Let’s Just Do That Post-it Note Thing

Overheard in a C-suite conversation near you! Let’s just do that Post-it Note thing.

(Article inspired by Eduardo Nofuentes Agile Eleven[1])

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Tunnel vision

Once again we are subject to tunnel vision from leaders who should be in their position because they are supposed to know better.

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They are blinded by the bright new shiny thing called ‘agile’ and their blinkered vision is a disaster waiting to happen.

Their failure to recognise that new ways of working (NWoW) and new ways of leading (NWoL) require New Ways of Thinking (NWoT)[2] will ultimately lead to the demise of the organisation.

Shift

There is no argument that in the fourth industrial revolution, organisational agility is a core differentiator and competitive advantage in a rapidly changing business landscape, and therefore organisations should strive to achieve it.

But agility is not achieved through the introduction of technology, tools, processes, methodologies and platforms. And it certainly not achieved through a management remit to ‘just do that Post-it Note thing!’ 

It is achieved through people and a fundamental change in thinking. Everyone in the organisation has to adopt an agile mindset.

The adoption of agile ways of working impacts everyone across the enterprise – noting that agility is not just an IT thing. Agility is not about doing things faster. Agility is about providing more value with less work and delivering sooner.

An agile approach to working means the entire organisation has to move from a steady-state engine, which has worked well for them for decades, to a living organism that is continually changing in order to adapt, grow, and learn in a world of constant and uncertain change. 

The organisation has to be ever ready to respond to competition, opportunities, consumer and customer demands, technology advancements, new products and services, and disruptors.

To succeed, the organisation must move away from a hierarchical structure where command and control reigns supreme. It should flatten the structure and allow those doing the work to innovate, create, experiment, and be motivated by autonomy and the ability to self-manage. This requires a culture of transparency, honesty, trust, delegation, respect, collaboration, and liberation.

Agile mindset

Susan McIntosh describes the agile mindset as follows:

“An agile mindset is the set of attitudes supporting an agile working environment. These include respect, collaboration, improvement and learning cycles, pride in ownership, focus on delivering value, and the ability to adapt to change. This mindset is necessary to cultivate high-performing teams, who in turn deliver amazing value for their customers.”[3]

This mindset, with new values and principles, requires a radical organisational change. The embedded hierarchical, power-driven culture must transform its organisational and leader behaviours to embrace flexibility, adaptation, inclusivity, servant-leadership, experimentation, failure and self-sufficiency.

Journey

There are many examples of organisations whose success can be attributed to the adoption of agility in the workplace. Zappos, Spotify, Amazon, Gore, ING, GE, Microsoft, Apple and Google are a few of the standouts 

These organisations recognise that agility is a journey and not a destination. 

The key difference between the agile successes and the agile failures is the appreciation that this is a long haul. The shift in mindset and behaviours will take time but it can be achieved. This is a fundamental cultural transformation and the journey will be a lengthy one but this does not mean it should not be started.

Every journey has to start with small steps but unless you take them you will remain just where you are today and eventually become irrelevant.

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In the 12th Annual State of Agile Report (2018), survey responses verified that adoption of agile ways of working is a journey for the long-term and not an overnight conquest.

“In terms of organizational agile maturity, there continues to be ample room for improvement. Only 12% percent responded that their organizations have a high level of competency with agile practices across the organization, and only 4% report that agile practices are enabling greater adaptability to market conditions. The encouraging news is that 59% recognize that they are still maturing, indicating that they do not intend to plateau where they are.”[4]

Change the conversation

This is the #fail conversation

“I believe we need more agile ways of working.

Let’s find out what technology we need and get someone in to help us with that Post-it Note thing. Everyone else is doing it so we’ll be sorted!”

This is the #win conversation

“I believe we need more agile ways of working.

Let’s find out what cultural transformation we need and get someone in to help us with the education, coaching and mentoring whilst we embark on the journey. I recognise that this is a long-term programme of change but without it we will seek to exist.”

Poor appetite?

Those leaders and organisations that do not have the appetite for this scale of change will not survive the age of digital disruption. This is an appetite for the longest lunch, not a quick snack.

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Whilst the benefits of increased agility are compelling, organisations attempting to embark on the journey whilst still clinging to the traditional structures and paradigms, and ignoring the cultural transformation needed, will not even get to sit at the table.

Organisations that have the appetite and the hunger for adaptability will have the competitive edge in the digital economy. They know that culture will eat strategy for breakfast.

Reality check

Organisations that will survive, let along thrive are those with leadership that:

·      have pragmatic vision for the future

·      embrace agile ways of working

·      comprehend and acknowledge the  depth and breadth of the journey they are about to embark on

·      are committed and in it for the long-haul

·      support middle management throughout the journey

·      enable and accelerate the adoption of new values, principles and behaviours across the enterprise

·      flatten the hierarchy, remove command and control and provide employee autonomy

·      hold themselves accountable 

Leaders need to take off the blinkers and recognise what adoption of new ways of working really means. 

Stop hearing the latest buzzword and then mandate its adoption across the organisation 

When it doesn't work, don't look around for someone to blame. Just take a look in the mirror.


[1]https://www.theagileeleven.com

[2]Acknowledgement to https://duenablomstrom.com

[3]https://www.infoq.com/articles/what-agile-mindset

[4]https://explore.versionone.com/state-of-agile/versionone-12th-annual-state-of-agile-report

Karen FerrisComment