Agility promises success. Because agility is designed to create more stability in an increasingly dynamic and volatile world. But many organizations have difficulty with this vague term. Yet agility can be broken down into tangible elements which helps to measure the status quo in your organization.
Anyone who wants to appear progressive uses agility as a catchphrase of some kind. The term is used frequently and in different contexts. For some, it is very concrete concepts and methods such as Scrum or Design Thinking. For others it is a basic attitude of how organizations work. We at Great Place to Work belong to the latter: we believe that organizations must develop an agile mindset to achieve agility. This is because it first needs the right basic mindset before one should get involved with the skillset and the toolset. Otherwise the cultural basis is missing and the promising concepts and methods introduced remain nothing more than good ideas, but inevitably fail.
But why do all organizations suddenly want to become agile? The answer is simple:
- Constant change is the new normality. The world has become volatile, uncertain, complex and unpredictable ( VUCA ). Traditional approaches to management, leadership and daily work no longer work. Nowadays the management of the company is more like white water rafting than - like 20 years ago - a rowing tour on a calm lake.
- Digital transformation has become the dominant paradigm that not only changes the way we work and communicate, but also turns processes and entire business models upside down. And those who don't embrace the digital transformation will be turned upside down themselves - as Nokia has painfully found out.
- COVID-19 has shown how the basic conditions can change unexpectedly and quickly. Novartis, for example, has introduced home office forever. Agile organizations were able to adapt much faster and even benefit from the crisis.
Agility thus becomes a capability of organizations that is both crucial to the success of the company and ensures its long-term survival.
Before agility comes the definition of goals
The less clear a term is, the more important it is to proceed analytically and evidence-based. If you want to become more agile, the first thing you need to do is to be clear about what the organization expects from it. Agility is not an end in itself, but must support the overall strategy and its goals. Companies typically organize themselves in an agile way so that they can react faster to dynamic changes in the market. This is achieved by a clear distribution of tasks and short decision-making processes. As a result, hierarchies are becoming less and less important, and competence-based teams more and more important. Agility thus increases the effectiveness of organizations, promotes transparency and creates attractive development platforms for employees.
Raising the status quo
Following the definition of the goal, a status quo analysis, i.e. an assessment of the current situation, is required. At Great Place to Work, we work with our model for agility and digital transformation. It shows that the ability to digitally transform depends on the data, customers, culture and processes of an organization. But only the last two of these can be directly influenced and developed. Thus, culture and processes each have four design fields ( see Figure a ). These fields of design determine and influence each other. Only those who take measures in all areas and become better can achieve the full benefit of agility.
Regardless of the model, it is recommended that employees are surveyed in order to ascertain the status quo. Possible questions include topics such as:
- Are we getting better by giving each other feedback again and again?
- Do we allow radical ideas in order to be truly innovative?
- Do we experiment with new ways to decide and act faster?
- Do we allow imperfect solutions in order to move faster?
- Do we network within the company in order to exploit the knowledge and experience of others?
Such concrete questions allow conclusions to be drawn about the basic attitude in the organization and the degree of agility. In our experience, there is often a large discrepancy between the perception of management and executives and the assessment of employees. We even offer a specific survey to measure this discrepancy (link to Expectation Reality). However, ensuring this transparency is an important step towards becoming more agile in the future.
Comparison with the benchmark
The reason for the discrepancy in discrepancy between employees and managers? In general, organizations tend to forget to include employees on their journeys. In our study on agility in companies ((Change Engine while Flying)) we identified four types of agility: Active innovators have maximum confidence in the future. The optimists are mostly confident that their own organization will successfully master the challenges. The consistent ones fear change and prefer to maintain the status quo, while the pessimists firmly believe that everything will end in disaster. What is interesting here is the distribution of these types within the organizations: Only 9% of employees are active innovators and 30% optimists, while 52% are consistent and 10% are pessimists. Less than 10% of employees are really agile, while more than 60% are critical of agility.
Setting off into the agile future
The question now is how to turn the consistent ones into optimists - or even active innovators. On the one hand, this requires a quantitative employee survey that provides an evidence-based analysis of the current situation. Then the target position, i.e. the ideal future state, is determined in workshops for each design field ( see Figure X above). Furthermore, the necessary measures are derived. Again, the involvement of the employees is crucial: Firstly, the more they are involved, the better the measures will be, secondly it will increase their commitment and thirdly it will provide the initial spark for agility, which will automatically make the organization a little more agile.