In an environment of uncertainty and complexity, agility will allow you to create lasting success. That's a nice sentence and many people agree to this. And then the big question comes: how do you get there? how do these puzzle pieces fall in place?
Two months ago, I posted my leadership view on the four pillars for agility: customer value, purpose, relationships and experimentation: How to reach agility? Four Key Drivers for Leaders. Today, I want to come back to these pillars and share how they fit together.
The underlying premise is that your company is acting in an uncertain and complex environment. Now, in this uncertainty, you want that decisions are made fast and bottlenecks are removed. This means, you need to empower the people at the front to experiment and try out what might work - and learn. You need to increase their autonomy to allow your teams to run forward with high velocity.
Now, many people argue that this will only lead to chaos. Yes, and while we allow our teams to run forward, we need to ensure that they are moving fast in the same direction. The organisation requires an aligned and transparent understanding of the big picture purpose. Important, this is not a top down vision. I like to call it the collective dream which is evolving with everyone participating.
What is the key ingredient to this collective dream? Our customers decide if we are successful. That means, we need to create value for them. The company purpose and the different team purposes are highly influenced by how we are creating value to our customers. And this is based on a deep understanding of their needs and challenges.
The fourth pillar is about creating a platform that allows the teams to run forward in the right direction. This platform facilitates cross-silo collaboration which allows quick sharing of information and further eliminates barriers to speed and fuels creativity. Smooth collaboration is based on common goals and good relationships.
As a leader that drive agility, your role boils down to two things: bring the people together to define a meaningful and customer-focussed purpose. With this established, the second role is removing bottlenecks, providing resources and further driving motivation. Sounds easy and yes, it takes a lot of efforts to become this agent of success.
In German we have this expression - "Wer den Pfennig nicht ehrt, ist des Talers nicht wert"; basically saying, you need to value to small change in order to be worthy of the dollar bills. Did I get this right? In many efficiency improvement projects, companies deploy a small focus team that is working on the large improvements and within a few years they can achieve great improvement results. Why is this not enough? How can these initiatives excite the entire workforce? And do these central projects have a lasting impact?
In Southeast Asia we engaged in an energy efficiency project for about 15 factories. And, we took a different approach: we directly asked the frontline people where they see improvement potential. I clearly remember a few projects we celebrated together with the staff at the factories. One was the idea to change the switches in a large warehouse. Imagine a large warehouse, and whenever you enter it, there is one switch for all the lights. The team experienced this as a waste of energy and suggested multiple switches for the different sections in the warehouse. Does this have a million dollar impact on your business? Even we might consider this as a small improvement, we celebrated it because the behaviours is correct and we wanted to stimulate more of the same.
The next time this team walks past a idle running grinding plant, they will switch it off and will save significant energy costs. Based on over a hundred similar small projects, we were able to reduce the annual energy cost by a three digit million dollar figure. Plus, we created ownership, commitment and engagement from everyone working in our plants. This was an exciting journey.
A case study from Coca Cola in Sweden shows similar results - Improvement opportunities that are hard for managers to see. The study compared the improvement impact of a Six Sigma initiative with an idea system for continuous improvement. The sum of the small ideas in total generated 6 times more savings than the big projects.
A positive leadership engaging all the workforce to participate in the overall vision of the organisation will have significant and lasting effects on your bottom line. How will you implement this in your company?
In general, I am a forward looking person and striving to excite people about the future. Even these times are full of positive experiences and opportunities. And sometimes, it is great to explore the past - historians play an important role in our daily life. This article is looking at studies from previous crises and shares interesting conclusions - What you can learn from history about innovating during a crisis.
The companies that invested in innovation during the crisis displayed 14% more growth in the following decade than the companies that did not. What did these companies do differently? They collaborated with other businesses, explored new market opportunities, leveraged technology in new ways, and were competing on value instead of price.
At the same time, in a crisis companies need to be cautious with spending. The research shows that investing into innovation is not the only driver for success. Companies need to find a balance between investing in innovation and reducing your cost structure. Though, firing staff is not the preferred way to control your costs - this will only backfire in the near future.
Here are cost management strategies that have been proven successful in previous crises:
While these defensive measure are in place, follow your customers and invest where you can create value. Allow your staff to experiment with new ways to interact with customers and learn as much as they can. It is very important to build a solid foundation that pushes you into the pole position when the economy is picking up again.
Where do you find inspiration in this list of measures? How will you start to balance innovation and cost control?
Many leaders understand that empowering their team members will improve motivation, creativity, agility and will lead to lasting success. Still, many struggle to find a balance between being the boss and stepping aside. What is the right path?
Previously we shared about the Innovation Days, a two day event in Shanghai to drive creativity: Cultivate a Creative Mindset while Delivering Business Results. During this event we encouraged the sponsors of the teams to observe their teams and be available to provide guidance.
In one team we observed great leadership. When the team went ahead to create a prototype of their idea, they involved their sponsor as an ordinary team member. This allowed this regional director to learn from the project team and at the same time share his ideas and advise. The key here is that he did this while being on the same level - not as the sponsor or a senior person.
What does it take to be a supportive, positive leader? At the start and throughout the journey, the role of a leader is to create clarity on the collective dream and what we intend to achieve with this team. Another role is to display the expected behaviour and values; be a role model. Lastly, supportive leaders coach their team members to overcome obstacles. When this is done, why not join the team and enjoy the ride together with them?
Thank you for your great leadership: Renyi Wang, Lance Yang.
Photo credit: Huntsman, Shanghai
The other day, a financial adviser shared with me that there will be a market correction coming soon and I should put my planned investments on hold. I was contemplating on this... What happens if many people believe in this correction and act accordingly? The spiral will go down. And, what will this mean for the companies I planned to invest in? They might lose funds and their growth will slow. Is this what I am believing in?
As a leader, I think we have a choice. We can follow the advice, maybe get richer ourselves and then what? Or, we can stick to our long-term investment strategy, support the organisations we are passionate about and reach our long-term growth targets; not just financially.
So, what does that mean for leaders? What can we achieve with financial targets? How is this creating engagement with your teams? Can these monetary targets be meaningful? Aren't these objectives leading to more selfishness?
As an alternative, we leaders can follow our passion and activate excitement among our team members. This will stimulate motivation and will lead to value creation for our customers. We can develop a greater and collective feeling of purpose. This collective dream will strengthen the collaboration in our team and across the wider ecosystem.
When you sit down with your team and define your goals, try to go beyond these dollar figures. Think about the results you want to achieve for your customers and with your business partners. In addition, specify the work environment you as a team want to cultivate. These are objectives that will bring meaning, excitement and passion to your team.
How are you leading beyond financial targets?
Challenging times are dragging us down. We see that among our friends at work, and we observe that about ourselves. We feel frustrated, overwhelmed, angry and this feeling lingers and gets stronger. Why is that? This downward spiral is often related to negative self-talk. But, how can we prevent this?
Andy Puddicombe says that you have a choice. Either you choose to succumb to your challenging emotions and make them worse with your own thoughts. Or, you can choose to observe them, to live with the challenges around you and let them go.
What does that mean in your daily life? The idea is to start to feel in balance and get at ease with the many challenges and opportunities in life. Focus on what is real and the things you can influence now. And, accept the things you can't. Then, you can slowly view the positive impact of the challenges and try to turn them into opportunities. Judgement of others and of yourself will peel away and you have the brainspace to focus on the actions to succeed.
As a leader, you can be patience with your team members, recognise when they (and yourself) have a bad day - that's part of life. In addition, define (collectively) meaningful goals that provide the big picture; this allows to turn current challenges into a stepping stones for a successful future. Don't fret when your team members do mistakes; they are part of the learning journey. The same way as they were on yours.
And what is in it for the company? Happy employees are 12% more productive than unhappy ones. And this also stimulates creativity as well - so important for innovation.
There is no magic how to master uncertain times - be innovative, be creative, think out-of-the box! Why is it so hard for many companies to thrive?
This article - How to rebuild a business after the coronavirus lockdown, WIRED UK - shows interesting cases of startups in the UK that managed to turn around and be successful despite the storm hitting the business world.
“Go back to basics,” Hannah Martin says. “Who are your ideal customers, what problem do you solve for them, how has that changed, can you adapt? Approach people, don't wait for them to update you. Look at what others are doing, in and outside your industry, see if you can get ideas.”
Many corporations are stuck in their view of the world, decision makers are too far away from reality, motivation structures are based on lagging indicators, experimentation is discouraged, silos are preventing velocity. Today's leaders need to get out of this cycle to create lasting success.
How do you bring your vision into action?
This week, I have been working with a team to improve their operations. They are doing great at developing new products and services, though they felt unsure about how well they are designing for their customers. For this team, we are looking at a network of internal customers in different functions and business unit. How can we manage these stakeholders needs with agility and creativity?
We started with the 4Qs Framework: who we serve, what we serve, how we serve based on the question who we are. The team appreciated the structure in the thinking process and how this helped to identify where they need to direct their focus. For example, the team said, yes, we know who we are serving. Though, do we know them deep enough, do we know their daily work challenges? Based on this simple framework, we identified the gaps and defined the next actions.
As a next steps we took the discovery principles of design thinking and started the people-centric and creative process of defining the key users, their needs and their pain points. This gave the team a much clearer pictures where the opportunities are to generate value for these people; mapping the existing value propositions with the challenges of the stakeholders. This allowed the team to refocus their operations on the key elements that generate value for their customers.
How are you uncovering the real needs of your customers?
Thank you Anthony Coundouris and Fray Gill.
Do you still think that meeting face-to-face is the only effective way to collaborate? Many people went through different experiences. First, they struggled to work remotely overcoming technical and social barriers. Then came the realisation that remote working actually works; it is possible to achieve a lot (and even more) even when we are not able to meet. And a third phase has arrived where we want to enrich virtual collaboration with physical interaction. What is you preferred mix of the two worlds?
I do love to read WIRED UK, uncovering the latest trend in tech and innovation. This recent 'work smarter' article expressed this observation: Coronavirus could finally fix some of our most toxic work habits.
In the past, many managers believed that they need to call a meeting to discuss everything, and most deliverables can only be created during these face-to-face interactions. This is great for the people that love to speak up and then hope that others are picking up what they said. How can you be sure that you have you captured all ideas from everybody?
“If you give people time to react to your question they can take the time and their contributions can often be more thoughtful,” says Prithwiraj Choudhury, Harvard Business School.
Work is not meant to be tied to a desk. Now, we have the opportunity to change our view what is the essence of working in the office. This can be the place to meet colleagues, to facilitate the random knowledge exchange at the "water cooler". Sometimes it is great to conduct a workshop face-to-face - the dynamic is different and maybe more relaxed. At the same time, we learned to appreciate to work by ourselves, which allows us to focus on tasks and go deeper with our thoughts.
The flexibility to choose the work location based on a variety of criteria will be one of the new norms we can build upon.
How will you benefit from this?
Image credit: Giacomo Gambineri
July is the start of a new quarter and many teams are about to define what their goals for the next three months will be. Objectives & Key Results (OKRs) are used in many organisations and I believe they are a great tool to write down and discuss the big picture objectives and the immediate achievements to focus on - strengthening alignment & transparency.
How to make these key results meaningful? Let me share with you an example. In the last two weeks I was supporting a global compliance team that is split in five smaller groups. In the last quarter they were struggling because they felt the OKRs were not relevant to what their work was actually about. What did we do differently?
First, we expanded the objectives beyond the core deliverables: timely implementation of regulatory requirements. A few posts ago, I shared an article why a single focus on performance might impede performance. The idea is that a solid environment is further improving the outcome of your teams. This environment is based on creating positive experiences and enabling continuous learning. Our compliance team added two objectives. One is related to adding value to stakeholders; the teams are encourage to establish frequent meetings with the different stakeholder groups and implement a structure way to showcase their projects and to understand where they can deliver more value. The second new objective is about strengthening knowledge sharing and collaboration within the global team. The key results for this are aiming at improving social connections between the smaller groups and establish knowledge sharing habits. The felt that these objectives are more meaningful and will support the core deliverables.
Second, we included a round to collect key results from the smaller groups. In this organisation it was typical that OKRs were defined by the team leaders and then communicated to the rest of the organisation. Sounds familiar? The experience of the previous quarter was that the team members didn't think the key results were relevant for them; they also felt that each group has totally different focus topics. Instead, after defining the objectives, the leaders went back to their small groups and defined key results for their group. These were then aggregated and clustered which made the key results relevant for all team members. As a result it was obvious that the different groups have an overlap of topics and this created stronger bonds across the global team.
Overall, the entire team is positive and confident with the key results for the upcoming quarter and are highly motivated to focus on bringing value to their stakeholders and to themselves. A great start for success.
Photo credit: keadventure.com
Until not so long time ago, success was defined by following a plan through, or you designing a product that is flawless, or you following the process to the dot. Management schools and project management standards have contributed to this push of perfectionism. The base for this are assumptions that markets are stable, customer needs won't change and operations are easy to map into processes. With the current crisis, and even before that, we experienced that we can't rely on these assumptions? The world is changing faster, the future looks uncertain and ecosystems are complex.
Why do we as leaders feel it is hard to move away from perfectionism?
"In the midst of great uncertainty, leaders across all industries are adjusting strategies and supply chains, rewriting the rules of operating, and sometimes making things up as they go. This kind of leadership demands mental agility. However, there is a challenge: our minds are not naturally built for agility." This Harvard Business Review article shares insights on how we can address our mental barriers to agility.
The first challenge are the distractions. Every day hundreds of messages are asking for our attention. And, we tend to get involved in too many activities; too many priorities are demanding our input. It takes courage and new habits to remove these distractions and focus on the things that matter; the old 'signal versus noise' situation. We can achieve more agility when we focus on small steps, intermediate achievements, instead of keeping a constant focus only at the top of the mountain.
The second challenge is about our ego. I had success with this in the past; my opinion is correct; I already have invested a lot. All this is fixing our mind and prohibits fast adjustments. Instead, as leaders we need to look at the collective wisdom, listen to all the people that are close to the market. Authentic leadership allows to be closer to reality and removes the self from the equation. And as a result, we and our team members can be more self-confident.
The third challenge is empathy. In a crisis we are expected to recognise and resonate with the emotions of the people involved. This is a very important step to overcome the difficulties and come out stronger than before. At the same time, we might reach a paralysis and are not able to make decisions that might hurt some people; then empathy might slow down our agility. As a leader we can find a balance with constructive compassion. This means we are respecting the emotions of people, we treat them as humans. Keep looking for the value these people are bringing, in the larger context of things.
Is your mind ready to conquer the opportunities of the next crisis?
Illustration by Keith Negley
The first half of 2020 is over - and wow, this was a rollercoaster, right? As a leader, what did you learn? Which new routines did you start? And what is on your list that requires immediate attention?
We have asked manager in Asia and Europe about their top priorities right now. Our findings have been positive and alarming at the same time.
Positive is that leaders care about their people and employees are confident that they are supported. There is a human touch in the leadership in Asia which might be based in the more collectivistic cultures in the region.
On the alarming side, we conclude that companies make limited efforts and plans for a new future and set up their business for success. Are companies putting themselves into hibernation and expecting to wake up and continue in the same way? This might not happen and operations, business models and ways of working require a creative remodeling.
Read here the detailed study: Teams Come First - New Business Models Later
Thank you, Björn Kälin and Emmanuel Montet, for your collaboration and support.
Photo credit: University of Maine
In the current situation, many companies are stumbling and stuck in the place they currently are - or worse, where they have been in 2019. At the start of the lockdowns, leaders tried to connect with their teams and engaged on a social level. Then, the urge of survival kicked in; many companies started cost cutting exercises. Is this sufficient to shine and thrive at the end of this crisis?
On my side, I am convinced that in order to create lasting success, companies need to focus on value creation. We need creativity to address totally new needs and we need velocity to deliver value at the time it matters most.
In this context it is great to see that major consulting companies are confirming this point of view. McKinsey pushes in a similar direction: Ready, set, go: Reinventing the organization for speed in the post-COVID-19 era.
In the article, they reinforce the notion that we need to re-invent our organisations. Do we expect that 2021 will be the same as 2019 has been? Consumer behaviours are changing, employee preferences have shifted, communication technologies are maturing fast. Here an interesting example: recently, a global alumni organisation was forced to conduct their annual general meeting (AGM) virtually. The organisers shared with me that this format allowed more relevant members to participate and the outcome served the global community better. This was never possible with a physical event. Will they continue with a virtual AGM? Probably yes. Transformations around us are happening fast; and we as individuals and as business leaders need to adapt as well.
McKinsey mentions 9 triggers for speed in your organisation. Autonomous, cross-functional teams with more freedom to make their own decisions, with reduced hierarchy & bureaucracy, and with a clear result focus will execute lasting success. Further, successful organisations are embedding themselves in a collaborative network of partners, customers and suppliers. This means, building a platform that facilitates hybrid work and continuous development of the people is essential to remove barriers. And, what is the role of today's leaders? Enabling, inspiring and empowering these strategic teams. Step back and see success flourish.
How do you create lasting velocity?
While guiding teams towards more agility, I often hear that people are overwhelmed with a mountain of tasks. One reason might be that people misunderstand agility with rushing. Can you really achieve 10 times more by trying to do the same things you did yesterday a little faster? The answer might be to try to do less, especially less of the things that don't bring you and your team further towards your goals.
There is one concept that in my experience helps a lot - and it is old. It goes under the name of 2nd Quadrant, Priority Matrix, Eisenhower Matrix... A simple 2x2 grid where you place your tasks: important and urgent, or not. In theory, the solution is easy. Everything that is not important, don't do it; simply drop it (non-urgent) or delegate it (urgent). The crux with the important activities is that we often start with the urgent tasks. By then end of the day, end of the week, we realise that that important and non-urgent things are still not done. All concepts highlight the same thing: increase your focus on the second quadrant (important, non-urgent tasks).
Yes, understood, and how can I achieve this? People approached me and said, this is really hard - even when they know the who-to. The solution is that you start with your weekly planning (best on Friday) and block time for the 2nd quadrant tasks. It is so simple, and so hard. Here is my tip: go to your calendar and create an appointment on Wednesday 9am that is repeating weekly - mark the entry as busy. In the appointment, list 3-5 items that you really want to get done. Based on my experience, the trick here is that you start your work in the morning with that important, non-urgent task; before any other distractions come up. For sure, any other day of the week works; though if you schedule these tasks for the afternoon, I promise that you will have many excuses and a lack of energy to get started.
With this, you are starting a new routine that is giving you space and satisfaction to complete your strategic tasks. You will be better prepared when urgent things are coming up. And you might end up with more blocked time in your calendar. If you want to see how this looks like, watch this funny video: Nextel: Dance Party.
How do you carve out more time for your big rocks?
Photo credit: balisurfexpress.com
Today is June 2020. Are you looking at the 18-months plan you have created in January 2019? Most probably, nothing on it would make sense in today's world. They have reflected a very different reality. And the complexity and uncertainty we are acting in, makes planning difficult.
What is the alternative? In my work to improve operational excellence, I am guiding teams to create specific and clear key results that will be achieved in the upcoming 3 months. This is a time horizon we can foresee with more certainty. And how do we make sure the teams are going in the right direction? This is where we need a northstar, a collective dream, that gives us a guidance for direction and priorities.
No plan at all? This feels very uncomfortable... Sure, we need something that is bridging the northstar and the key results; these are the objectives. They give us the context for the key results. And, in order to provide clear guidance, I suggest teams to imagine how the end results might look like and how the path can look like. This imagination of the results and the path is providing excitement and clarity.
If we don't have a plan, how do we measure success? In the past, project teams celebrated that they finished their project on time and on budget - and delivered outdated requirements? Instead, I suggest teams to measure success based on these three dimensions: a) value to customers, b) discipline of routines that create an excellent working environment, c) the pace the team members are learning.
How would you think this vision-to-action approach will contribute to accelerated success?
Earlier this year, with a friend we discussed how to start a mindset shift initiative in a company; introducing autonomy and agility. On the one hand, the teams might be reluctant to experiment with the new ways of working. At the same time, some of the leaders are cautious if not doubtful. How do you make both sides comfortable to give it a try?
The obvious answer is in small steps - with a pilot - and then let it organically grow. The success of the first team will spread and other teams want to try, and the inception has started. For some people that might be too slow. An alternative way is to limit the pilot in scope. You introduce the initiative to a wide audience but only related to a small part of their daily work.
This reminded of what we started in 2014 in a manufacturing excellence program in Southeast Asia, covering 15 production sites. Besides the typically efficiency projects, we launched an initiative to strengthen the ownership of the frontline workers; the aim was to let them take more responsibility and get them more engaged with their surroundings.
This ownership program was straightforward. We divided the manufacturing site into areas and assigned teams to these areas. Each team then had three housekeeping tasks: a) keep them clean, b) keep all things orderly, c) make the area enjoyable to work in. They received a budget and had full autonomy on how they implemented these three tasks.
The results were great. First, the areas' housekeeping improved a lot and the people installed rest areas, painted their work areas and beautified the factories. In addition, they were more engaged, excited to come to work and simply more content. In addition, we could then take this spirit of responsibility and accountability to areas closer to the key operational activities.
This can be an inspiration for you to introduce new routines that give people more autonomy and introduce agility at the workplace. Housekeeping is a good start; in an office environment that means that you can provide a budget to refresh the common areas and then continuously improve them.
With such programs you can try out how your teams adopt this new way of working. As leaders we can overcome some of our concerns and experiment with new leadership styles: more guidance, less micromanagement. And then, widen the reach of these routines to operational tasks.
Thank you for the discussions, Philippe Henrotaux.
In larger companies you can observe one barrier to success, and it is present almost everywhere. How can I make the people in the other function work for me? The managers then request to have communication training, support to improve their negotiation skills, and resort to escalation to the higher ranks. Is this effective? Will you solve the root cause of the collaboration problem?
A few weeks back, I conducted a workshop with the request to improve cross-silo collaboration and we introduced two simple concepts. How can I create win-win situations and how can I make other people trust me.
A simple game you can try right now is the 4x4 Tic Tac Toe. Take another person and try to play the game that all of you can get the most points. Here comes an interesting observation: many players try to block the opponent to get points, instead of allowing them to make points and get points yourself. Why are we fighting instead of working towards a common goal? In order to create win-win situation, interestingly, it takes only one party. The key is courage and consideration. Courage to express how win looks for you. Consideration to listen and understand what winning means to the others.
Trust is a loaded term; everybody knows it is important; few try to dissect it and understand how to cultivate trust. I tend to introduce the formula of trustworthiness by Charles H. Green: you can increase trust with credibility, reliability and intimacy; and reduce trust by self-orientation. Most are pretty obvious, though I like to share a few words about intimacy - not a word we are often using in a business context. According to Green, this is the most important factor. And, it relates to familiarity, safety and respect. The closer I am with the person in the other silo, the better we will be able to work together.
Improving collaboration across the boundaries in your organisation is vital. And, you don't need to wait for the others to join. Each individual can start to seek win-win situation and cultivate trustworthiness for themselves.
Where will you start today?
Photo credit: Galliard Games
This sounds weird, right? If we fully focus on performance, our performance will go down? How is that possible? And what can we do to improve performance in a sustainable way?
A while back I learned about this formula that your performance is equal to your potential minus your interferences. While I wanted to learn more about this a stumbled across this article written by Tim Gallwey about the Inner Game and its impact on capability building. One passage brilliantly explains the above paradox:
"For example, my need to finish an article by the requested deadline obscures the reasons I chose to write the article in the first place, and dampens the natural enjoyment of expressing my thoughts and convictions. The person caught up in performance momentum neglects learning, growth, and the inherent quality of the work experience."
Let's look what we are doing at work. At first, yes, we are producing products and services; a key aim is to produce outcome of our work. At the same time, we are also engaged in two other things. We are building teams, cultivate relationships, providing a safe environment for our people - this is what Tim Gallwey calls 'experience'. In addition, we need to grow in our skills and as personalities during our career - this is what Tim Gallwey calls 'learning'. As a summary and taking the example of sales, we need to provide a trusted environment with our customers and we need to engage with them to learn what they need. Only then, we might be able to sell our products to the customers.
This week, I was coaching a team to develop their objectives and key results and based on the discussions we had, the team then added two objectives related to cultivating better relationships and engaging in more learning. They are very engaged now with their objectives.
What does that mean as a leader? Do I stop pushing for results? The way I see it, a leader's responsibility is to provide a safe and challenging environment. This will create a condition in which people can grow their capabilities, become more creative, take more ownership, enjoy more and become better team players.
In my work, quite often I see myself as the person that is providing the space to reflect. Which is important to become more excellent.
The Inner Game of Work: Building Capability in the Workplace.
In my projects we often talk about agility and a lot of efforts are taken to initiate tons of new activities. At first people are excited and expectations from the management are high. The teams try to achieve more in less time and are rushing forward. After a while, a cloudy feeling starts to emerge - is this it? Exhaustion arises and with that frustration: what is exactly different from what we did before?
In my eyes, two fundamental questions are not answered often enough.
Why do we need to become agile?
And what does agility really mean?
Today, our business and organisational context is getting more uncertain and more complex. In order to strive and become stronger in this environment, we need to be able to constantly find new solutions. Solutions that bring value to the business, bring value to our customers. At the same time, we can't wait for the perfect solution. We need to share early prototypes and establish an early feedback. They need to be short because everyone is constantly confronted with new challenges and opportunities; the people around us evolve, and we need to evolve as well. Velocity matters! Do we need to run faster? Or do we need to run smarter?
Ok, we know the Why. And how can we get there? Some people come up with great frameworks, activities, templates and say, that is what we need to become agile. In my experience, while these tools are supporting the journey, I see that it is more important to bring people back to the foundational principles of agility.
First, we need to go deep and understand the needs and challenges of our customers, understand how we can create value for our customers. In order to do this we need to interact with them with empathy and compassion; getting close to them. Co-create the solution they need - beyond their initial wants.
Based on this and based on our values, each team, each department, each company requires a purpose, a vision, a collective dream that guides every person in the organisation in what they need to focus on in their daily work. This big picture objective should be specific, tangible, ambitious and created from within.
When we are dealing with complexity, can we simply focus on our own territory? Act in our own silo and let the others deal with their own? In my experience, improving the way people work together across silos has a significant impact on the results of the individual silo and the entire company. And this collaboration starts with the cultivation of good relationships; they will establish trust and build the foundation for efficiency.
An important barrier to velocity is trying to be perfect. This will delay delivery and prevent early feedback-cycles. Potentially we are wasting efforts on work that are not related to creating value for the customer and the company. Instead, if you have an idea, an early draft of a solution, give it a try! Experiment. In case that solution was wrong, then at least you know it, you got early feedback and guidance on how to create more value. Build - Measure - Learn. Be curious what other people, especially your customers, will say about your idea.
Cultivating agility in your team is a journey which will take a few months to get established. Be patient until you can harvest the benefits. Stay true to the principles and enjoy the ride.
This week I attended a webinar organised by BI Worldwide, Grant Rawlinson sharing how he has attempted to cross from Singapore to New Zealand on human power: rowing and cycling. The key lesson he learned during this journey? Resilience is being able to weather the storm. Though, sometimes we need to be able to grow stronger when we are under pressure - Grant calls this "Anti-fragility". Here are my key take-aways.
1) In a storm, don't make strategic decisions! Keep going; there will be sunshine soon again.
2) When you hit a major roadblock, go back to your original objective; the purpose why you started the journey.
3) Select your partners based on motivation and mindset; skills are not a good indicator for successful teamwork.
4) Only spend so much energy in a day that you can regain in that day; with this sustaining effort you can go on forever.
This explorer's mindset is true when you want to achieve a major adventure like the crossing Grant is attempting. And this also applies when we as an individual and as a business are facing a crisis like the current situation. It might very well be an opportunity to grow stronger.
Thank you Omar and David.
Photo Credit: Alistair Harding
A manufacturing site in Thailand had an established continuous improvement program that included brainstorming sessions, Kaizen reports, 6-Sigma activities. Still, the plant management team saw a need to drive excellence. They felt there was a lack of innovation and inspiration. And headquarters launched a strategic initiative to significantly improve productivity. How can the local team achieve this?
While observing the 300-people site, there was no lack of team spirit and engagement. They were a happy family. At the same time, most topics and issues where dealt within the respective departments. Also, the annual improvement topics where defined within these silos. The familiarity between the functions did not translate into deep cross-silo collaboration. New activities were required.
With the local leadership team we decided on a 12-months innovation program that had a clear focus on a) driving excellence & optimisation, b) cultivate innovation & agility, c) strengthen cross-silo collaboration. The program had two core phases: create crazy ideas and then execute these ideas.
During the first phase we conducted a Innovation Days event for about 70 people from various functions. We defined six teams that focused on different, specific challenges around maintenance, process technology, supply chain, environment and others. During these two days workshop, the teams engaged in brainstorming to better understand their customers and the brainstormed solution ideas. The success here was that the insights and the ideas were discussed across silos; this sparked creativity and opened people's mind. (Previous blog entry)
In the second phase we executed these ideas with Focus Cycles that lasted three months. Again, the six teams took their crazy ideas and started to work on implementing these ideas. The big change for the people was that we didn't chase a specific deliverable. Rather, we gave them a time frame (three months) after which the teams shared what they achieved and what they struggled with. This resulted in a big mindset shift and the teams realised that in this way, they are operating much closer to what they want to achieve and were delivering value to the overall operations. (Previous blog entry)
After about six months, the local and regional leadership team looked at exciting results:
Thank you Aphisak Traipoonsin, Teerapan Jaieam and Paul Seagle for your support and enabling this great journey.
In our work, we are supporting teams to strengthen their agility in their daily work; and the start of that journey is not simply to become agile - or faster, rushing. The starting point is that teams and companies are facing uncertainty and complexity - and fighting is not a successful approach in the long run. In this context I came across this article in Forbes written by Steven Denning: The 12 Stages Of The Agile Transformation Journey. Here are my key inspirations.
What do we want to achieve with agile transformation journeys? “The ability of an organization to renew itself, adapt, change quickly, and succeed in a rapidly changing, ambiguous, turbulent environment” as well as “the ability to quickly reconfigure strategy, structure, processes, people, and technology toward value-creating and value-protecting opportunities.”
Can any person in the organisation start working in an agile way? Yes, the principles of agility are applicable for small team as for large companies. Any team can be successful with that. At the same time, the higher in the hierarchy this is started, the better the results.
For the leadership team it is important to acknowledge that establishing an agile mindset and mode of working is a never-ending journey; definitely an initiative or simple project that can be finished soon. Strengthening agility in your organisation is a great learning and development opportunity.
Starting the agility journey should start with a team that represents the diversity of the organisation. Team members should come from different functions and from different hierarchical levels. At the same time, this squad is not about implementing technology. They key focus for this team is improving the business.
Once the first team has shown success, then the journey can grow organically. New teams are inspired to experiment with the new way of working and deliver more success stories. And, in times of failure, stay true to the path you have started; treat those as learning opportunities.
The journey towards agility is not about implementing a structure, new processes, and using different tools. They might simply be means for a new mindset and behaviours. It is important to continuously evolve the idea of being agile for your organisation.
How can I support this journey as a leader? How do I need to evolve my leadership style? As a start, command & control is the antidote to agility. You need to be able to coach and inspire your teams. And agility is based on the delegation of decision-making and ownership.
Maturity in this journey means to master strategic agility; being able to continuously identifying and redefining market success areas - for learning and development.
How did you start your journey towards agility?
Two years back, I read the story of Ilkka Paananen in Wired UK (link); still today it is an inspirational story on how to lead with motivation. After a failed endeavour, he started Supercell and within 6 years the company was valued over 10 billion US dollars. How did he do that?
In simple terms, he put the right team together and then created the best environment for the team to thrive. What is that best environment? Turn the organisational structure upside down and empower them to define everything that relates to the success of the company: the vision, how they work, where to put the focus... Full autonomy? Yes, provide the team with all the freedom and automatically they will also take over the responsibility, the ownership for the results. The success lies in motivation, the energy and the passion that you can observe in your teams.
So, what do I need to do as a leader? Create that environment! Create excitement, allow them to discover how to do things, hire a diverse team, be a coach, be passionate about the company - and be transparent.
What makes you a great leader?
Image Credit, Nick Wilson, WIRED UK
Agility is for many the path for success, and I see many teams trying to run faster, sprinting and simply spinning the wheels faster. In my experience, this is not a sustainable approach; you are burning energy, burning people.
Velocity means that all your efforts are adding value and none is wasted. In this way, we are achieving results faster and with higher quality. To make sure, we know where to add value we need to be close to our customers, get their guidance on where to focus our efforts. This means we need to build relationships and connect frequently with the customers and stakeholders of our products and services.
One excellent way to do this is with prototypes. Why are prototypes so important? They make our ideas, achievements and challenges more tangible. The customers can imagine how the future solution will add value and where we need further tweaking. In addition, it is a fun way to celebrate what we have achieved within the team.
During my observations, I realised one thing that many teams forget. Demonstrating your prototype is a great opportunity to obtain direction and priority from your customers and key stakeholders. Prepare questions that provide this guidance in key areas.
Which achievements have you been proud of? How did you demonstrate them to your customers?
A research & development centre in Shanghai employs more than 100 chemists from different business units. After bringing all these business units into one location, the technical directors identified a significant opportunity to create a better structure to collaborate across these silos. We initiated a program to harvest this opportunity and to identify new technologies across all business units driving the business in the long run. In addition, the program aimed at facilitating experience sharing and cultivating innovation and collaboration behaviour.
With the sponsorship from the regional technology and marketing leaders, we initiated a program that created different communities along application categories. Each of these communities then established a routine of brainstorming new technologies. Each cycle lasted about 3 months and focused on one focus topic supported by the sponsors. Success was based on close collaboration with marketing and engaging in creativity methods that stimulated open and human-centric thinking.
This program is in its fourth year and initiated many new projects to discover and develop new technologies; this was possible by combining the strength of multiple business units and creating hybrid solutions solving customer pain points.
In addition, we observed a new mindset cultivated among the R&D chemist. One community owner expressed it like this: "In the past when I faced a challenge, I would go back to my desk and solve it by myself. Now, I come out of the lab and reach out to my colleagues and we find solutions together." Leveraging the experience and knowledge of your peers will bring fast and high quality results. Collaboration across organisational, regional and hierarchical borders has lead to success. This program laid the foundation for this change.
Thank you for this fantastic opportunity Enshan Shen, Wu Min, Renyi Wang, Meising Ho.
Tim is a change practitioner in the area of innovation and excellence. He is working with teams to accelerate innovation, collaboration and agility.