4 Steps to Organizational Agility—It’s Nothing More Than Culture & People
In a 2018 Digital Transformation Readiness Survey conducted by Appian, 72% of executives admitted they don’t believe they’ll be able to scale their efforts to keep up with business requirements in the coming years. The challenges of organizational agility cannot be overstated in today’s smart, digital world where companies are expected to thrive amidst constant change.
An agile organization—one responsive to competition, new technologies, and market growth—must adopt a culture of change in which every employee is empowered to drive transformation success, earning his or her seat at the table each day. So tell me, can organizations renew and adapt in a rapidly changing, even turbulent, environment without considering culture and people? Of course not. In fact, 87% of organizations recently surveyed by Deloitte cited “culture” and “engagement” as their top digital transformation challenges, with 50% calling them “very important” problems.
Moving digital to scale at a rapid and consistent rate depends on more than just technology and methodology but a culture of teamwork, accountability, trust and empowerment. It requires purpose-driven people working toward a shared goal, strategic intent for enhancing outcomes, and open collaboration for innovating and taking calculated risks. Deloitte’s research confirms this, finding that organizations with a culture defined by meaningful work and deep employee engagement consistently outperform their peers.
Sustainable, agile transformation is a journey of organizational change. It’s not an engineering exercise, nor a one-and-done initiative. Now’s the time for executives to start thinking differently about organizational agility in terms of culture and people. Here are four steps to take now:
- Start Training and Coaching
The question isn’t which employees can lead desired change, but who is ready and willing. A recent study from Microsoft found that 49% of employees fear change when digital transformation initiatives are introduced, and 39% feel anxious at the introduction of new technology. This has major implications enterprise-wide. Appian, for example, found that 82% of organizations struggle to attract and retain the quality and quantity of software engineers required for successful transformation.
Organizations must properly educate employees on the agile framework to pique curiosities and eliminate misconceptions, while engaging teams already on an agile transformation path to review, define and continually improve practices. Training and coaching should be easy and fun. Employees need to believe that new processes will remove roadblocks and increase interactions. Create a clear and compelling vision, then mobilize employees behind that vision.
- Increase Collaboration
According to a new IDC study published in partnership with Avaya, 55% of enterprises believe poor adoption of communication tools reduces organizational agility. Teams cannot operate in silos, period. There must be a certain level of cross-communication—particularly between business people and developers—that builds trust. Consider, for example, embedding communications directly into applications and processes (cited as “extremely important” by 91% of surveyed enterprises). Or, a free-flowing interaction application that supports a range of communication channels (desired by 86% of enterprises to future-proof collaboration).
This also means increased collaboration between IT and other lines of business (the study found that IT and LOB view digital transformation ownership and success quite differently). Seamless cross-departmental collaboration ensures organizational alignment around transformation efforts, allowing decisions to be made quickly without creating bottlenecks in the process.
- Ensure Scalability of Agile Development Practices
There are significant human/organizational scaling issues in DevOps that can be resolved with a clearer focus on culture and people. Creating more agile processes that promote more sustainable development has far less to do with improving the software development lifecycle than it does empowering your people:
- Have confidence that teams will meet organizational requirements
- Empower them to take risks, knowing they’re necessary for getting things right
- Encourage teams to welcome changing requirements, even late in development
- Strategically leverage skillsets between development and operations
- Decentralize ownership, decision-making and accountability
- Promote core principles of teamwork, trust and autonomy
I guarantee that these cultural and behavioral changes will lead to better scalability of agile development practices for the customer’s competitive advantage.
- Reflect Your Culture in Your Leadership Structure
An agile organization must be both proactive and reactive, supported by lean thinking and experience-led delivery starting at the top. It’s imperative that a company’s transformation culture be reflected in its leaders to motivate teams and reduce resistance to new ways of thinking. Leadership structure should provide purpose, build projects around motivated individuals, and give teams the support they need—trusting them to get the job done. This structure should reflect the agile organizational structure to ensure solution oversight and alignment with experience, roadmap, architecture, execution and validation.
The integration of new leadership (i.e., Product Leadership Teams, Solution Leadership Teams, Central Leadership Team, Product Owner roles) is crucial for pushing cultural change from the top down to accelerate agile transformation.
As you implement these organizational changes, don’t forget that they must reflect the Voice of the Customer (VoC). Sustainable, agile transformation should work to elevate VoC by capturing customers’ expectations, preferences, and aversions. Serious work needs to be done on this front, with research from Gartner showing that only 29% of companies with VoC in place actually incorporate insights about customer needs into decision-making processes. Overall, 75% don’t believe their VoC programs are effective at driving actions.
Stay tuned for my next blog, which will dig deeper into VoC challenges and steps for improvement.