Creating a Culture of Agility

We live in a state of constant, unrelenting change in a complex and volatile environment.  For an organization to thrive, it must accept change as an ongoing way of being. By being change-ready, or agile, an organization can more quickly solve problems and take advantage of opportunities, so it can move confidently ahead and channel change as a force for growth.
Before we share some tips, let’s get clear on the definition of agile. This isn’t about the project management method of scrums and sprints. An agile culture is one where awareness and action are tightly linked so that organizational strategy and structure can be rapidly adapted in response to changes in the market.
An agile culture is committed to:

  • Shared purpose (the why)
  • Continuous learning and improvement
  • Alignment to organizational strategy: mission, vision, and values.
  • Effective communication that breaks down silos (information hoarding), builds information bridges and enables rapid, evidence-based decision making.

Here are three essentials to remember when creating a culture of agility.

  1. Connection is Key – a consistent requirement for excellent, aligned culture is that every employee understands how what they do each day contributes to the overall goals. Whether this is alignment to the strategy or vision, there is a connection between individual and organization. Human beings want to be part of something bigger than themselves. This requires a clear and compelling purpose, strategy, mission, vision, and values (PS-MVV.) Then it is the responsibility of leadership to demonstrate, reinforce and continuously connect the dots between actions and the PS-MVV.
  2. Dynamic Tension – In the pursuit of the new, leaders must not lose focus on the core. Usually the core business is the engine that enables transformation into a more agile organization. While making the transition, failing to support the core can have deadly impact. There are elements of an organization that are strengths and create differentiation. Build on these stable, consistent, proven areas. Balancing the stable with the transformative is the dynamic tension that leaders of an agile culture must constantly manage.
  3. Leadership Impact – culture does not happen by decree.  A leader cannot decide that the culture will be agile and then demand that employees “get agile!”  Command and control leadership annihilates an agile culture. Essential elements of agility are continuous learning and risk taking (seeing opportunities and taking advantage of them). How  is your leadership impact encouraging or discouraging agility? When you observe an issue, do you immediately correct it, or do you use that as an empowerment moment, coaching the person and helping them learn how to think or act differently next time? As a leader, your behavior sets the tone for agility.

According to a study by McKinsey, agility pays. Financial performance is 1.5 times better in an agile unit, and nonfinancial measures are 1.7 times better.  Consider the culture commitments of your team or organization and assess whether they support agility. Transformation is not easy – but it’s worth it!

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