Agile Business Begins with Agile Culture
I kid you not, this conversation took place in the Mindjet kitchen this afternoon:
Person 1: [Notices Person 2 looking at tins of day-old Chinese food on counter] Can I interest you in some day-old chow mein?
Person 2: I don’t know, it looks pretty rubbery…
Person 1: No way, you just have to put the right spin on it.
Person 3: It’s agile chow mein!
[All three burst into extra-geeky laughter]
Jokes aside, agility is way important these days. I know I’ve recently talked a lot about lessons learned from Baratunde Thurston, but in all seriousness, that guy (Director of Digital for The Onion) has a pretty solid notion of how technology is moving and changing business and people.
In a recent interview with Fast Company, he labeled uncertainty as our only certainty and change as our constant. And in a volatile environment like that, says: “Coalition building is an important skill– the ability to connect. You can have a distinct edge if you can take advantage of community.”
Can We Predict the Unpredictable?
Of course not– we’re not mind readers. But what we can be is better prepared. I like to think of it like the homes here in San Francisco, which — surprise, surprise! — weren’t built super close together to annoy us all. It was thought that, in the likely event of an earthquake, their closeness would provide one giant structural support system.
Similarly, most organizations understand the need for agility in the likely event of a shake-up, but what they tend to overlook is the starting point, a.k.a. the structural support system, a.k.a. the people. There’s no process that can save you from having to rebuild; it’s up to the people in your organization to align and move forward. So give them their best chance at doing that without too many hiccups. Adrian Cho of IBM puts it like this:
Organizational agility is difficult, especially for large organizations, but it begins with agile individuals and teams. Put together teams of talented people who can react promptly to change and improvise solutions, and you’ll enable an agile organization that can respond readily to challenges.
The top is a great place to start. If management makes the first move, then employees are less likely to experience anxiety, or an unraveling of their confidence in the company’s direction. So heads-up, all you leaders! Be forthright and direct with your employees, and communicate with them frequently– especially in the face of change.
Technology is just as important. Information is the currency of the digital age, and just like ca$h money, we all need a constant flow of it to survive. So check out internal tools that meet your communication needs and allow employees to temper information consumption, not drown in it.
Don’t Be Afraid
Stefan Kohn, head of innovation management at Fuji lm Europe, believes that the reason most people have a problem with hopping on the agility train is the fear of change itself. “Companies sometimes choose to neglect change. Those that are truly agile embrace it, even when it risks cannibalising an existing product.”
Agility is risky business by nature, but without it we’d be static. So inject your company’s guts with agility until your employees are geeking out over leftovers. It’ll make achieving it on the outside way less frightening.