This week I was engaged in a few discussions about how some teams feel that they are constantly under pressure. They feel they don't have breathing space and realise that this is not a situation that is tolerable and sustainable. Often, such circumstances result in burn-outs, attrition of talent and reduced performance. How can we then thrive when we are put under pressure?
Let me first divert into neuroscience. Studies have shown that when we are in a negative emotional state, our creativity and our capability to solve problems is shut down. In order to be effective as a knowledge worker, we want to be in a positive emotional state. Here are three ideas how to achieve this.
While you are experimenting with this lighter approach to absorb the pressure from outside, keep a good focus on your social connections - within your team, with the teams around you and with the stakeholders you are creating value for. Make your journey fun.
What is your approach to growing under pressure?
Photo credit: Ainhoa Sanchez, Volvo Ocean Race
Today, I had the opportunity to share a hybrid approach to transformation in operational excellence together with Pascal Daniel during the OPEX Week Live APAC. What excites me about conferences are the interaction between peers and experts in the same field - even in a virtual format. So, we had an interesting sharing of insights how we can trigger lasting success in the current disruption. Exciting to see that the audience is also focusing on innovation, positivity, adaptation, health, empowerment, etc. A very people-centric view.
The hybrid approach we presented is pushing along these keywords; the approach is based on human-centricity, bottom-up and and an ecosystem & value focus. The method is inspired by design thinking and lean startup and follows four key steps:
Join us in a workshop where we guide you in applying this approach to your own challenges and opportunities. Fill in this form to express your interest: https://forms.gle/9W3MqGuwsvrEY39PA
About a year ago, a factory in Thailand embarked on a journey to redefine how they approach operational excellence. One aspect was to get crazy ideas; we conducted a design thinking workshop that engaged over 70 people in six teams. In this article, I want to focus on the execution of these ideas: Big & Small Thinking.
In a workshop the teams split the crazy ideas into smaller clouds. Each of these smaller clouds represented a potential three months projects; they followed the following principles:
These criteria represented a shift away from the typical 12-18 months projects. The biggest challenges the team were facing were, a) that after each three months we can add value to the business and b) that we don't know what we will be working on after this project is completed. Both elements allow the teams to stay flexible and adjust the big picture journey to new discoveries and to changes in the environment. At the same time, we were able to celebrate much earlier. The engagement was very high.
How do you drive excellence in a complex and ever-changing environment?
Today was Day 2 of the APAC Operational Transformation Summit with a inspiring speakers that look at new aspects of Operational Excellence: culture, sustainability and agility.
Eric Tachibana started of with an deep dive into culture. Culture is important because there is a clear correlation to financial success - btw, strategy doesn't show this correlation. At the same time, it seems to be difficult to grab and manage. Eric introduced a model to make to make culture more tangible: values, rituals, stories and artifacts. Influencing culture starts with the little behaviours we conduct every day in these four areas. He shared that at Amazon there is a strong focus on the leadership principles that provide guidance to the entire organisation and to create new routines across the four elements of culture.
Luanne Sieh introduced another angle to operational excellence and illustrated the impact of human society on our planet in the last 100 years and how it shot through the roof. In today's business, we need to look at the triple bottom line - profit, people, planet - in order to establish a sustainable operation. Investors today are more and more interested to go beyond th short term financial KPIs and push the companies they are investing in to be active in creating a better world for our society and our planet. This essentially will bring new business opportunities and allows companies to distinguish themselves in the market.
Majid Bhatti supports the view that innovation is essential for business success; creating new products, increase motivation, increase productivity, establishing new relationships. Innovation is not only about creating ideas; selecting the right ideas and executing them are essential parts of innovation. Successful innovation is based on collaboration and interaction between people; based on empathy and understanding. In this context, he introduced agile methods which have a strong focus on interacting with peers and customers. Getting early feedback from them is essential to develop solutions iteratively. Agility also suggests that we are creating flat organisations and facilitate the flow of ideas and improvements from all corners of the organisation. Agility is a platform for innovation and improvements in our operational excellence.
For me, it was refreshing to observe a broad perspective on how we can improve our operational excellence and look beyond the usual set of tools. Diving deep into culture, sustainability and agility might create more engagement within the ecosystem; looking at a wider range of criteria can drive improvements in our daily operations.
Today was Day 1 of the APAC Operational Transformation Summit and we had a great lineup of speakers. And we could clearly see a red thread going through all the presentations. Operational excellence is based on digital transformation. And the success of digital transformation is enabled by the people.
First we had Michal Golebiewski from Microsoft sharing how digital transformation is a journey and that starts with the definition of a new you, with a purpose. This purpose is guiding the customers, the partners and the employees on how we are kick-starting this journey. We need a vision & strategy; a northstar. The transformation needs to look at the culture and mindsets that will allow experimentation and stimulate a growth mindset. The unique assets and the capabilities of the organisation need to be aligned for this journey. And finally, success is based on employee empowerment and we need to stay engaged with them. These are the ingredients for success.
Abhishek Sharma, Axa, continued the journey and added that the tools and the process are necessary to make bring fruits from the ingredients. In order to start your digital transformation journey, you need to investigate your what, who, how and the impact you want to create. Important here, you will not reach the peak in the first round. And as a leader, you encourage your team members to climb the mountain by themselves - milestone after milestone. And at the same time, you are there to hold a guiding hand when necessary. This will build confidence. The transformation journey is triggering a cultural shift that involves everyone. THat is why it is important to cultivate trust with your employees, your customers and in the entire ecosystem.
During my presentation, I took the concept further and introduced positive leadership as a model that allows you to drive engagement, motivation and therefore operational success. Today's uncertain and complex business environment requires agility in order to create success. This agility is based on empowering people to experiment, guiding them with a collective dream, creating an understanding how we can create value for our customers, and lastly on building a collaborative platform to facilitate relationships and trust.
Finally, Kesavan Sivanandam, from AirAsia, shared an inspiring story about perseverance and pushing boundaries. Needless to say, the airline industry is hit very hard and AirAsia took this as an opportunity to push digital in the end-to-end experience. He shared the story how strong collaboration with various agencies and business partners allowed them to achieve a contact-less solution from "curb to gate" within a few months time. This was possible based on a common purpose within the ecosystem to keep the business going in a safe way. And in this journey, it was important to keep the people engaged under this collective dream.
Day 1 of the conference was a lot about creating a common purpose, engaging with the people, and cultivating relationships. Key ingredients for a smooth and sustainable digital transformation journey. I am curious to hear more during Day 2.
In an environment of uncertainty and complexity, anti-fragility 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 drives anti-fragility, 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
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.
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
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?
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 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.
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?
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?
Tim is a change practitioner in the area of innovation and excellence. He is working with teams to accelerate innovation, collaboration and agility.