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Five steps to create and lead agile businesses

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Many business plans read like bedtime stories – there are heroes, villains, an interesting plot and nearly always a happy ending. The process of creating a plan makes us feel safe and warm but it bears little resemblance to the world we live in.

Many traditional management interventions have failed when applied to reality. We know our overly-analytical plans and processes don’t really work – we get frustrated by them every day. Most people in organisations dread planning days, roll their eyes at culture change plans, and delete data gathering exercises such as engagement surveys. They intuitively understand that these approaches are inauthentic.

The future isn’t predictable in the real world. Change is constant fast and non-linear. Market shocks are frequent. Rather than engaging in more research or more detailed planning, remaining agile is preferable.

Executive Education facilitator Steve McCrone outlines five ways that businesses can use Agile Strategy.

Set ‘fuzzy’ goals
Have goals that define an objective, but don’t constrain options. The primary objective of fuzzy goals is to get collective understanding about the direction the business is going to travel not to rigorously define a point of success.

Increase strategic sensitivity
Detecting the early signals of change provides opportunity for innovation and insulates against market shocks. This means combining market narrative with data-based analysis. Anecdotes and stories collected in real time from customers are an extremely effective way to get useful information quickly.

Collective commitment
A collective understanding of where the organisation is going and how to implement Agile Strategy. Collective commitment is about creating conditions that allow plans to come to fruition. This is different from the commonly-used term ‘alignment’ – which implies a linear focus on a stated goal.

Agility requires a diverse range of opinions and conflicting points of view should be embraced. Collective commitment isn’t about reaching consensus. If two or more people think they have the answer, then get them to test it. Let the right decision emerge from interacting with the market. Don’t get locked into decision paralysis based on the need for analytical proof.

Agile Strategy – focus on now
“The greatest loss of time is delay and expectation, which depend upon the future. We let go the present, which we have in our power, and look forward to that which depends upon chance, and so relinquish a certainty for an uncertainty.” – Seneca

While goals might be fuzzy, the immediate plan will be clear and will focus on maximising the potential of a current state. The focus should be: “What can we do right now to maximise the evolutionary potential of our business?” This is a fundamentally different question to traditional three-year planning.

The effect of the interventions needs to be understood. If they are working, then the success should be amplified. If not, resources must be re-allocated to mitigate any negative consequences. The agile strategy thus becomes an action plan based on the understanding of emerging opportunities and risks. This plan is focused on achieving multiple parallel actions where outcomes are measured, successes amplified and failures dampened.

Enable fast deployment of resources
Enacting Agile Strategy relies on the ability to rapidly deploy resources to test ideas and seek market feedback. As an idea matures, the role of a manager is to wrap additional resource around it so it can be exploited in more traditional ways.

This means that teams will need to be cross-functional and resources may need to be drawn from across the organisation. Traditional structures focusing on departments or functional areas may impede fast collaboration. Successful managers need to de-couple resource control from implied personal stature within the organisation.

Written by Steve McCrone, facilitator of our upcoming course Creating and Leading an Agile Organisation


          

       

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