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?
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.
In our world, uncertainty and complexity is accelerating - especially in the current situation. At times, we don't even know how the world will look like in 2 months. Some leaders are trying to control and reduce this complexity and uncertainty; is this possible and the right approach? Successful teams, instead, are trying to plunge and thrive in these challenges, and respond with agility.
In my experience, one key barrier for agility is the environment cultivated by the leaders. Are we enabling our teams to experiment and create value within a defined strategic direction? McKinsey created a summary of these leadership challenges. Here is how I would summarise, what leaders have been doing great to achieve success:
a) establishing a clear vision and direction with a focus on results
b) empowering & connecting teams and allocating resources with flexibility
c) embracing a new way of working that allows fast sensing & seizing of opportunities
On a personal level, there are three creative mindsets, we leaders need to embrace - for ourselves and as a role model for our teams:
1) discovery to drive innovation
2) partnership to smoothen collaboration
3) abundance to strengthen value creation
Where will you focus first?
Here the details from the article: Five Fifty: Agility at the Top
How do you stimulate an innovation mindset in a large campus with over 600 people? What can you do to make people excited to work together across functions and hierarchies? What are the business reasons to invest in such an endeavour? Go big! This is what we did in Shanghai, organising Innovation Days in a new format.
At first, we made sure that we got commitment from the regional top leadership team. Together we collected critical business challenges and opportunities from across all the functions. We then selected eight topics and formed a core teams that took ownership for each of these topics; every team was supported by a sponsor.
We then planned a two-day event with the objective to collect broad ideas. We first planned to inspire all 200 participants with keynote speakers. Then each team went through a program that allowed them to learn more about the topic, obtain a deeper understanding of the challenges and then creatively discover solution ideas. The second day, the teams go excited with creating prototypes and then presenting them to a group of regional managers. We gave the participants a platform where they can experiment and dream up new opportunities.
In order to make this large-scale event possible and successful, we decided to turn the core team members into facilitators. A few weeks prior to the Innovation Days we invited all of them for a preparation workshop. During this workshop we explained the detailed agenda and practised the important parts. In addition, the teams started to describe their challenge and collected information prior to the two-day event.
The regional leadership was excited about the outcome of the Innovation Days. During the two days, they observed a lot of energy and excitement in the different teams. The presentation of the prototypes illustrated the solutions in a tangible way. Some ideas provided important foundations for upcoming improvements in areas like trading, manufacturing, purchasing and others. In addition, the collaboration and exchange between the different functions and business units brought people closer and many participants expressed that they have learnt a lot.
What happened with these ideas? The core teams took them back as input to their projects. The leadership team reviewed the progress of all teams on a monthly basis. Six months later, as one of the concrete results, the company won the award as employer of the year in China; this was the result of the employer branding team during the innovation days.
"The [Innovation Days] grouped associates from all businesses and functions to exchange ideas on how to address the practical challenges they were facing and inspire each other with the aim to come up with creative ideas and innovative approaches." - Campus Managing Director
At Hive17 Consulting, we are supporting organisations to accelerate operational excellence. This means we aim to cultivate creativity and agility within teams. You might ask yourself, what does agility mean and why is it so important?
Do you feel that your business is facing raising uncertainty and complexity? Are you facing with increased competition and customer requirements? In such situations, successful companies act with speed and they focus on delivering maximum customer value with their current assets. As an organisation, you want to quickly address changing customer needs, regulatory frameworks and pick-up new opportunities. And it is not sustainable to rush, increase pressure and centralise control.
How does leadership look like in an agile organisation?
Basically, we have identified four foundational drivers to cultivate agility as a leader:
Where do you find the biggest barriers to drive agility in your organisation?
Image credit: copyright by Lloyd images, Extreme Sailing Series, Carbon 6ix, Best, Land Rover
In the current period, most companies are struggling - either their income is plummeting (e.g. airlines), their efficiency and productivity drops (due to unusual work conditions), and some are totally overwhelmed with a new level of demand (e.g. online grocery shops). When I hear the people in my network, we agree that old recipes won't work to overcome these challenges.
Many people are afraid in these times of uncertainty - nobody is able to say where we will be in 3 months time. This fear provokes negative feelings and rush reactions. Some leaders resort to old habits, like pushing people to reach financial targets at all costs, like adding more control over their employees, like neglecting what the company and team stand for. These reactions might work for today, though they will create frustration and might very well jeopardise a quick recovery in the near future. And we are all guilty reacting with a quick fix, right?
We at Hive17 Consulting suggest a different approach - an approach that requires a little bit of reflection at the start. This will allows the leaders to guide their teams, their companies to a fast and sustainable success - Slowdown to Speedup. In our approach we suggest three ingredients: positivity, creativity and agility.
Positivity - Neurosciences tells us that in moments of change we are preferably in a positive emotional state; then our neurotransmitters can establish new connections and better adapt to change. As a leader, this means we should feel healthy and content ourselves and maintain a positive outlook for the future. With this foundation, we can guide our teams through this uncertain times and give them a meaningful direction, a collective dream. In my experience, empathy and a good understanding of the people around us help us to convey these messages successfully and engage all of us with authenticity. Let's put some enjoyment back in our work.
Creativity - Old recipes won't work. This means we need new solutions to new challenges. How can we use the uncertainty to our advantage and strive? At first, we suggest to to formulate the "problems" as opportunities; for example, instead of cutting costs, let's say that we want to maximise the value creation with the asset we have. Many people say that creativity is innate - we all have it in us. As leaders we can facilitate creativity by removing restrictions and encourage bold, crazy ideas.
Agility - Once we have these crazy, positive solutions, we need speed to execute them. Though, agility is not only velocity; it also means flexibility and importantly a learning attitude. The collective dream gives us the long-term direction. And, this will be the input to make decisions while we execute smaller parts of the big solution. During the implementation we might have many assumptions what will work best; let's get started and test them out - step-by-step. As a leader it is important to maintain a safe environment to experiment, fail and encourage learning. Speed is the natural result.
Some of you might say, this takes too much time - I need to react now. Based on my past experience, the actions above might take a couple of days and the first positive results can be seen in 2-4 weeks. On top of that, the teams will achieve magic; rewarding efforts, empowerment and a clear long-term vision will bring the best out of your teams - now and in future.
Digital transformations are in everybody's mind and talk - the topic of the decade, I would almost call it. And multiple studies are quoted that 70% of them have failed. Is it because we set the wrong targets? Do these initiatives fail because leaders are not committed? Can we achieve success while applying the same processes and methods of the past?
On my side, I like to think of transformations in a different way. Instead of leading people from a situation A to a situation B, I suggest to enable the teams to define and achieve their own change - perpetually as a continuous journey. The based principle in my experience to achieve sustainable and fast success for transformations is intrinsic motivation - with two core elements.
Frame - the first key element provides two things to the team members: a direction and boundaries. There are many names and input for this frame: vision, dream, values, strategy, beliefs... All of them are contributing to ensure that our people are putting their efforts on the right things, established in a collective and positive way.
Empowerment - the second key element allows the people to act fast within the defined frame. The main goal of empowerment is to remove barriers and facilitate speed in achieving the collective dream. This is achieved by providing our people with an autonomy of responsibility which means allowing people to experiment, fail and learn. As a result, we will strengthen creativity and agility - contributing value in a short period of time.
This frame and empowerment is a structure which is best achieved by starting with small steps. First, creating a safe environment to get used to this new way of operating. Team members and leaders alike need to experience the benefits, define how this works best for them and enjoy the journey. Then we can expand this new operating model to more, bigger and exciting challenges.
Where do you see success in digital transformation?
My fellow transformation practitioner, Kamales Lardi, published an article sharing her views on the challenges that occur when executing a digital transformation strategy - Digital Transformation: How to develop strategy under uncertainty. A great list for leaders to understand how we can contribute to successful initiatives. And it made me thought, can we even give it another spin, make leaders bolder?
#1 Create a Confident Leadership Team
#2 Thrive in Uncertainty
#3 Create a Frame for Fast Results
#4 Create a Human-centric Organisation
#5 Implement a Structure that Strengthens Creativity and Agility
Am I the bottleneck to our business success?
How do you translate your vision into action?
Do I appreciate the creativity and insights of all people in our organisation?
Beside reading a lot of Science-Fiction books (inspiration to think far far out of the box) and Wired UK (for the latest tech trends), I am also following McKinsey for their solid insights into the business world. And they have this series of Five-Fifty which are great in today's fast paced world; and this one is about change: Five Fifty: The changeable organization.
Yes, we need to change; and yes, we are afraid and resist change. Still I believe that in order to "manage" change, we need to enable our people and our organisation to define the change and then be excited about it. Here is what the research of McKinsey tells us about this.
How do you prepare for exciting digital transformations?
* Organizational health: A fast track to performance improvement
This week I coincidentally stumbled across this simple explanation of the foundation of agile. A reminder for myself - and for all of us - where does agile come from.
"A set of values and principles that guide the team’s decision making."
For example, the interaction with people is more important the processes and rules; or the collaboration with the customer is more valuable than the contract we negotiated. These will guide a team to make the right thing.
And as a leader? Give your teams a clear direction, remove barriers, motivate intrinsically, stay close with them and join the party as an equal.
What did I miss?
End of last year, we initiated a benchmark survey on how different companies experience their journey to accelerate innovation mindsets. How can we fully exploit our potential to deliver novel products, processes and experiences to our customers. We presented a number of activities and traits and asked two simple questions: are these important for innovation? and are they established in your organisation?
Here are the results of this APAC-focussed survey; they show clear indications on where to put energy and where to start:
Find here the complete survey results: The Current State of Innovation - Report.
Big Thank You to all that have participated in the survey!
The world is getting automated, more mundane processes are taken over by robots and all of us will be confronted to interact with smarter machines. This has an impact on the future-proof skills we require.
This McKinsey report highlights the key skills that we need to focus on for our employees:
Are you ready to solve problems with speed? Are you ready to pick-up the latest trends? How well are you collaborating beyond your silos? In my eyes, this underlies the need for new structures to create deeper understanding of the people we work with and to experiment and execute creative solutions.
Five Fifty - Soft Skills for a Hard World
In the recent months, I am very happy to support various teams in getting more agile. Last week, I had a call from one of the sites: "Tim, we have a huge problem! Some of our experiments have failed and some teams can't finish their projects" - "Hey, that's great! What we are focusing on is that we experiment and learn - getting faster along the way."
In a conversation earlier this week we reflected on this. Cultivating an agile mindset not only means applying the processes and methods for developing new solutions. In the example above, the teams struggle with significantly shorter project times and delivering experiments instead of fix deliverables - as usual, this is a journey.
Therefore, we need to experiment and use agility in applying the methods, concepts and processes of becoming agile. Experiment to experiment, be agile in becoming agile - if that makes any sense.
Implementing visionary solutions is like climbing a mountain. And so is to change a mindset of people. Why not using the same approach to take small steps to conquer the summit?
We at Hive17 Consulting are devoted to creating an environment for people to work with passion, engagement and fun via positive leadership and intrinsic motivation. We believe that it takes more than perfect processes, systems, organizational charts and value statements to make your company successful. Our people need to understand, shape and believe in the change journey. And for us, it is clear that this foundation will unleash people’s full potential.
Where is your heart: in Design Thinking? or in Agile? Both concepts are used a lot in the context of innovation and excellence. I heard a lot of arguments from both "camps" which is superior and that the one is a subset of the other - rich discussions.
What most can agree is that the underlying concepts are pretty similar - why not use both? In programs I have conducted - especially in order to become excellent - I have combined them to accelerate creativity and speed.
There is a huge overlap: both concepts are about empowerment, experimenting, minimal viable products, fundamental concepts of agility (arguably from Lean Manufacturing).
Where they distinguish are in two particular areas; and it is good to understand their strength apply where most valuable. Here is how I make the simple distinction.
> Create Ideas: human-centric Design Thinking helps to go deeper in your understanding of the customers and stakeholders.
> Execute Ideas: the strong focus on iterations in Agile, combined with the scientific approach of measuring assumptions are great to accelerate momentum when solutions are implemented.
How do you see the two concepts play with each other?
"The Value of Everything"
Everybody is talking about innovation and yes, it is a critical components for the sustainable success of companies - and entire societies.
This article (long read) shares the experience of successful innovation in a larger scale - how governments can push creativity and successful new solutions for cities, provinces, countries - large scale. And the result:
>> Innovation is driven by a mission <<
In detail this means:
* let's be bold and inspirational
* aim at high ambitions that are risky
* define clear timelines and results
* connect people across silos
* give research teams autonomy and allow them to experiment
How are you applying these points in your team / lab?
This economist has a plan to fix capitalism. It's time we all listened
Last week, the community of Design Thinking professionals met in Singapore. On Friday, we discussed how culture can be influenced and how Design Thinking might support transformation - very interesting question...
I have started to use Design Thinking in order to cultivate customer value focus, agility and cross-silo collaboration. With great success.
Another thought we developed is around intrinsic motivation. Design Thinking facilitates:
* a clear definition of challenges that supports purpose;
* autonomy due to the focus on empathy (button up thinking)
* the iterative prototyping allows mastery (getting closer and closer to the customer needs)
How do you see the connection between transformation and design thinking?
During the last two days, the regional Design Thinking community met in Singapore to exchange experiences, thoughts and questions. Here my key take-aways...
"Experience design is about *real people*, real life; let's focus on empathy and ethics."
"Idea creation is *messy and random*; don't kill it with KPIs."
"Use Design Thinking as a *pull* to a new way of working."
"Continuous improvement brings detractors to passives; experience design brings passives to promoters."
"Good design is about an integrated view of the entire business and brings alignment across all stakeholders; that is where the value comes from."
"Design thinking transforms to drive value creation, better collaboration, a culture of experimentation and a common purpose."
A big thanks to the organisers, speakers and participants! I enjoyed the event a lot.
This is where diversity meets innovation. Do you want to through the ball very far? Then you will get more crazy ideas when you connect with people that are different from you: different departments, different regions, and why not with your customers and suppliers?
Diversity for me means to absorb insights and opinions from any person you interact with; irrespective from their gender, race, education, hair colour, social status, etc. This is the start of deep learning.
Today, in our production facilities in Thailand we started to discuss how we can execute ideas to improve productivity in a different way: achieve results in a faster way while keeping the big picture in mind.
The excellent outcome of today's workshop was the definition of Focus Topics. We took the solution ideas we created during a Design Thinking workshop in August and modularised them into smaller chunks that can be implemented as minimal viable products. The teams have now selected the first Focus Topic which will be implemented in the next three months. The graphic below vitally supported the understanding of this concept - visualisation is such an important aspect in discovery.
The objective of this approach is not only to create tangible results fast; we also aiming to cultivate agility and a new mindset. Looking forward to see the results soon.
While supporting large corporate organisation, I often hear that we need more entrepreneurship. What makes entrepreneurs so special and different?
as start-up there is no other way than to deep-dive into the needs and insights from your customers; in the corporate world, there is a huge lack of this mindset; and it starts with identifying, who is my customer
2) taking risks
no risk, no reward; following the beaten path, the safe path is the quickest way to failure as an entrepreneur; most larger organisations stop to experiment and create a culture that builds on fail-safe results
people start their own, successful business based on a strong belief, a product or solution they are passionate about; corporate leaders often fail to create a purpose the people in the organisation care about
how will you cultivate entrepreneurship in your organisation?
When looking at the key drivers for innovation in general, we identified three main elements to focus on:
* Value creation: create a good understanding of the needs and insights of our customers and then focus on delivering value to the customers
* Taking risk: create an environment where people are encouraged to experiment and instil entrepreneurship
* Leadership: guide people with purpose and be mindful to be a role model in the journey to create an innovation culture
Other elements that have highly scored as well are setting the right targets, focus on speed, learn from diversity and facilitate collaboration across silos.
Where do you see the key drivers for innovation?
First we created a good understanding of the needs and insights, which helped to explore a wide range of ideas. Then the teams crafted prototypes and presented their pitches.
All these activities will greatly impact manufacturing excellence; and we can already see the positive impact we made on the people; triggering mindset shifts and better work relationships:
"We were able to bring issues on the table with a smile and positive energy; this was never possible before."
"Imagine your phone is in your ear. And you can make the screen fold open in front of your eyes and then we call each other, see each other. And I can share photos with you as well..."
What a brilliant idea! Who's intelligent mind is behind that? My six-and-a-half year old daughter.
This is a great reminder that creativity is where we don't expect it and hidden in all of us. We need to focus on letting it come out.
That's the mindset we will need for the upcoming Innovation Hack Days in Bangkok this week.
Tim is a change practitioner in the area of innovation and excellence. He is working with teams to accelerate innovation, collaboration and agility.