushed beyond previous limits, and our ability to refocus on our value and meaning in reaching our goals. Without a clear purpose, it is difficult to forge ahead when you encounter formidable challenges and obstacles.

Lessons for Leading Agile Teams

Leaders of agile teams must develop the capacity for endurance work, as well, and know when to push their teams to new levels, and when to make adjustments. They must be able to quickly assess whether or not the project pace is sustainable. If it is not, they likely need to adjust by either adding more people to the team or dialing back the amount of work they are attempting to accomplish during each work cycle or sprint.

  • How do you and your team assess your current capacity for endurance?
  • What indicators do you monitor that signal your need to adapt and adjust your team(s), workload and/or workforce?

Athletes know that their quest for success cannot lead to burnout, though all too often organizational leaders overlook their team’s capacity to endure. Ignore it at your peril. Attending and attuning to our individual and team endurance and the practices that can sustain it is a critical dimension of organizational fitness. 

Turn Challenges into Opportunities 

I have written about my passion for amateur alpine ski racing and some of the agility lessons I have learned out on the slopes. On some of the coldest days, including a day in January

Enduring sub-zero temps on race day

when the wind chill hovered between 10-15 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, I’ll admit that I was tempted to hunker down and stay cozy. And yet, I had signed up for two days of racing in Wisconsin. In the spirit of practicing what I preach and turning challenges into opportunities, I got out there and used it as an opportunity to work on my own heartiness.

The author sporting the spoils of endurance

I’m not suggesting winter sports are for everyone, however, I am challenging you to think about how you can develop your own and your team’s endurance and heartiness.

What practices do you, or could you, experiment with to enhance your ability to “keep going.”?

How Fit is Your Business? Part 4: Speed & Mobility

How Fit is Your Business? Part 4: Speed & Mobility

Many day-to-day business responsibilities and operations are routine. In order to be prepared for the unexpected, we must constantly scan the environment for new opportunities and challenges.  Responsiveness, Competitiveness and, Innovation are key components of an organizations Speed and Mobility.

How Fit is Your Business?Are you and your workforce able to move quickly with the needs of the market?

 

Flexibility is not one in the same with speed and mobility as discussed earlier, physical flexibility enables broader access to your strengths. Therefore, you need to be flexible in order to move. You also have to be ready which is where speed and mobility enter.

Readiness is the Capacity for Speed and Mobility

Military troops are ready when they can be quickly mobilized to respond to an emergent need. Similarly, your workforce is ready when it can rapidly mobilize to respond to a new opportunity, a shift in the market, or even a crisis.

In The Agility Shift, I describe the events that revealed a significant gap between competitors Nokia and Ericsson’s ability to mobilize. A fire in an Albuquerque, NM semiconductor plant caused a supply chain disruption for a crucial component on which both cell phone manufacturers depended. Nokia was ready to quickly mobilize in response to the crisis, while Ericsson was not, leading to significant losses and a drop in their market share. Sometimes it takes a crisis to prioritize agility. In recent years, Ericsson has done this across its enterprise with impressive results. The good news is that you and your business can benefit from the lessons learned by others and develop your readiness by attending to these critical areas:

  • Communication, Collaboration and Coordination
  • Surface Exposure
  • Decision Speed
  • Time to Market

Four Ways to Improve Your Speed and Mobility

Improve Communication, Collaboration and Coordination. Speed and mobility require competence, as well as systems and processes for what I have identified as the three Cs of agility: 

communication, collaboration and coordination.

Often cited for its agility, fashion retailer Zara is able to respond to changing trends and customer tastes at a regional and even store level. With an integrated supply chain and innovative systems and processes to monitor sales and feedback, Zara is able to get new fashions from

 concept to retail racks in a matter of weeks. Are you making optimal use of your existing systems and processes to maximize the three Cs?  

Increase Your Surface Exposure.  One of your first priorities to improve speed and mobility is to increase what researchers Christopher Worley and Edward Lawler call “surface exposure.” (2010). Surface exposure is the degree to which members of your organization are exposed to feedback and new developments in the marketplace. Zara has developed sophisticated channels and practices for just this purpose. Another of my clients uses Slack to monitor social media and other feedback channels in real time and immediately discuss them across product development, marketing, and customer service. In these examples it is not enough to monitor the information; your team must have the commitment and capability to digest and rapidly respond. How can you increase your surface exposure and responsiveness to the feedback it provides?

Improve Decision Speed.  Agile systems and processes have little value if the ideas and input they channel get lost in a maze of confusion and enervation. Numerous studies have linked fast decision speed with organizational performance and growth. Agile organizations empower their employees to make decisions on the spot, especially when they directly affect business results. Don’t let your fear of losing control deter you from improving decision speed. Rather, use it as motivation to clarify decision rights throughout your team or organization. This recent HBR article on decision making provides an excellent guide. Are your employees empowered to quickly make decisions that can impact business results?

Improve Time to Market.  You will have a hard time sustaining your results if your competitors beat you to the market with new products and services. A study by Salesforce.com found that developers using agile methodologies improved their time to market by 61%. Rather than adopt all of the elements of agile methodologies, especially if you are not in the software business,  you can significantly improve your timing by shifting your mindset and business practices with many lessons learned from agile pioneers. I distill and translate many of these lessons for wider application in The Agility Shift.

What business practices, systems, and processes do you have in place to increase your speed and mobility in response to shifts in your market?

How Fit Is Your Business Part 3: Balance

How Fit is Your Business? Part 3: Balance

In Part 2 of this series, we discovered that in business, FLEXIBILITY provides the ability to use core strengths to adapt and respond effectively to both challenges and opportunities. BALANCE, the focus of Part 3 of my “How Fit is Your Business?” series, plays a key role in identifying and leveraging those opportunities.

 Does your organization have access to a diverse network of skills, knowledge, talent, and resources to respond to opportunities and challenges as they arise?

With the Winter Olympics upon us, I am appreciating more than ever how balance is necessary for success in all competitive sports. Just watch Mikeala Shiffrin dance through a slalom course, or Nathan Chen leap into another quadruple jump on ice, landing perfectly on one foot, and you will see what I mean. You would be hard-pressed to name a sport where balance was not a key success factor.

Dynamic Balance in Action

Author, Practicing Dynamic Balance

We understand balance, in physical terms, as not just the ability to maintain equilibrium and focus, but to regain balance during the countless times it will be disrupted. For me, as a Masters Alpine Racer, slalom offers the greatest opportunity to practice this aspect of balance. It is the most technical of the alpine events, as the gates are set the closest together, requiring high-speed shifts in direction and balance. The event is sometimes referred to as “a series of linked recoveries”.  The skiers that excel are not necessarily those who never lose their balance, but those that master the art of recovering it.

What Does Balance Look Like in Your Organization?

By using the fitness metaphor, we can move beyond purely metric-based approaches to balance, such as Balanced Scorecard, the strategic and performance management system, and inspire fresh thinking and practices.

In this post, I highlight three key aspects of organizational balance.

  • Stability: Identifying gaps in your Relational Web
  • Reflection: Identifying Growth Opportunities
  • Quality of Life: Making Time for Work, Play and Rest

Stability: Identifying Gaps in your Relational Web

One of the keys to sustained business success is implementing management practices, systems, and processes that balance Flexibility and Stability. Both are essential, though many leaders mistake stability for control when, in fact, stability is dynamic (just watch one of the Olympic mogul competitions to see what I mean).

Rather than being static, balance is the ability to make countless adjustments and adaptations while maintaining focus on a clear vision or goal.

One of the most effective ways to ensure the capacity to make those adjustments while making forward progress is to weave a robust Relational Web. Like the spider web that inspires it, your Relational Web has the capacity to expand and strengthen as conditions require. It consists of your web of skills, knowledge, talent, and resources that you need to be able to tap at a moment’s notice when things don’t go as planned or when a new opportunity emerges.

While your web is more than your social network, it includes it, and for good reason. A recent study of 180 teams at Google found that the most productive had leaders with the largest and most diverse social networks. How did they build those networks? One notable strategy was to consistently rotate their lunch partners.

Too often, we stay within our comfort zone socially, or tend to stay within familiar experiences. Comfort is wonderful in reinforcing and confirming our value, but it does little to expose us to new knowledge, perspectives or resources.

Learn How to Identify Gaps in Your Relational Web

Identify the gaps in your Relational Web to ensure that you have the balance to be effective when things don’t go as planned. Take a few minutes to consider if you have ready resources for when you need to:

  • Create a solution for, or resolve an unfamiliar customer issue
  • Learn a new technology
  • Make sense of a complex situation (business, interpersonal, political/governmental, other)
  • Deal with a difficult interpersonal/cross-cultural situation
  • Pursue a new idea or opportunity
  • Understand a change in business strategy
  • Change course in response to a market, regulatory or other external shift

Very likely, if you thought about specific people and resources you might tap for each occurrence, you discovered some gaps in your Relational Web, or found that the same names popped up more than once. Identifying the gaps in your Relational Web is the first step to expanding and strengthening it for more stability. You can find more ideas and strategies to do just this in The Agility Shift.

Reflection: Identifying Growth Opportunities

This series began with an invitation and guide to reflect on your organization’s Strengths. This practice is both energizing and Strength-building, as the reflection process itself can help amplify your assets and inspire leaders at all levels of your organization to

The Agility Shift Book

Training, no matter if we are working out, or planning the future of our organization, means pushing performance to the next level.

live into them more fully. Often, a renewed appreciation for your strengths as individual leaders, teams and as an organization as a whole is enough to inspire innovative solutions to previously vexing issues.

Strength reflections can also lead to the discovery of new growth opportunities. For example, as you reflect on recent successes and look ahead to your aspirations to the year ahead, consider:

  • What new strategic alliances or partnerships could help you reach your goals?
  • What new learning approaches or resources will be needed?
  • What new skills, knowledge and talent will you need to foster internally or externally?
  • What leadership qualities do you want to recognize and reinforce? How will you do that in a way that positively builds on your culture?

These are just a few reflections that can lead to generative ideas and action for more Balance in the year ahead. Athletes and businesses alike must regularly shift their development focus based on current needs and long-term goals. Expect this to be a dynamic process. For example, in any given time period you may need to shift your focus from strength to flexibility, or from endurance (the topic of Part Five in our series) or to balance, itself.

 

Quality of Life: Making Time for Work, Play and Rest

It’s not balanced if it’s not sustainable. As innovators, we are all biased towards action. This can be our blessing and our curse. Balance is as much about effective resting and playing, as it is about effective action.

I have written extensively about the need to create space (literal, social, psychological, emotional and metaphorical) for play in my book, From Workplace to Playspace. Playspace is the space for the play of new ideas, for people to play new roles, for improvised play and for more play in the system. It is not necessarily about the “funny hats and games” kind of play, though I admit to being a fan of spontaneous silliness in the right context. Playspace is essential for any agile system. If there is no room for play, there is no room for responding effectively to the unexpected because both require space to maneuver.

Play and playspace also provide an opportunity to rejuvenate, which we all need to stay in balance!

No System Can Sustain Itself Without Rest

There is no shortage of research cataloging the diminishing returns of overworking.  When we are regularly pushed beyond capacity, our minds, bodies, and spirits lose their ability to be effective, let alone to be creative and agile. Balance includes a healthy dose of rest to off-set all of that activity. The occasional all-hands-on-deck marathon in response to a crisis or opportunity is to be expected. If it becomes business as usual, expect to see a drop off in productivity and innovation, not to mention in the engagement and retention of your top talent.

It may be tempting to concentrate all of your organizational fitness strategy on activity because that is when it feels like things are really getting done (and who doesn’t love getting things done?!). However, sustainable success includes balancing all of that action with Rest and Play as part of your organizational fitness strategy.

In the next post of this series, I will explore the fourth “fit” business indicator: Speed and Mobility. 

How Fit is Your Business? Part 2 Flexibility

How Fit is Your Business? Part 2: Flexibility

In Part 1 of this series, we’ve already learned that keeping your business “Fit” will keep your moves agile. Agility, along with adaptability and resourcefulness, are the keys to maintaining our next business performance indicator: Flexibility.

Have you developed the competence and capacity to adapt when things don’t go as planned?

Remember, strength and flexibility are interconnected.  The more flexible you are physically the more access you have to the strength in the entire length of your muscles. However, too much flexibility without strength can lead to instability. 

In the gym, if we only concentrate on strength, our muscle fibers shorten and limit our flexibility and range of motion (you’ve heard of the term ‘muscle-bound’), which can lead to injury.

In business, flexibility means being able to use your core strengths to adapt to and respond effectively to both challenges and opportunities.

This is the essence of what I have come to call The Agility Shift. Without the capacity for agility, no business can sustain its relevance or results.

Practice Flexibility

Just as our bodies need intentional practices to maintain flexibility, so do our organizations. Without intention, the muscles in our bodies and our organizations will atrophy.

We can all name brands, businesses, even entire industries that allowed their success to lull them into believing that they did not need to continue to adapt and innovate. Most athletes know they are only as good as their most recent competition. This knowledge motivates them to jump right back into the gym soon after a successful competition.  

Continuous training means you are always pushing performance to the next level, no matter whether you are working out or planning the future of your organization .

How Can You and Your Organization Become More Flexible in 2018?

I highlight several ways highly flexible and innovative organizations stay that way in my books From Workspace to Playspace and The Agility Shift. It starts with a mindset shift and extends to shifts in the ways you work and do business, as well as how you implement and use highly adaptable systems and processes.

One of the best ways to improve collaboration and flexibility only takes a few minutes.  Try it the next time you meet with your team. Kick off your meeting with a quick improv or agility exercise, here is one of my favorites.

Where and how do you and your team “work out” to maintain your strength and flexibility to meet the next opportunity?

How Fit is Your Business? Part 1 Strength

How Fit is Your Business? Part 1: Strength

Keeping Your Business “Fit” Will Keep Your Moves Agile!  

As you regroup and refocus on goals for the coming year, I will use fitness as both a metaphor and framework to help inspire some fresh thinking and approaches.

Illustrated by the “How Fit is Your Business?” graphic to the right, each of the next several posts will explore a new dimension of fitness: Strength, Flexibility, Balance, Speed and Mobility and Endurance.

Remember these are all necessary components of physical fitness and as you work toward your personal goals, consider giving your organizational fitness the same attention. Let’s start with Strength!

 

 

 

Strength: Do you know your strengths and consistently build on and leverage them?

As with personal fitness, organizational fitness begins with strength. The core muscles of a fit organization are:    

  • Vision, Mission, Values           

    Strength is just one of the five indicators that describe athletic, as well as workplace success. Click here for all five.

  • Core Competencies
  • Relevance

Just like the muscles in our body, our organizational strengths run throughout our entire system. Hence, strength doesn’t come to us just by purchasing a gym membership (if only it were so!), it comes from building a routine and continuous practice.

Strength alone, of course, does not amount to fitness; it must be developed along with the other aspects. If you have ever seen someone who only spends their time in the weight lifting section of the gym, you know what I mean. This is where the term muscle-bound comes from.

Focusing only on strength can literally bind your joints and inhibit your full range of motion. Strength and flexibility enhance each other. Stretching the muscles actually allows for access to the power of the whole length of the muscle fiber. Shorter muscles, would mean less strength and a smaller range of motion.  Simply focusing on flexibility without strength can lead to a total lack of stability.

Translate this to the capacity of individual leaders, teams and even entire organizations and the same is true: Only focusing on one or two core competencies (e.g. efficiency) without learning continuously to stay relevant to the changing needs and opportunities in the market limits your ultimate competitive strength.

Consequently, being overly responsive without attention to your core strengths can quickly lead to organizational instability.

If you have not already identified your strengths and core competencies, NOW is the perfect time.

 

The activity outlined below can be an individual reflection, or a more comprehensive growth opportunity for your team or entire organization. Start with an appreciative reflection on this past year and ask:

 

  •      When was I or were we at our best? (When were we best engaging our talent and having the biggest impact?)
  •      What was happening?
  •      What were we doing, thinking and feeling?
  •      How did we work together or tap our resources for the greatest impact?
  •      What contributed the most to our success?

Next, give yourself time to reflect on your answers and, if you are doing this as a team or organization, provide a chance for team members to interview their colleagues and compile their responses into themes.

Finally, with your strengths in hand, generate ideas for how you can be more intentional in developing and building on these strengths in the new year.

For example, if one of your strengths is cross-departmental collaboration and communication or working with strategic partners, how might you improve on this in 2018?

Agile Organizations Are Fit Organizations – How Fit is Your Business?

How Fit is Your Business?

Halloween, Thanksgiving, Holiday Parties, oh my! The fall and winter months are truly an indulgent time of year.

Really it’s no wonder that by New Year’s Eve “getting fit” is often the first thing on our minds!

As a result, many of us, make time to check in on personal health and well-being. I’ve found that it’s   effective to ask similar questions about our businesses and organizations.  You likely have  a vision, a mission, and proven values but is your organization truly fit for the year ahead?

Health and Fitness is the Key

The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease” (2006).  Fitness is variously characterized as a healthy balance of strength, flexibility, balance (at least for most athletes), speed and/or mobility, and endurance.  It turns out, these same characteristics lead to fit organizations!

Many day-to-day business responsibilities and operations are routine, but in order to be prepared for the unexpected and unplanned, we must constantly scan the environment for new opportunities and challenges.  

Keeping Your Business “Fit” Will Keep

Your Moves Agile!  

Get Well. Stay Well.

The connection between individual and organizational health is more than a metaphor. All you need to do is think of a time when you let your own health and well-being practices slip. Perhaps you were in a stressful period of work, or recent travels disrupted your exercise routine and healthy eating habits.

While we might be able to ride out such a disruption for a short time, we all know that longer stretches can create bad habits and take a toll.  In the long term, attending to our health and fitness prevents illness, injury, and maintains mental and emotional health.

In other words, we might be able to maintain our performance over a short stretch—to meet a project deadline, respond to a crisis, or get through a significant disruption—but our capacity to perform long-term demands requires constant attention to our organizational fitness, just as does our personal health and fitness does.

The Common Denominator is Performance!

 

Over the next few weeks I will share more about how these five key indicators describe athletic, as well as workplace success and how, as we kick off a new year with positive intentions and new possibilities, you can attend to both. In previous posts, I refer to these as intentional practices.

From Personal Fitness to Organizational Fitness

In the graphic above I introduce a few ways each of the dimensions of physical fitness extend to organizational fitness.

Each of the fitness indicators are interrelated. If you have ever witnessed someone  spend all of their time in the weight lifting section of the gym, you know what I mean. This is actually where the term muscle-bound comes from.

Focusing only on strength can literally bind your joints and your ability to have a full range of motion. Consequently, strength and flexibility enhance each other. Stretching the muscles actually allows for access to the power of the whole length of the muscle fiber. Shorter muscles, mean less strength and a smaller range of motion. While only focusing on flexibility without strength can lead to a total lack of stability.

 

Translate this to the capacity of individual leaders, teams and even entire organizations and the same is true. Only focusing on one or two core competencies without continuously staying relevant to the changing needs and opportunities in the market limits your ultimate competitive strength. At the same time, being overly responsive to changes in the market without attention to your core strengths can quickly lead to organizational instability.

In the coming weeks, I will take a closer look at each of these dimensions of fitness and link them to more Make Shift Happen practices to help you improve your organizational fitness and reach your business goals.

 

 Let’s Make Shift Happen in 2018!