Become An Agile Leader: Do What Scares You

Do what scares you

After a busy fall helping leaders become more agile in organizations here and abroad, I am waxing my skis and getting ready to head to ski racing camp in Colorado later this week.

This will be my fifth year in a row. I blocked the dates and sent in my deposit as soon as camp was announced—not because it is comfortable or even fun, at times it is, but the real reason I started going and continue go is that it scares me.

Followers of my sporadic blog posts know that I returned to ski racing, a somewhat delusional passion from my Iowa youth (I seriously thought I could be a contender!), after a birthday that ended in “0”. I skied every chance I could as a teenager—park district bus trip to Wisconsin (I’m on it!), University of Iowa ski trip to Colorado that they foolishly opened up to area high school kids (I’m in!), weekend trips with my parents to Midwest resorts and the occasional Colorado ski vacation (I planned the rest of my life around them!).

The Racing Bug

Somewhere along the way, I got bit by the racing bug and also starting racing in as many USSA Central division races as I could get to, which included road trips to Minneapolis to race at Buck Hill, long before Lindsay Vonn, who got her start there, was born!

Coming back to skiing and ski racing when most of my friends have long since hung up their long underwear has taken a lot more commitment. When I was younger, it was easy to round up a group of adventurers willing to give it a go—many clad in their Iowa overalls.

Become an agile leader

The Author, Pamela Meyer

These days, it is much harder for me to find friends who want to head down the hill on two waxed planks, let alone into the cold. It was this challenge that led me to explore more organized ski activities, including racing clubs and camps.

With a great recommendation from a friend and former ski instructor, I found my way to Dave Gregory’s Peak Performance Ski Camp that he holds each November at Copper Mountain and summers at Mount Hood, Oregon.

Now, as I pack up for my fifth trip, I have a little better idea of what to expect, and yet, the apprehension has not completely lifted. Did I train well enough? You can never be too fit for racing. Will I crash? No question. Will I get hurt? It’s happened and is always a possibility. I still go because it still stretches me. It still scares me—not in a “why again am I jumping out of this airplane?” way—but in a way that pushes me out of my comfort zone, physically, socially, mentally.

Accepting the Challenge

Some years it takes, even more, commitment and intentionality. Two years ago, I had major surgery over the summer and had to make a concerted effort to recover, rebuild my strength and confidence. Last year, I fractured my shoulder on a training run. These experiences don’t deter me or my fellow masters racers. They do give me even greater respect for athletes such as Lindsay Vonn who had countless setbacks in their careers and yet came back, again and again. They make the effort and put in the work to return to peak performance, even when they have every invitation to use the latest injury to make a graceful exit from the competition (which Vonn, of course, did this past season).

My experience in life and especially these last few years, helping leaders, teams and organizations become more agile is that doing what scares you is where the learning is.

New learning, and especially the confidence to apply that learning under pressure, doesn’t happen by staying in our comfort zone. It doesn’t happen if are afraid of looking silly, incompetent and like we don’t know what we are doing. As uncomfortable as these experiences are, they are the hallmarks that learning (or at least the potential for learning) is happening. Agile leaders not only seek out new experiences that stretch their current skills and abilities, but they also model their learning and share the process of becoming more confident with others. This, admittedly, takes some courage and a certain amount of psychological safety. In fact, it took me some time to muster this courage the first year I registered for racing camp.

Becoming Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

agile leadership

The biggest lesson I have learned as I pack up for camp #5 is that being a little (and sometimes a lot) out of my comfort zone is where the growth and where new confidence is built. One of our race coaches says, “If you never crash, you aren’t trying something new. You aren’t learning!”

I realized I can’t very well travel the world talking about The Agility Shift and helping leaders be more effective in the midst of the unknown if I am not challenging myself to do the same. And leaders at all levels of the organization cannot very well ask others to take risks and continue stretching, growing and adapting to changes if they are not willing to do so themselves.

So, as we move into the holiday season, which is often associated with cocooning, being cozy with friends and family (which is a wonderful way to recharge our spirits), I invite you to also look for the opportunities that lie ahead that scare you. It doesn’t have to be ski racing or even a physical challenge. Maybe it is just accepting an unexpected invitation before you start over-thinking it, go ahead and say, “yes!” sign up, and jump in. Maybe I’ll see you there!

What are you doing/might you do that scares you?

•••••

NOTE: This post is a revision of a 2017 post, updated with gratitude to be healthy and able to get out there for another season.

 

Agile 101 (Part 1 of 3): Agile vs. Agility

Or Agile 101 for Smarties

Business agility and agile methodology have long surpassed any danger of being labeled flavor-of-the-month business trends. While various approaches pre-date it, The Agile Manifesto published in 2001 is credited with igniting the trend (beginning with, and now expanding beyond software development) toward project management approaches and business strategies designed for rapid innovation and adaptation. 

Organizations across industries and around the globe are adopting agile frameworks to increase revenue, reduce costs, and time to market while minimizing risk and maximizing value. 

Studies estimate that upwards of 75% of organizations are currently using or soon plan to adopt agile at some level (Freeform Dynamics, 2018). 

These trends don’t mean that agile is right for every project. Sometimes more traditional waterfall project management is best, especially if your project(s) is clearly defined, fairly routine and has minimal chance of new discoveries or changes along the way. Nonetheless, chances are good that you or your organization are using an agile methodology, such as Scrum or Kanban, in at least one of your teams. Perhaps you have been asked to join a Scrum team or take on some other role in an agile team.

Your company may be in the midst of an agile or digital transformation, and you hear terms like SAfe® or enterprise agility. Or, maybe you simply understand that to stay competitive in your industry, responsive to your customer needs, and a rapidly changing marketplace, you, your team, and entire organization need to be more agile.

SCRUM AGILE LEANBecause I have been working with leaders, teams, and organizations across industries that fall into each of these categories in recent years, and am frequently asked to distinguish between various agility terms and approaches, I have written this series of articles on the topic to help you distinguish between overall organizational agility dynamics and practices, and specific agile methodologies and frameworks so that you can begin to determine which might be right for you.

This series is not intended as an in-depth discussion of each approach, however, throughout each post, you will find links to additional detail that may be helpful in your exploration.

My intention is to provide leaders at all levels of the organization a broad view of the approaches that organizations across industries are using, to call out some of their critical success factors potential pitfalls that are often overlooked in the initial burst of enthusiasm.

With this big picture in view, my goal is to save you time, money and heartache and set you up for a wildly successful agility shift. 

Agility vs Agile Frameworks and Agile Methodologies

In this first post in the series, I will provide a very high-level description of some of the approaches that agile project teams are using to improve their processes and results.

I will go into much more detail on the topic of business agility in Part 3 of this series. Broadly, I view agility with an understanding that organizations are human systems of interaction. This means that we make sense of what is going on and get things done with and through other people. A humanistic understanding of business agility points not to a dictionary definition, but to a competence statement:

Agility is your ability to respond effectively to the unexpected and unplanned and quickly turn challenges into opportunities (The Agility Shift, 2015).

The individual, team and organizational capacities required to develop and sustain this competence require continuous attention and are the foundation for the successful implementation of the agile approaches I overview in this post. Rather than think of business agility and agile frameworks and methodologies as separate, they are interdependent.

What is the Difference Between Scrum, Lean, and Design Thinking?

Many agilists (people who embrace agile principles and practices or a specific agile approach) are fond of saying that “there is no agile methodology,” only agile frameworks that provide concepts and guidelines for improved project management and delivery.

In practice, most agile teams settle on and adopt a specific methodology. From here on out, I will refer to these as methodologies, recognizing that each approach is intended as a set of guiding principles and practices that can (and should) be adapted and refined to fit your needs.

Whether you are practicing Scrum (by far the most common agile methodology), Kanban, Crystal, XP or others (see brief descriptions of several methodologies here), agile methodologies share the same goal: to minimize risk and maximize value.

Agile vs. Agility SCRUM

 

Sample Scrum Overview

Agile methodologies, as practiced today, began in manufacturing, were modified in software

Agile software development

The Cycle of Agile Software Development

development, and are now used widely across domains for everything from new product development, marketing, event planning, learning and development, and R & D, to name just a few.

Regardless of the focus, agile methodologies center around rapid prototyping cycles (often called sprints) with each iteration focusing on delivering the highest value aspects of the project for inspection and adaptation.

In close collaboration with the end-user or other key stakeholders, agile teams quickly receive feedback that they use to inform planning and priorities for the next cycle.

 

When You Should Consider an Agile Methodology

Agile methodologies are ideal for complex projects where discoveries are likely to be made at each iteration, and requirements are likely to change as other new information becomes available.

Changing requirements and new learning are why IT projects are now almost exclusively developed using agile today. The exponential growth in agile is due to the realization that any complex project can benefit from an agile approach, such as marketing campaigns, change management, mergers and acquisitions, even family life

 

Critical Success Factors: There is a significant learning curve associated with adopting and implementing an agile methodology. It takes time to build what I call the Three Cs of the Agility Shift: Competence, Capacity, and Confidence. Before embarking on this learning curve, ask yourself:

  • “Do we have the commitment, resources, and patience to progress from novices to experts?”
  • “Do we have leadership buy-in and support?”
  • “Do we understand and have the willingness to make the mindset shift necessary for this new way of working to thrive?”

If the answer is yes to these questions, I highly recommend you and as many of your colleagues as possible start, as I did, by getting your ScrumMaster® Certification or share another immersive learning experience to become familiar with your agile methodology of choice.

 

Lean 

LEAN ManufactoringIn the same eco-system as agile methodologies, Lean approaches are designed to maximize customer value and minimize waste. While most strongly associated with its manufacturing roots,

Lean is also used in service delivery. As its name implies, the goal is to create the leanest, or most cost-effective value chain through experimentation and testing, to discover or refine standardized processes. Organizations from healthcare to consulting are adopting the principles and practices of lean.

 

When You Should Consider Lean

With its focus on cost and waste reduction, as well as efficiency, lean can be particularly useful LEANfor systems and processes that are relatively routine and include many moving parts. 

 

Critical Success Factors: Focusing solely on cost reduction and efficiency at the expense of continuous learning and innovation, which are processes that can be inherently messy. Meeting time and budget goals can lead to something called “technical debt,” a concept rooted in software development that applies more broadly.

It is a “debt” that is incurred when a team chooses an expedient but flawed solution that has to be paid, usually with interest, at a later date when the overlooked problem is even bigger and more expensive to solve.

 

Design Thinking

With many of the characteristics of agile methodology, design thinking, or human-centered design (HCD), might also be worth your consideration. While agile is considered a project management approach, design thinking is geared toward problem framing and solving (or alternatively, opportunity finding and exploiting). The human experience is central in both agile and design thinking.

Agilists often start by understanding the user experience and translating those experiences into user stories which include a statement of a user experience that needs to be improved; while design thinking teams start with empathizing with the person(s) who have the problem they have identified and craft user statements as their starting point to generate innovative solutions.

The most common design thinking framework includes the stages in the graphic below, with the understanding that there is no one right way to execute each phase. Tim Frick and Emily Lonigro, CEOs of their respective Chicago-based digital media companies, Mightybytes and LimeRed, have written an excellent article that details two business examples of how they have applied design thinking and HCD in their businesses. Lest you think design thinking is exclusively for creative businesses, check out how global logistics company UPS regularly applies the approach to identify and solve customer problems, reporting: “We can’t emphasize enough the importance of rapid prototyping, testing with real customers and iterating or even pivoting based on those learnings.”

  

Design Thinking Overview

When You Should Consider Design Thinking

Design Thinking OverviewDesign thinking and HCD are especially useful when you have a complex situation with many stakeholders and need a process to clarify the problem or opportunity by engaging many perspectives. It is also excellent when innovation is your top priority.While not the originators of design thinking (here is an excellent history) IDEO has become a leader in applying and teaching the process for new product and service development as well as for humanizing, simplifying, and solving complex organizational and social issues.

Critical Success Factors: Design thinking is a highly participatory approach, and to do it well, you need to make time and space to engage multiple perspectives, experiences, and voices of those who have or are touched by the issue.

It may be tempting to leapfrog over or truncate this stage in the interest of saving time and money, but doing so will undermine the essence of the process: the humans at the center of HCD. These diverse experiences and perspectives provide valuable insight to spur innovation; they can also disrupt your assumptions about the issue.

Do not start a design thinking process if you are already attached to your preconceived ideas; DO start the process if you are willing to listen and be surprised by what you discover.

Once they have experimented with and adopted agile methodologies in one or more areas and begun realizing the benefits, many organizations begin to scale these approaches across the enterprise. In Part 2 of this series Agile 101: Enterprise Agility Strategies, I overview the most common approaches and pitfalls of enterprise agility.


 

Are You Ready to Make The Agility Shift?


Pamela Meyer, Ph.D., is the author of The Agility Shift: Creating Agile and Effective Leaders, Teams and Organizations. As president of Meyer Agile Innovation, Inc. she is a sought-after keynote speaker and works with agile teams, as well as leaders across industries who need innovative learning and talent development strategies to make the mindset and business shift to compete in a rapidly changing marketplace.

Agile 101 (Part 2 of 3): Enterprise Agility Strategies

Understanding Which Enterprise Agility Strategy Might be Right for Your Organization

Many organizations begin their agile journey by forming agile teams in one or more functional areas, such as IT, marketing, and new product development. When they saw the results of improved time to market, lower cost, and higher employee engagement, they decide to adopt the framework across the enterprise. These enterprise agility initiatives are implemented using a variety of approaches, including Safe® or other customized agile transformation strategies, often branded internally by the organization. I won’t go into each enterprise approach in detail but want to help you distinguish between those that are sometimes used (mistakenly) interchangeably.

To help you begin to explore which approach may be right for your organization, in this second post of my Agile 101 series, I share very brief overviews to distinguish each along with links to fuller descriptions and examples to help you consider if an enterprise agility strategy is right for you.

Agile Transformation

Working model of business: AgileWhile more common in smaller organizations, large enterprises now recognize their urgent need to be more nimble to stay competitive in a rapidly changing marketplace. An increasingly favored strategy is to scale agile methodologies, such as Scrum, across the organization. Businesses, as varied as Ericsson, CapitalOne, and most notably, Amazon, have adopted this approach to improve the speed and quality of the products and services they bring to market. Here are brief descriptions of the most favored approaches.

SAFe® (Scaled Agile Framework) is the most common and fully developed approach to agile transformation, currently being used to some degree or another by 70% of Fortune 100 companies (according to the SAFe® website). With its roots in software development, the goal of the SAFe® approach is to create a Lean enterprise

Digital Transformation: describes the process whereby an organization moves all of its business operations, including people, processes, systems, and customer interactions to technology-based interfaces. For many, but not all, this includes a cloud-based strategy. Disrupters in every sector (think Amazon, Uber/Lyft, even companies like Quicken Loans) are forcing their competitors to adopt digital strategies, as well, if they want to stay competitive.

For a more complete overview and examples of digital transformation, I recommend Clint Boulton’s recent piece for CIO. Digital transformations, while not the same as agile, can certainly benefit from their ability to execute complex projects rapidly, as many organizations are finding. After all, you cannot improve agility using mindsets and approaches designed for another era.

DevOps: In its essence, DevOps is the convergence of Development and Operations and has roots in agile methodologies. The DevOps movement was sparked by software developers’ frustrations. While they were adopting agile methodologies in their teams, they encountered obstacles in actually releasing code and collaborating across organizational silos.

DevOps emerged as a strategy to integrate system-wide structures and processes to ensure that the communication, collaboration, and coordination of agile carried throughout the organization. In this sense, DevOps is a specific type of agile transformation. Atlassian, a leader in large-scale DevOps strategies and systems, has a more in-depth overview on their site. 

When You Should Consider an Enterprise Agility Approach

All approaches to enterprise agility can only thrive with engaged support from leaders throughout the organization who have themselves made the mindset shift necessary for a radical new way of working to take root. These leaders must also recognize the need to foster and sustain an organizational culture that values whole systems thinking, broad transparency, and understands their organization as a human system of interactions, not merely a series of operational transactions. 

Critical Success Factors: Scaling agile transformation requires communication, collaboration, and coordination of stakeholders and contributors across the enterprise, as well as the integration and, often, disruption of well-established systems and processes.

You should only consider a scaled agile approach if you have broad leadership commitment and resources to follow through. This commitment includes embracing the urgent business case for a radical change, along with the acceptance that leaders at all levels of the organization will be asked to make a significant mindset shift that will take them out of their comfort zones.

This shift may impact your leaders’ familiar ways of thinking and working, as well as their roles and even their hard-earned status. To support this formidable transition, organizations such as Ericsson established Centers of Excellence as central hubs to coordinate the transformation, as well as to provide training, coaching, and support across the organization early in their transformation.

At Meyer Agile Innovation, Inc. we are working with clients who, rather than rely on a central hub, are developing Agility Champions throughout the organization to serve as resources, coaches and guides on the side to support individual and team success through their agile transformation.

If your business is operating in a rapidly changing VUCA environment and has the understanding, commitment, resources, and willingness to persevere through a complex process, agile transformation could well be worth your investment.

In my next and final post of this series Agile 101: Developing Agile Leaders, I make a case for and provide an overview of the mindset and cultural shift, as well as the six dynamics of the Agility Shift that are crucial to realizing the results of any agile transformation.


How agile is your Talent Development Strategy?

EQUIP YOUR LEADERS & TEAMS FOR AGILE TRANSFORMATION SUCCESS


Pamela Meyer, Ph.D., is the author of The Agility Shift: Creating Agile and Effective Leaders, Teams and Organizations. As president of Meyer Agile Innovation, she is a sought-after keynote speaker and works with leaders and teams across industries who need innovative learning and talent development strategies to make the mindset and business shift to compete in a rapidly changing marketplace.

 

Agile 101 (Part 3 of 3): Developing and Sustaining Agile Leaders

Agile 101 (Part 3 of 3): Developing and Sustaining Agile Leaders

Developing and Sustaining Agile Leaders, Teams, and Organizations

In Part One [insert link] I shared the inspiration for this three-part series. In a nutshell, this series is for anyone whose organization has made agility a top strategic priority. This includes, but is not limited to, companies that are adopting agile methodologies at the team level, are starting to scale agile across the enterprise (see Part Two of this series), or have more broadly understood that business agility is critical to staying competitive in a rapidly changing world. This final post is for you if your organization fits any of these categories, and you want to assure that your investment in business agility delivers the results you seek.

“Where Should We Start?”

The question above is the first one leaders ask after committing to being more agile. Of course, before we can answer that question, we must agree on what are we talking about when we talk about agility?

Broadly, I describe agility as your ability to respond effectively to the unexpected and unplanned and quickly turn challenges into opportunities.

This is not a dictionary definition but a performance statement. The leaders I work with don’t need to know what agility looks like on paper; they need to know what it looks like in action.

The goal of any agile initiative is not agility itself, but sustained performance through both stable and volatile conditions.

To consistently achieve this level of performance, the organizations I have researched and work with consistently attend to each of the six dynamics of the Agility Shift. To fully understand each dynamic and how to bring it to life in your organization, I direct you to my book, The Agility Shift: Creating Agile Leaders, Teams and Organizations, as well as my website for additional resources. Below is a brief introduction to each of the dynamics:

Relational Web

Relational Web: The network 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 a new opportunity emerges. 

Relevant: The ability to understand current trends, customer and workforce needs, and adapt to stay relevant to and competitive in the market. 

Responsive: The ability to respond in a timely and effective way to unexpected and unplanned challenges and opportunities.

Resilient: The ability to quickly regroup when things don’t go as planned.

Resourceful: The ability to make optimal and innovative use of available resources.

Reflective: The ability to learn the lessons from experience and thoughtfully apply those lessons to new and emerging situations. 

Agility and Agile methodologies are certainly not mutually exclusive. You don’t need to adopt a specific agile methodology to improve your leadership, team, or organizational agility. Yet, adopting an agile methodology without attending to the necessary mindset, culture, and practice shifts will not yield the hoped-for results, especially over the long haul.

Making the Mindset and Culture Shift So Agility Can Thrive

Now that we have a shared understanding of agility and the six dynamics necessary to sustain it, we must understand and make (and continue to make) the mindset and culture shift required to thrive in this radical (for many) new ways of working.

A recent joint global survey by Forbes Insights and the Scrum Alliance of 1,000 C-suite executives across industries that found 83% of respondents cite an agile mindset/flexibility as the most essential characteristic of today’s C-suite (2018).

At its core, an agile mindset and culture value learning and change over planning and control.

In my research of more than 1,500 leaders at all levels of business and industry, an agile mindset is tightly linked to two key aspects of agility: Responsiveness and Resourcefulness.

Responsive and Resourceful

In particular, the ability to quickly turn challenges into opportunities and look for opportunities in the midst of change are strongly connected to Agility Shift Inventory-takers’ ability to be responsive and resourceful. These mindset attributes also strongly differentiate the most agile from the least agile respondents in the Agility Shift Inventory

Reinforcing our research, when Nigel Davies at Forbes interviewed several leaders about the pitfalls of adopting agile, he also found that mindset was a common challenge.

For example, Christopher McFarlane, an agile project manager for Walmart Canada, shared with him, “instilling an agile mindset internally is one of the hardest things about the transition.” Successfully building an agile organization is also an endurance sport, says David Fort, managing director at Haines Watts Manchester, “Being an agile business isn’t a start-stop scenario, it’s a constant shift in culture and balance that has to be regularly revisited. If you stop running as an agile business, you’re likely to seize up. The real challenge is ensuring the agility is fresh, and the team members are focused on being agile.” (Davies, 2019)

Adding urgency to the need to attend to the leadership mindset is that many organizations are not yet seeing the expected returns of their formidable investments in agility because leaders underestimated the mindset and cultural shift that would be required for a successful transformation.

Mindset and culture are directly linked. Mindset influences thinking; thinking influences our actions; culture is created through repeated patterns of thinking and acting.

Version One’s survey of 1,319 leaders in organizations ranging from less than 1,000 employees to greater than 20,000 found that the top challenge in a successful agile transformation is that their current culture is at odds with the degree of communication, collaboration, self-organization and continuous learning that is at the heart of agile practices. Coming in a close second is an overarching organizational resistance to change (13th Annual State of Agile Report, 2018).

There is good news, however. The Forbes Insights and the Scrum Alliance report cited earlier also found that those organizations that were realizing results from their adoption of agile practices also reported strong cultural alignment, while those that were not yet seeing a return cited organizational culture as the impediment (2018). Leaders have a significant influence over the success or failure of agile initiatives as they set the tone, model, and reinforce the underlying beliefs, values, and behaviors that make up their organizational cultures. 

This growing body of evidence all points in the same direction: any organization that makes agility a top strategic priority, must also prioritize learning and talent development strategies that support the critical mindset and behavioral shifts necessary to achieve the results of these investments.  

Our work in recent years with companies like T-Mobile (see case story and webinar) demonstrates the power of engaging leaders across the enterprise in high-content, high engagement learning, and development experiences and has yielded exciting results. In addition to high net-promoter scores, showing initial enthusiasm, a rigorous analysis of how learning is being applied across the organization is demonstrating significant business value. If an organization like T-Mobile, operating in an extremely competitive environment and through years-long uncertainty of a possible merger can sustain results, your organization can, too. 

Supporting Your Organization’s Agility Shift Through Learning and Talent Development

Just like reaching your health and fitness goals, developing and sustaining business agility, is not a one-time endeavor but a commitment to a new way of life. Fitness experts have found that the secret to sustained success is consistency and variety. The same is true for your organization’s leadership, team, and organizational agility.

Making the Agility Shift

Making the Agility Shift

Attaining a consistent practice for agility requires an approach that includes enough variety to keep your workforce stretching and growing. The strategies we have found most impactful put the mindset shift in the center and build the Three Cs of The Agility Shift: Competence, Capacity, and Confidence. Consistent and innovative learning and development approaches in each of these areas reinforce a culture in which agile thinking and behavior can thrive.

 

Scalable Talent Development Approaches for Agile Leaders, Teams, and Organizations

One of the challenges in supporting organization-wide agility initiatives is providing meaningful and impactful learning opportunities across the enterprise. Whether led by your in-house training team or outside contractors, you are likely constrained by budget, available time (both training professionals’ and employees’ available time), as well as personnel.

We use several highly adaptable strategies to help our clients overcome these barriers:

  • Human Resource Strategies: To ensure an integrated approach across the organization, we often work with HR and Talent Development leaders. Aligning staffing, talent development, performance appraisal, and coaching with agile organizational goals helps assure that you are building a workplace culture in which agility can thrive. 
  • Train-the-Trainer: We work with in-house learning and development professionals to train and certify them in customizable modules that they can then use to lead sessions for leaders at all levels of the organization. We provide an Agility Shift Facilitator Guide and participant materials. This approach offers the most flexible and comprehensive approach for building and sustaining an agile workforce.
  • Agility Champion Training: In this immersive training session, we help designated Agility Champions throughout the organization learn the foundational concepts and best practices of team and leadership agility, while building their competence, capacity and confidence as an agility resource person, coach and activity facilitator. Agility Champions are also trained on and given access to a series of micro-learning resources and Take it to Your Team activities they can use to support continuous leadership and team development. 
  • Agility Lab Micro-learning Resources: Many managers and agile team leaders like to integrate our range of micro-learning resources and guided activities to support team engagement, innovation, and performance. These resources can be used one-on-one or to kick-off a meeting, planning session or integrated into a retrospective.
  • Agility Assessment: Often, the biggest challenge in making the Agility Shift is the mindset shift and understanding how that mindset shift translates into new habits in each of the six dynamics of the agility shift. The Agility Shift Inventory (ASI) helps individuals and teams discover where their greatest strengths and opportunities lie and so that they invest their time and resources for maximum impact.
  • Coaching: Because agile ways of thinking and working represent a significant shift for most leaders and team members, we provide individualized coaching to help contributors make their own agility shift so they can ensure their teams and the organization realize results from their agile initiatives.
  • Leadership Development: An agile leader is anyone who spots a challenge or opportunity and effectively responds. Now more than ever, organizations need agile leaders at all levels of the business who can lead effectively in the midst of rapid change and uncertainty. Your current and emerging leaders need to be able to consistently model and inspire others to make the Agility Shift.
  • Team Development: Agile organizations are team-centric and increasingly networked. The best investment you can make is in team success, whether or not you are adopting agile methodologies, teams need to be able to effectively innovate and adapt, as well as communicate, collaborate and coordinate resources. We help teams build their agility competence through high-content, high-engagement development days that integrate reflection and action planning based on the results of their Team Agility Shift Inventory.
  • Customized Solutions: There is no one-size-fits-all solution for any organization. Your business priorities, leadership commitment, environment, and available resources all dictate which strategy is best for you. We work with organizations to determine the approach that will be most effective and sustainable to improve performance.

When You Should Consider an Agile Learning and Talent Development Approach

The good news is that building your organization’s overall competence, capacity, and confidence in agility is compatible with overall organizational agility objectives and each of the agile methodologies and agile transformation approaches described in this blog series. Not only is it compatible, but it is essential that you provide engaging and motivating development opportunities and help your leaders and teams make and sustain the necessary mindset and practical shift required to deliver results. Because we, as humans, are hard-wired to scan our environments for threats (read changes and disruptions) and avoid or resist them at all costs, we need new and continuous practices to help us make the intentional shifts to help us maximize each new disruption and opportunity. Whichever approach you choose, you need to have a strategy that helps your human system of interactions engage with and deliver the positive benefits and outcomes of your agility shift.


Which learning and development approach is right for you?

SCHEDULE TIME WITH PAMELA MEYER TO FIND OUT

 


Pamela Meyer, Ph.D. is the author of The Agility Shift: Creating Agile and Effective Leaders, Teams and Organizations. She is a sought-after keynote speaker and works with leaders and teams across industries who need innovative learning and talent development strategies to make the mindset and business shift to compete in a rapidly changing marketplace.

Additional References

13th Annual State of Agile Report. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.stateofagile.com/

Davies, N. (2019). Agile Deserves The Hype, But It Can Also Fail: How To Avoid The Pitfalls. Forbes. Retrieved from Forbes website: https://www.forbes.com/sites/nigeldavies/2019/07/02/agile-deserves-the-hype-but-it-can-also-fail-how-to-avoid-the-pitfalls/#c9ced757a0cf

How Agile and DevOps enable digital readiness and transformation. (2018). Hampshire, UK: Freeform Dynamics.

The Elusive Agile Enterprise: How the Right Leadership Mindset, Workforce and Culture Can Transform Your Organization. Jersey City, NJ: Forbes Insights and the Scrum Alliance (2018). Retrieved from: https://www.scrumalliance.org/ScrumRedesignDEVSite/media/Forbes-Media/ScrumAlliance_REPORT_FINAL-WEB.pdf

Schwartz, J., Collins, L., Stockton, H., Wagner, D., & Walsh, B. (2017). Rewriting the Rules for the Digital Age: 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends. Retrieved from: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/HumanCapital/hc-2017-global-human-capital-trends-gx.pdf

 

 

Are You Training for Airmanship (AKA Learning Agility)?

The ability to effectively frame and solve problems in the cockpit in a high stakes, rapidly unfolding situation is called “airmanship.” In leadership development, we call this learning agility.

Learning Agility in Action

With the first anniversary of the tragic Boeing 737 Max crash of Lion Air Flight 610 followed months later by Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 upon us, there is a new wave of coverage in the news. As families continue to demand answers and accountability and outside entities work to understand what went wrong, another line of inquiry is being explored that has implications for anyone who works in high-stakes environments.

While not the ultimate source of the disasters, some, such as journalist and former commercial airline pilot, William Langewiesche, question whether or not the pilots’ training prepared them to be effective in complex high stakes situations (2019).

I have written about another key aspect of Cockpit Resource Management (CRM), the ability to communicate, collaborate and coordinate in the heat of the moment in The Agility Shift.

Also key is the ability to effectively frame and solve problems in the cockpit in a rapidly unfolding situation or “airmanship” (applied equally to men and women).

What is “Airmanship”?

Its full meaning is difficult to convey. It includes a visceral sense of navigation, an operational understanding of weather and weather information, the ability to form mental maps of traffic flows, fluency in the nuance of radio communications and, especially, a deep appreciation for the interplay between energy, inertia and wings. Airplanes are living things. The best pilots do not sit in cockpits so much as strap them on (Langewiesche, 2019).

A recent analysis by the New York Times of available flight data and cockpit recordings of these doomed flights provide some evidence that the crews of both doomed flights may not have had, or were not able to access their capacity for “airmanship” when the stakes were highest. Langewiesche sounds an alarm for the flying public.

. . .  it is certain that thousands of similar crews are at work around the world, enduring as rote pilots and apparently safe, but only so long as conditions are routine (2019).

Many fields have variations on the term “airmanship.” For example, miners who have an intuitive connection to the state of a mine, and potential threats to their safety are said to have “pit sense.” (Kamouche, K. and Maguire, K., 2010) while Aboagye-Nimo, E and Raiden, A (2016) use the broader term “site-sense” to include any variety of settings in which the ability to access and apply tacit knowledge is essential to success.

For those of us working in or with organizations, the stakes may not always be life and death, but they are often urgent and high. To stay competitive leaders at all levels of the organization must be able to respond quickly and effectively to a wide range of unexpected events and information; they must be able to make decisions in the midst of uncertainty, and they must be able to rapidly make sense of complex and volatile situations. In short, they need to develop “airmanship.”

Airmanship Requires Learning Agility

At its most essential, airmanship and site-sense share the same underlying competence: the ability to learn and adapt in changing contexts. In leadership development, we refer to this competency as learning agility. In their study of more than 190 executives’ significant learning experiences, management researchers identified the key to success within a complex organization: the ability to manage something new without having to master it first (McCall, Lombardo and Morrison, 1988). Learning agility is not simply the ability to think on your feet, it is the ability to apply lessons learned in one context to another, often more complex, one situation.

The good news is that it is possible to develop learning agility, though it doesn’t happen without concerted and intentional effort.

How the United States Navy Uses Learning Agility to Instruct Fighter Pilots

The United States Navy manages to instill a sense of this in its fledgling fighter pilots by ramming them through rigorous classroom instruction and then requiring them to fly at bank angles without limits, including upside down. The same cannot be expected of airline pilots who never fly solo and whose entire experience consists of catering to passengers who flinch in mild turbulence, refer to “air pockets” in cocktail conversation and think they are near death if bank angles exceed 30 degrees. The problem exists for many American and European pilots, too. Unless they make extraordinary efforts — for instance, going out to fly aerobatics, fly sailplanes or wander among the airstrips of backcountry Idaho — they may never develop true airmanship no matter the length of their careers (Langewiesche, 2019).

Training to Develop Learning Agility

Over the past several years working with a wide range of organizations to help them make the agility shift and build more adaptable teams and organizations, we have found a number of effective strategies to help leaders across the enterprise develop their learning agility competence, capacity, and confidence.

Each of the following can be integrated into formal or informal learning programs, as well as be used in coaching and mentoring for learning agility:

  1. Seek and provide learning experiences that call for adaptation. Even if you are learning a new skill, it is important to build enough confidence that you can apply that skill in a variety of situations (high stakes, uncertainty, missing or changing information, etc.). In formal training, be sure to design into your program learning activities that have some complexity and not a single right answer. If you, yourself, are the learner or are mentoring others, be sure to seek out and encourage your mentees to look for these opportunities in their roles.
  2. Experiment with scenario-based learning that requires that you/your learners communicate, collaborate, and coordinate with their Relational Web of skills, knowledge, talent, and resources. We regularly design experiential learning opportunities like this for teams to develop these capacities. You can also use these learning strategies as ‘thought-experiments” for individual and team reflection and idea generation.
  3. Become a Cognitive Apprentice. Coaching and mentoring are excellent ways to learn a new role, build confidence and self-awareness, and progress toward a host of personal and professional goals. Sometimes overlooked in coaching and other informal learning strategies is the value of understanding an expert’s way of framing problems and opportunities and determining a course of action. This modeling process is sometimes called a cognitive apprenticeship (Woolley, Norman N.; Jarvis, Yvonne, 2007). Learn to ask and help your learners probe for the thinking process that led to key decisions. Sometimes it can be as simple as asking questions like: “How did you zero in on __________ as the key issue?” or “How did you come to that decision?” Listen to the responses and for how experts question their own assumptions and process complex or competing narratives.
  4. Do what scares you. Perhaps the best way for you to develop their competence, capacity, and confidence is to seek new opportunities outside of your comfort zone intentionally. The more comfortable you (and your learners) can become in uncomfortable, even scary, situations, the more likely you will be able to think and function clearly when the stakes are high.

Understanding How Learning Agility can Serve us in a Crisis

No one is suggesting that developing airmanship or learning agility vindicates what appears to have been serious flaws in oversight and design of the Boeing 737 Max. However, these and other high stakes incidents remind us that at the center of every operational crisis, are human beings who must quickly assess the situation and tap their available resources to respond as quickly and effectively as possible.

While we cannot control or train for every possible situation, we can be more intentional training for airmanship and developing our own and other’s learning agility.

What other strategies do you use to develop your own and others’ learning agility?  

Discover more approaches for learning agility, and other customizable talent development solutions to make your agility shift!

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Aboagye-Nimo, E and Raiden, A (2016) Introducing Site Sense: Comparing Situated Knowledge in Construction to Coalmining. In: P W Chan and C J Neilson (Eds.) Proceedings of the 32nd Annual ARCOM Conference, 5-7 September 2016, Manchester, UK, Association of Researchers in Construction Management, Vol 1, 467-476.

Kamoche, K. and Maguire, K., 2011. Pit sense: Appropriation of practice-based knowledge in a UK coal mine. Human Relations, 64 (5), pp. 725-744.

Langewiesche, W. (2019, September 21, 2019). What really brought down the Boeing 737 Max? New York Times Sunday Magazine.

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

Meyer, P. (2015). The Agility Shift: Creating agile and effective leaders, teams and organizations. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Woolley, Norman N.; Jarvis, Yvonne (January 2007). “Situated cognition and cognitive apprenticeship: A model for teaching and learning clinical skills in a technologically rich and authentic learning environment”. Nurse Education Today. 27 (1): 73–79.

 

Developing Agile Employees Who Can Thrive in the Age of VUCA

Developing Agile Employees in the Age of VUCAWritten 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 Agile Employeescredentials. 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 Agile Employee Development

In addition to the mindset and strategy shift described above, the agility shift also requires that the responsibility for learning and Agile Employeesemployee 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 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?