In an age where organisations are expanding both globally and digitally, Dr Simon Hayward, author of The Agile Leader and CEO of Cirrus explains how businesses can manage these changes through leadership and development.
Technology is fuelling the pace of change in our increasingly unpredictable and complex world. This means that today’s business leaders must assess and continually react to new opportunities and challenges. They need to implement strategies rapidly and refocus efforts when circumstances change.
The digital nature of customer interactions accelerates the expectations of customers. It also enables organisations to respond to customer needs more effectively and to create innovative solutions. When presented with key moments of choice, agility enables leaders to move quickly and responsively.
When carrying out one-to-one interviews with business leaders for my book, The Agile Leader, every organisation I spoke to, regardless of their industry, location or size, said they were striving to become increasingly agile. Every organisation I spoke to also identified barriers to agility. There was widespread consensus that being agile helps you to achieve goals and react to new opportunities more swiftly and decisively. Agility enables organisations to embrace opportunities they couldn’t have imagined in the past and to disrupt markets.
A culture of caution can inhibit progress. Many of the organisations I spoke to highlighted a risk-averse culture as the greatest barrier to agility. This can be a particular issue in heavily regulated industries, where conformity can reduce the risk appetite of managers.
2016 Leadership Connections research from Cirrus and Ipsos MORI found that only 54% of people in the UK agree with the question ‘do people have the right to make a mistake in your company?’ This fear of failure and its consequences is a leadership issue. It inhibits experimentation and risk-taking, and it slows down innovation and improvement. If we fear making mistakes, the only thing we will learn is how to avoid them.
A culture of fear leads to people avoiding risks. Decision making is slowed down when people seek higher approval to cover their backs. The lack of trust and resulting lack of progress can be frustrating for many.
How important is it for leaders to develop themselves and how can they do this?
By adopting agile ways of working that focus on facilitating mental agility, ruthlessly prioritising, devolving decision-making, and investing in customer research, leaders can drive innovation and learning. Developing a more agile approach to leadership helps teams and organisations to flourish.
In truly agile organisations, I see leaders who are champions of agility. They set a very clear purpose and direction for the organisation and have the ability to focus and make sense of information in a complex and often ambiguous world. They encourage risk taking and experimentation. They are also open to feedback from others. Leaders are powerful role models. When they are open to feedback, and when others see them acting on this feedback, it can help to create a more open culture where feedback is sought and acted upon across the whole organisation.
I’d encourage leaders to examine the ways of working and types of behaviour across their organisations and consider whether they are contributing to agile ways of working. What are the customs and beliefs that shape how people behave day by day? What are the constraints on people’s behaviour that stop them from being agile? Seek feedback from others, welcome it, and act upon it.