Leadership principles come and go. Agility is today´s catchword for modern concepts of leadership and management. But is agility only a hackneyed buzzword or only a short-dated trend? This assumption is wrong. It is on the horizon, that the proceeding digitisation is dramatically and sustainably turning traditional paradigms upside down. Like in the 19th century when the industrial revolution was reshaping living conditions - until today. Even in our times many companies prefer a leadership style standing for control and obedience. The top level thinks and steers, lower levels do routine work in a most efficient style. But this leadership style does not work any more. Also because routine work is more and more done by machines, robots or software.
In today‘s dynamic times company success is heavily depending on innovations. The pace technologies and markets are changing is so high, that companies preferring rigid hierarchical structures and long, complex decision making processes are simply not fast enough to catch up. Today it is key to react swiftly to changing needs of stakeholders, target groups and employees. An organisation with a top-down company culture has another serious disadvantage: Permanent tight control is hindering employee engagement! Particularly Generation Y is expecting a different approach of managers: more coach than boss, more mentor than supervisor, more trust than narrow guidelines.
Today‘s working environment is requesting agile methods
No one is denying, that digitisation is dramatically changing our private and professional world. The VUCA model, which accurately describes the frame conditions of today's world:
Software-developers are therefore using agile methods since years – in order to be better prepared for the surrounding conditions of the VUCA world:
- Individual skills and continuous intense interaction instead of defined processes.
- The result is more important than a detailed documentation.
- Close cooperation with users and customer orientation showroom for improvement.
- Reacting to change is more important than to keep a plan.
What is relevant for successful software development teams also works for companies. Reacting to changing conditions with flexibility and innovations is only possible, if working conditions are changing, too.
Success factors of agile leadership
Everyone is talking about agility. But not many companies are really agile today. A downright culture of transparency, self-organised working and feedback oriented cooperation are indispensable prerequisites for agility. This is the way to react to the VUCA world and the following aspects are important:
- Managers need to transfer authority and responsibility to employees and teams by transferring power. Their roles are changing.
- Trust is the lubricant of an agile organisation. Without trust agility is simply impossible.
- Internal processes need to be as lean as possible. Constant communication across levels and departments. This allows to recognise and solve problems and to pick up ideas for innovations.
- The more receptive to innovation an organisation is, the better is the chance, that tasks are performed unconventionally.
- The ability, to make decisions without reliable information base, is an important competency in a complex, ambiguous and dynamic world.
The organisation is focussing more on the market and on customers than on the management.
Agile tools for the modern working environment
Strictly focussing on market and customers, sounds comprehensible and simple. But depending on the level of maturity, the way to achieve an agile culture may be long and winding. A company with a hierarchical top-down culture will have to take more hurdles than a company which is already used to consult employees to come to decisions.
Appropriate tools are without any doubt helpful to achieve an agile culture. Google’s methodology of setting, prioritising objectives and of synchronised cooperation is widely used: OKR (Objectives and Key Results). Strategic targets are broken down in realisable sub-steps on team level or individual level. OKRs need to be transparent for everyone and balanced between the departments. It goes without saying, that this process should be executed with strong involvement of employees. If applied correctly OKRs help that employees work on key topics in a balanced and transparent way, which is supporting the ability of team to work self-organised.
Today a multitude of tools and SaaS solutions are available, wich support organisations shaping a modern, decentralised and networked culture. Agile project management software and tools for workflow automation allow teams to share and monitor tasks.
The capability to give and receive constructive, development oriented feedback, is a basic competency of agile organisations. Today suitable tools or SaaS solutions are available, which allow to structure the feedback process and to swiftly and easily analyse collected data. These tools allow, that employees to actively give and collect feedback – e.g. with 360° feedback approaches. To help each other taking development steps and to contribute to the development of the whole organisation, is an indispensable mindset for an agile organisation.
Tools and software are not sufficient, the mindset is key!
Using a software or applying modern tools does not make a company agile. Cultural change needs time and it is not possible to dictate change top-down. Agile competencies are contingently trainable. Finally it is a question of mindset and how values are conveyed. It is possible to provide a jolt. And it makes a lot of sense, to make clear, what needs to to be considered for giving feedback and agreeing objectives. Real change is generated by reflection.
The bottom line is mainly one factor: Mindset! Agility as lip service does not work.
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