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Culture is key to organisational agility… and leaders set the tone

Organisations are striving to embrace agility, but they often run into a people problem. So, we asked Amy Finn, PA people and talent expert, how to create the right culture for an agile organisation.

Organisational agility is ultimately a people and culture change

Agile organisations are places where the culture – ‘the way we do things here’ – supports certain ways of working. People sense they have licence to try things out, to run with ideas. They sense they’re supported. The organisations where people feel like this have already taken the biggest step towards being agile because they’re ready to be agile. Agile initiatives can only take hold and flourish if your culture favours them.

Working with organisations around the globe and surveying their leaders has shown us that being agile boils down to five things, all of which come back to your people.

  1. Centre on your customer
  2. Speed up time to value
  3. Design for simplicity
  4. Build to evolve
  5. Liberate your people

You can only centre everything on customers if your people understand what that means and how they work towards it. You can only speed up time to value if your people are ready to do new things like work in cross-functional teams. You can only be flexible and adaptable, continuously evolving, if your people are ready to change. You can only simplify your organisation – and jettison a lot of old habits in the process – if your people can change with you. And you can only do all that if you liberate your people, giving them the power to make decisions.

Did you know the top 10% of financial performers are 30% more agile than the rest?

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Business leaders are responsible for forming an agile culture

Creating this new culture isn’t easy. It starts at the top. If leaders are used to managing projects and programmes in a certain way, they’ll naturally want to manage their agile strategy like that too. They’ll tell their people to be agile and criticise them if they fall short. The irony is, agile initiatives are meant to empower people, but delivering them like this is incredibly dictatorial.

Good leaders should create a vision for agile transformation in the same way they create an inspiring company vision. They also need to give everyone a clear idea of their role in achieving this vision and emphasise that the organisation backs them. So, when that report lands on their desk and the results aren’t what they hoped, it’s not the cue to chastise their people, but to re-assess their approach. They need skill and sensitivity to nudge their people towards new ways of working. Failing fast and learning well are vital to working in an agile way, and leaders must not discourage experimentation and innovation.

Trust is key to getting people to buy into the agile vision

Leaders should also build trust. Many already delegate decision-making to the management layer below them. But for real change to happen, they’ll need to go a step further. If they give teams responsibility for something new, then they send a clear signal that things are different. You can start small by giving the team a specific challenge and a deadline for recommendations, but then you’ll need to leave them to it.

Organisational agility builds on small starts

Being agile is more than a one-off project. It must become a way of life, not least because competitors don’t stand still either. By starting small, you increase the chances that change builds its own momentum. Every part of the business will want to follow. And that’s when the whole organisation becomes agile – and stays that way.

Contact the people and talent team


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