Agility seems to be among the management-speak buzzwords of the past decade and a half. There was leader-agility, the idea that those who set the agenda for organizations had to change as quickly as their environments in order to remain effective.
Then we had managerial agility. This reflected the idea that managers had to adopt a flexible mindset.
We’ve had project management agility, which is about moving fast while remaining flexible.
There’s even talk of development agility.
Everyone is getting on the agility bandwagon. And that tells you that as a fad, because that’s what it is, it has just about run its course. When everyone is doing it, then there’s nothing special about it anymore. It’s a bit like the stock market on October 28, 1929.
Consider, for example, the dichotomy of leadership and management. In it, leaders are drivers of change, while managers seek to maintain the status quo. This stems from the politics-administration dichotomy introduced by Sloan in the reorganization of General Motors almost 100 years ago. Although there had been some work done in that area beforehand, it was Sloan who separated the making of policy from the administration of it. Leaders – the top executives – made policy; that is, they decided what changes should be made, and then the managers administered it by delegating it down through the hierarchy.
Managerial agility changed that to some extent. Now managers were expected to be more flexible; that is, they needed to learn how to change on the basis of what was needed rather than to rigidly hold everything still.
Now we come to business agility. It stands to reason that if leaders and managers are agile, that is that they both are determined to change as quickly as they need to, that the organizations that they run must be as well. You have to wonder how it could be anything else, and therefore why everyone seems to be making such a big deal about it.
Why all the excitement? Is it nothing more than the well-known fear-of-missing-out? Is it because those who have yet to jump on the bandwagon are somewhat panicked that they may have missed their chance?
Rest assured, that if this is how you feel, that you haven’t missed out. There’s still time.
All you have to do is to abandon the status quo – that attitude of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” – and recognize that “the times they are a changin’” and that you had better to. Then you can wear the agility badge.
What is agility?
Look at it like this. The word agile is defined as energetic, limber, supple and buoyant. The antithesis of those ideas includes ignorance, lethargy, rigidness, and sluggishness.
Which are you?
If you, hand on heart, can say that you are or are trying to be characterized by the words in the first group, then by definition, you are agile. Conversely, if you know deep inside that the second group of words is nearer the mark, then no matter what your favourite management consultant says, no matter how many books you’ve read, or checklists you’ve completed, you are not agile in any way, shape or form.
You have to make an honest assessment of where you are right now.
If you’re agile, then that’s great. Keep it up and be vigilant about making it a way of life. If you’re not, then figure out what is holding you back and change it.
Time waits for no one.
How can you become more agile?
Have you been following the US post-election? Trump has stated in no uncertain terms that for every new regulation created, two must be discarded. Have you gone through your organization, or your life, like that?
What habits do you or your organization practise that waste time?
When was the last time you did an audit to see what forms you use? Are they all really necessary? Or are you asking people to sign one form to acknowledge that they’ve received and read another one?
Or what about the expectations you place on yourself or your employees? Do you expect 100% effort even when people aren’t 100%? Do you penalize people or their teams if they take time off work for illness?
There are companies that do.
Do you provide time and resources for yourself and others to grow personally and professionally? Stephen Covey, in his best seller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about emotional bank accounts. He says that you can’t keep withdrawing from them without making deposits along the way. At some point, you will become overdrawn. In other words, there won’t be anything left to draw upon.
Does that describe you or your organization?
It’s been said that most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year, but underestimate what they can accomplish in a decade.
The timelines are probably more extreme than that. Most of us overestimate what we can accomplish in a day or a week, and we’re too busy to even think about where we might be this time next year.
Einstein once said that not everything that matters can be measured; and not everything that can be measured, matters.
What are your metrics? Do they matter? If so, do they matter to the extent that you think they do? What’s the worst that could happen if you simply didn’t have the level of measurement detail that you work so hard to get?
There’s such a thing as diminishing returns. Pareto understood this. He observed what we call the 80/20 Principle, or Pareto’s Law: That 20% of input yields 80% of output, and vice versa. If is worth it to spend 80% of your resources in order to squeeze out the final 20% of results that you measure? What is the cost of doing so? And how does it limit your agility?
Sprints or marathons?
The agility fad has stressed the idea of running sprints, rather than marathons. When you look at the lives of people, as well as the organizations in which they work, what you tend to see are marathons that are made up of sprints. What that means is that people are expected to be full-on all the time. Even professional athletes don’t do that, yet we think we’re being lazy if we let people slow down or even stop to recharge their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual batteries.
When was the last time you arranged for a time of retreat and reflection for yourself and everyone in your organization?
You see, you can talk a good agility game; but putting it into practise is something quite different. It’s like New Year’s resolutions: There’s more motivation before the first of the year, than after.
A “key” ingredient to business agility is the scrum. The term is obviously taken from rugby. In practise, it amounts to no more than a planning meeting: Deciding what will be done by whom and when it will be delivered; organizing the tasks, and soliciting feedback along the way.
It’s worth mentioning that anytime something is badged as new, that it generally takes awhile for people to realize that it isn’t. That’s because the concepts are renamed and the definitions are modified a little here and there. Once enough people are doing it, however, it becomes apparent that there’s nothing novel about it at all.
It takes courage, however, to call these fads for what they are. Anyone can jump onto the latest idea.
What you need to do instead is to apply deep critical thinking so that neither you nor your organization spends time and money learning how to do something it knew how to do already.
In other words, instead of allowing yourself to contemplate a solution in a so-called “new programme”, take some of the time that you would have spent doing that to reflect on this: Personal and organizational problems are perennial. They’re like certain flowers in your garden. They flower in the spring and summer and disappear in the winter.
Think how much time and money you’d spend on your garden if every year you bought new plants that seemed to die out in October.
When you run after a new management fad in order to solve problems that keep coming up, you’re doing exactly the same thing.
To extend the metaphor, it’s rather like the sprinter or a marathon runner who spends more time shopping for shoes than training.
Now it’s up to you.
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