Just like everything else in life, no business is immune to change. But how well these businesses adapt to the constantly evolving world and navigate difficulties along the way sets apart the winners from the losers.
Most successful businesses, in recent times, have taken up a new method of management that McKinsey & Company says helps them “combine velocity and adaptability with stability and efficiency.”
This agile system of management, which gets its origin from the software development world, is heavily reliant on proactive solutions rooted in flexibility, fast responses to change and continuous iterative efforts geared towards improvements.
Why go agile?
To the uninformed, agile management may sound like a collection of buzzwords, but to companies incorporating it into their strategy, it has been a true-to-form solution that has helped them take tremendous strides in their productivity and functionality. The keen awareness that working in an agile environment evokes puts businesses at a competitive advantage because they’re able to foresee upcoming trends and avenues for new opportunities before everyone else. According to research, 60% of companies that adopted an agile approach experienced an exponential growth in profits, while 98% claim that integrating agile practices to their business has helped them in one way or another.
Where traditional businesses believe in immutable structural hierarchies, agile teams are characterized by rapid operational cycles that are prone to, and in fact welcome, change often. For companies that work in fast-evolving environments where legislation, customers’ and partners’ needs change quickly, where disruptive technologies crop up instantaneously, where securing talent is an aggressive mission and where digitization is rapid, adopting agile management practices can bring about significant improvements.
But despite its innumerable benefits, businesses experience a lot of resistance while trying to incorporate Agile into their workflows, especially from upper management. According to research by McKinsey, 70% of change efforts in the workplace hit a snag because of lack of support from management. As a business owner looking to implement a new management system, you’ve not only got to champion it for your employees, you also play a central role in its adoption and success.
In the next few paragraphs, we present a list of strategies that experts recommend for business going agile:
Educate your team on agile values and their relevance
To bypass the resistance that adopting Agile induces, it’s advisable to bring in an expert to demystify it to help you and your team better understand its functionality. From the get-go, consider hiring an agility coach or manager to help guide your transition. This expert will help the team appreciate the importance of Agile and its impact on their productivity, cross-collaborative efforts and project lifespans.
Some principles of agile workflows, such as prioritizing outputs over methods and documentation may be a bit too far from what your employees are used to, so they’ll need to be guided by an expert to help them pick it up with ease. According to this Scrum/Agile expert, “education around Agile and its core tenets is key,” since even leaders championing it “may not know what it means to be agile” and how their workplaces would look if they made the transition.
Rope your management in
For larger companies with echelons in management, it is necessary that all of them be actively involved in the changes around agility in your business. And as McKinsey noted, and we gingerly explained, resistance from managers is one of the top reasons why the transition to agile systems fails in some businesses. According to this expert, in most cases, it is not that the managers are averse to change, it is that they’re indifferent to it, not wanting to be involved- they view the change as something happening to their employees, not necessarily to them. From this apathy grows a disjoint between workflow, employees, and their supervisors which creates a strain on the workplace then a total failure of the new system.
But this is not limited to agile adoption alone. Any new change that is not backed by management cannot find success in an organization. If the managers are not fully behind your agile efforts, they won’t consider it a priority, so they might delegate resources and manpower away from it, which in the end reduces its effectiveness.
Focus on priorities but plan for the unexpected
We understand that your to-do list goes on for miles and miles- we run a business too. But if you want to become an agile company, you need to slim down that list to include only top-priority items. You have to keep in mind that agile businesses iterate, change, and innovate rapidly, so trying to juggle too many things at once becomes cumbersome and sometimes impossible, which detracts your agile efforts. That being said, agile businesses are also prepared for any eventuality.
Their managers are meticulous planners, like chess players who anticipate their opponents’ moves five plays ahead. The world could change at the drop of a hat – case in point, COVID-19 – but that doesn’t mean that your business can’t find a way to survive and even thrive in such strenuous circumstances.
Even though an event like the pandemic couldn’t be predicted, successful companies found ways to stay afloat. Since agile practices focus on flexibility and openness to change, businesses that have adopted it are never really caught off guard even when they are.
In his book, Harvard professor and seasoned entrepreneur Tom Eisenmann, categorized employees as bedfellows, alongside partners and investors, as one of the key reasons why startups fail. He called ill-fitting employees “bad bedfellows” who ultimately led to the collapse of a business in his case study. So it follows that a business wanting to succeed in a field where the goal post keeps shifting, hiring employees that are adaptable and easy to scale and integrate should be a priority. As we’ve just mentioned, companies that need to adopt agile into their workflows are those that work in a competitive job market or experience high turnover.
One of the other reasons that McKinsey claims businesses trying to adopt agile practices fail is internal resistance from legacy structures, mindset and culture. What this means is that if your employees are too set in your traditional modes of operation, they may have a hard time adapting to a system centered on change.
A great way to combat this is to enlist the input of freelancers. Their operational styles line up perfectly with the principles of agile management- flexibility, adaptability, and fast response time. If you’ve never had an experience with freelancers, a transitional time may be the best to bring them on. When your employees are working through the new changes, freelancers come in to pick up the slack and carry out auxiliary or even key functions as the rest of your workforce adjusts. Also, don’t overlook proactive strategies like talent pipeling and recruitment outsourcing.
Agile management has been catching on in industries across the globe. Although its adoption may look different from business to business, at its core, Agile remains the same- setting up teams to adapt to constantly changing environments with ease, while keeping up with the cadence of new tech and innovation in their field. With the pointers we’ve listed in this blog, plus input from an agility expert, you’re sure to integrate these methods into your company in a way that best suits you and your team.