The A-Z of Business Agility - 26 insight and a cool poster

The A-Z of Business Agility - 26 insight and a cool poster

One of the perennial challenges in my career is convincing managers, leaders and consultants that agility belongs to managers. Business Agility 101 is that you don’t pass the burden to coaches or external suppliers; managers own it. It belongs to management. Good managers are already working to release agility.

At a conference once I got shouted at by an “agilist” who said agile is Kanban. Someone else in the audience got all upset at this, and shouted to the heckler that agile is Scrum. Someone from the SAFe crew got in the scrum person’s face about this and started doing the “agile mock dance”. The MoreOrLessSAFe peeps were gutted nobody had even heard of their framework. Everyone started throwing donuts at each other and my Keynote was ruined.

All I’d done is share my real story of how business agility helped us take a startup through the journey to a sale. Real world implementation. Real results.

It was a true story but because I didn’t mention someone’s favourite “agile methodology or framework” I was deemed incompetent in agility.

I have since stopped speaking at “agile” conferences.

A couple of good friend of mine quit speaking at these same conferences a few years back for the same reason. There’s not much appreciation for actual examples of successful business agility in an industry obsessed with certification, factions and tactical agile frameworks.

If you’ve read my work long enough you know I have 5 thinking steps to business agility – and the first three all belong to management. The fourth is where you can fight about methodologies and implementation frameworks, but these make no difference to a business unless the first three are in place.

1. Paint a picture of the future – what are we trying to achieve and is it compelling, interesting, challenging and worthy of investing energy and attention?

2. If this bright future is so amazing, why are we not already there? Lean into the current reality, find the gap between the now and the future state – and put together a plan to bridge the gap. This is a strategy.

3. All managers should look around their team and be able to say, with honesty “that this is the team to get it done”. If not, what’s being done about this?

4. Habits, routines, approaches – this is where we start to define the behaviours needed, the approaches etc. This is where 99% of agile arguments happen. (But it makes little sense to adopt X if we don’t have the right people, we aren’t solving the right problems and we’re heading in the wrong direction).

5. Learn. Study. Learn. Adapt.

It’s why in my successful 9+ years of consulting in “releasing business agility” I never talk about agile. Or SAFe. Or Scrum. Or Kanban. I talk about business agility – moving smoothly and quickly towards your goals.

And these goals are business goals, and hence, they belong to management.

So, I put this little A-Z together.

By the way. If you want business results to elevate and people having fun releasing agility – give me a shout.

PDF Printable is available in the store.

The A-Z of Business Agility

A - AGILITY is not an end goal. There is no magic moment when you are done. It is instead an on-going journey.

I worked with someone who spent ages defining a maturity assessment for whether a team was agile or not. He came up with something. Other people from different consultancy companies came up with something. Lots of practitioners came up with something. They were all different.

But when people roll these home made maturity models out, what do they tell you? Are you there yet? Are you agile? Has becoming more mature in “agile” made your business results better?

Agile or Agility is not a magic moment – you’re not suddenly there and all of your problems disappear. Agility is in service of business results and it needs releasing……constantly.

  1. Our companies are different. Our people different. Our tolerance for risk etc are different – so why would anyone think there was a standard way of measuring a concept like agile (that people can’t even agree on a definition of)?
  2. If there was a standard that said “we’re agile!” why have I not heard of companies reaching this glorious state and dominating their industry? And if they have reached this state, what effect has this had on sales, profit, retention, market share, growth? <- you know, all the things that are universally measurable.
    • Surely, if we can define an agile end goal or maturity level, we should be able to tie this to better business results, so that when someone hits that magically maturity they get something tangible for it?
  3. If we’re trying to measure teams and companies against a standard, doesn’t that make us standard? I’m not sure I want to take part in that.
    • Why would I want my company to standard when it can be exceptional?
  4. I worked with one team who were lauded as the most agile team within a company. They had scored highly on an in-house agile maturity model. They were doing stand-ups, shipping stuff, using JIRA well. But they were shipping something that nobody used. They’d developed the wrong thing. They were moving smoothly and quickly towards oblivion. That’s not success in my mind

B - Agility is in service of BUSINESS results. Business Agility is about moving smoothly and quickly towards your business goals.

Agility is released. It is released by overcoming the problems that stand between where you are now and where you would like to get to. Releasing agility means understanding your business results – and this is harder, and more uncommon than you would believe. And yes, business results also means retaining good people.

We don’t go “agile” just for the fun of it. We do it for some other reason – and that reason is to improve business results (maybe with new behaviours). Both of which are measurable.

C - Positive, timely, honest and careful COMMUNICATION is the key towards goals.

When you study any well intentioned book, methodology, framework or blog on agile – what you’ll discover is that all of the ideas are fundamentally about improving communication.

So, why not start with teaching communication, or studying where the breakdowns are, or understanding why information does not flow?

Very few people are taught effective communication skills in their educational years, let alone when they join the world of work. And yes, almost every problem in business is caused by poor communication.

It’s why I created the communication super power course and why I teach, coach and train everyone I work with how to communicate better.

Effective communication behaviours are the most important set of skills and behaviours anyone can develop. They are transferable between industries, they help you deal with conflict, they help you express yourself and they help you learn by listening.

Start with communication improvements, because once people start communicating more effectively you’ll see a huge drop off in systemic problems that prevent delivery (lack of clarity, conflict, mis-direction, competing goals, mis-aligned delivery, etc).

D - Agility requires the DISCIPLINE to learn what works and what does not. We can then improve.

I get shouted at often by people who believe process is a bad thing and that agile is about the freedom from constraints. Yada. Yada. Yada.

Here’s a few things:

  1. There are always processes. They may not be documented, nor visible, nor well known, but they exist.
  2. Good processes enable us to be consistent, effective and not think about every-day minutia.
  3. Everything you do at work follows some sort of process (as in steps to make something happen).
  4. Some processes exist to prevent injury, illegal activity, HR breaches and the like and are required. Why fight this?
  5. Some processes exist for no obviously good reason.
  6. But the most important thing is – if we follow a different process for our delivery of work each time we do something, we’ll struggle to learn what works and what does not.

And this is where we can learn, improve and release agility.

Stapling ourselves to work helps us build positive results.

If a process works, keep fine tuning it. It if doesn’t work, fix it (see the next point). But follow it. Because by having the discipline to follow the process, study it, map it, visualise it, work with it and understand it, allows you to then learn how to make it better (or get rid of it).

If you, and the wider team, randomly follow 20 different ways to get something done, how can you scientifically make them better and measure the improvement?

E - EVERY process can be improved. If it doesn’t feel right, study and make it right.

Following on from above – fix processes that don’t work. But you can only do that if you’re studying them. And every single process can be made better. There’s a fine line regarding whether these improvements in the 1% are worth the investment, but everything can be made better. Business Agility is about getting better at what you do (in service of business results).

F - Agile FRAMEWORKS only help if you have the same problems as they were designed to solve. Start by studying your real problems first.

It’s saddening when people go to the standard shelf of agile models to solve a problem they don’t fully understand.

If a single agile framework (SAFe, MoreOrLessSafe etc) worked, everyone who used it would see success and that’s simply not true.

If one of them worked all of the time, there would only be room in the market for one framework. One would rule over the rest. One would have 100% successful case studies. It’s not true.

So, don’t go to the dreaded shelf, unless you know you have the same problems as these frameworks solve, do this instead:

  1. Take some time to study what your business results are and paint a bright picture around making them, and your business better. What do you want? What does the ideal future look like? Is it realistic?
  2. Then study why, if this bright future is so compelling, are you not already there yet?
    • And when you have done this reflection and studying, you should have a number of obstacles and problems and challenges documented (like, people aren’t skilled in the right stuff, work doesn’t flow, market is not ready, leaders don’t know what they’re doing, process are rubbish etc).
    • I can pretty much guarantee that the majority of the problems you identify will have nothing to do with agile frameworks. They will be about communication, people, behaviours, management, process improvement, clarity, goals etc. The kind of things that have always existed as problems in business. The kinds of things that existed well before agile became a “product”.
    • Now you know your current reality and you know your bright future. The delta between the two needs a plan. How are you going to overcome the problems, or move around the obstacles, or open up the opportunity.
    • If you have all three things; a future state, a current reality state and a plan – you have a strategy. Now you need to action it.
  3. Then ask yourself, with your hand on your heart, “Is this the team to get it done?”
    1. If not, what can you do?
    2. Lean into performance problems
    3. Deal with poor behaviours
    4. Make it clear what the high bar of behaviours is and help people reach it – after all, your people need a plan too
    5. Hire well
    6. Ensure people are using their skills in the right place
  4. Then start studying and optimising processes, routines, habits and behaviours.
  5. And never stop learning

This is the releasing business agility model I use with clients. It’s a combination of HR, Management and Communication. Most agile frameworks, tooling and coaching happens at number 4 – methods, habits, frameworks, routines, models. But all of that activity is pointless unless 1,2 and 3 are in place. There is little point implementing a working method, if you have the wrong people, overcoming the wrong problems, heading in the wrong direction….. yet, I see this over and over and over and over and over again.

This is how business agility is released – through overcoming business problems that are on your path to a bright future, not slapping a framework onto poor behaviours, poor communication, lack of clarity and lack of understanding of business results.

Study first – and only lean to the frameworks once you’re sure you have problems they will solve. And here’s a clue – none of them will solve your problems. You’re a unique, exceptional business right?

G - Understand your business GOALS. There’s little point in moving smoothly and quickly towards the wrong things.

Got to understand a few things here:

  1. Why are you getting paid – as in, what are you expected to deliver?
  2. How are you measured?
  3. What’s going get you fired if you don’t deliver it?
  4. Who’s helping you and aligned?
  5. How do your business results flow up to the bigger business results?

You’d be surprised at how few managers truly understand what they are actually tasked with. It’s worrying but explains a lot. They often have no idea what their actual business results are.

Agility is in service of business results, so we need to achieve them – and in order to achieve them, we need to know what they are. These business results will be what keeps the business operating.

And if you don’t have clear business results as a manager, go and speak to your boss. And if he/she cannot give you clues, hints or business results (which is common), then create your own business results from what you know about the wider business strategy / objectives.

Float these objectives / Goals / Plans in front of your boss and get confirmation from them that these are good. If not, work with them to form what your business results are.

I meet many managers who run tight ships, hire well and have good people, but because they’ve gained zero clarity on what it was they were expected to deliver, they’ve been fired, or received poor reviews.

Achieving your business results means the business stays alive. Get clarity and then you can work on releasing agility towards these results.

H - HONESTY about your current reality is essential. If we know where we are and where we are going, then we can form a plan.

Business Agility is released by overcoming problems that are on the path to our Painted Picture or True North.

Most leaders and managers have a vision of how things could be but they rarely do the work to understand where they currently are. This create a disconnect between the vision and how to get there. Staff are left wondering what they should do or how to overcome the gnarly problems they’re dealing with, whilst the execs, often sitting removed from the actual work, wonder why people cannot get stuff done.

Accepting your current reality is hard. It’s often exceptional hard for managers and leaders to do this, as they often created this reality in the first place.

If we cannot, will not or refuse to see our current reality, then our solutions, direction of energy and attention, allocation of funds and direction of organisational resources, will not be aimed at overcoming and solving the very problems we have.

  • It’s why agile coaches are brought in to deal with management problems.
  • It’s why external, expensive consulting companies are brought in to solve systemic process problems that require an in-depth knowledged of the tiny details, hence you get over simplified strategic direction.
  • It’s why off-the-shelf silver-bullet solutions (like agile models) are brought in to try and solve relationship problems.
  • It’s why market data is purchased at a huge expense when they likely already have that data from those working with the customers.
  • It’s why consultants are consulted and consultant type nonsense is floated across the business – because people are afraid to study their own problems.

There is a lot of passing the burden.

In order to overcome our problems we must be honest about them. And then we must grab hold of them and solve them, in their entirety.

Remember this though – there are always MORE problems than we can ever solve. So, we must study carefully, choose wisely and fix only those that are stopping us achieving our bright future.

I - INFORMATION must flow to where it is needed. Up. Down. Across. Look for where information is not flowing.

People require information to be effective but the reality is communication, in business, is often badly constructed, overly political, devoid of meaning, missing or incomplete.

  1. Sometimes people hoard information to obtain power. This is despicable but common.
  2. Sometimes information just gets stuck. For example, maybe a manager didn’t realise they were supposed to cascade something.
  3. Sometimes information is morphed and tweaked and certain bits removed for political reasons, meaning when people get it, they can’t make sense of it, or it is incomplete. Watermelon reporting is a good example of this. Leaders hear projects are all green, but they’re only green on the outside (in the powerpoint deck or email) and inside they’re red.
  4. Sometimes information is just poorly communicated. Remember, communication is something the listener does.
  5. Sometimes the information just doesn’t exist.

We need information to get things done etc etc.

And when people are lacking the information needed to do their job well, business agility is hard to release.

J - Don’t JUMP from one initiative to another, but know when to quit though.

I see this often. Leaders try some variant of business change and when better results don’t show after a few months, maybe even a year, they try something else. In fact, in some companies it’s a running joke that a new initiative comes along every 1 to 2 years. So, people hunker down and ride this new “initiative” out until the next one comes along.

And here is the crux of why “agile transformations” don’t work – they often don’t change the underlying behaviours. It’s just process on top of existing thinking and behaving.

For cultural change to happen you need to change behaviours. Culture is nothing more than group habit – it’s what people do and say every day. If you want a culture of releasing business agility and shipping value, you may need new behaviours.

When initiatives are implemented at such a rapid pace it’s no surprise people don’t change. Why would they? It’s hard work to change and a new initiative will come along soon, so why bother changing?

Change can be quick if leaders and managers pull the right levers of change, role model great behaviours, provide clarity, improve communication and deal with low performance. But most managers and leaders don’t do this. So, it’s a lengthy process.

K - KINDNESS makes all workplaces better. Kindness doesn’t mean shying away from hard conversations or decisions. it means thinking things through and considering others.

Be kind. Create a kind place. Say no to nonsense and dangerous, illegal, immoral behaviours. Be kind to others but also don’t avoid hard conversations about performance. Kindness is about respecting other people and appreciating the good people bring. It’s about communicating carefully and understanding other people. Business Agility is released through kindness, care and attention.

L - LAUGH. If you’re not having fun with it, be done with it. Seriously. Fun is an early warning sign.

If you, and your team, are not having fun for the majority of your time at work, you have to ask whether you’ve got something wrong.

Joy, fun, energy, focus, results – they’re all tangible. You can feel it. You can sense it. You can see it. Laughter really is an early warning sign. When you see that people aren’t having fun, you’re unlikely to get a positive work culture that leads to great results, retention and an enjoyable place to work. What can you do? Moving smoothly and quickly towards your goals requires you enjoy doing it, otherwise why would people put in energy and attention to overcome problems?

Be careful though. Some leaders and managers put the dreaded engagement survey results and “happiness” above business results. Balance is needed. Lack of fun and laughter is an early warning sign that something is not right. Fun and laughter with no business results could spell the end of your business.

M - MEASURE business results. Business Agility should be improving them. And yes, business results also includes retaining good people.

“Agility” is in service of business results. And good companies are already measuring business results.

And yes, business results also includes retaining good people. (Retention alone is not the important number. It must be retention of GOOD people. Or in HR language “regretted and non-regretted attrition”. Or in plain English “People we didn’t want to lose and people we didn’t mind losing”.)

So, measure existing delivery and business results – and remove blockers towards this bright picture and you should see business results improve.

It’s a very similar thing when HR measure employee engagement. High engagement. YAY! But the business is dying because we’re not focused on business results. BOO!

Agility is about fixing the problems that lie on your path between where you are now and your goals. Fix problems in their entirety, improve the system of work, retain great people and business results will improve. And if this means you run in a Kanban model, or do some large room planning, or you do stand-ups, cool. But these are potential tactics that help to solve communication problems and overcome obstacles. They are not things to be measured against like many agilists would say to. These tactics are in service of business results – measure those and work out ethical, positive ways to make them better.

Ensure that everyone in your team knows the business measures, understands them and knows how their work plays a part in this. This way, they will know how to get better business results.

If you end up with a single financial number for your business results……try harder, your results (and the things you affect) will be multi-dimensional, they will be leading and lagging, and they may even sometimes have to be a proxy for the real outcome.

N - NO suggestion for business improvement should be dismissed.

Managers and Leaders sometimes discount people’s ideas for improvement. Many leaders and managers don’t even consult, listen and encourage people to talk about improvement, let alone do it. I see this every day.

The very best people to improve work, are the very people in the mix of it.

Listen. Help. And foster a culture where people can improve the work without asking. This requires your staff:

  1. To know where they are going (a painted picture),
  2. Understand the current reality (they live it each day),
  3. To possess the skills to improve the work (you are hiring good people right? And coaching and training them?)
  4. Knowing how their improvements to process, routines, habits and behaviours affects the goals (you are measuring business results AND sharing these measures with the team, right?)
  5. Knowing how to improve work (critical thinking, creativity, problem solving etc)

0 - OBSTACLES will scatter your path and pop up. Overcoming them is how your release agility.

Honestly, if I was to suggest a single way to release agility, it is this – solve the problems that are on your path only.

The shiny and simple problems most people try and solve, usually aren’t the real problems, they are normally a symptom of something else. So avoid these. Study the problems. Solve systemic ones (usually the hardest but most worthwhile). Solve them in their entirety. Move on.

There’s a classic systems thinking saying – “Solving the easy problems creates the problems of tomorrow”. It’s true.

You can see this play out in your own lives too.

P - PROVIDE common goals across functional siloes. This encourages cooperation rather than siloed thinking.

People bang on about collaboration. I get it, it’s important. But we rarely collaborate with people we don’t like. And let’s face it, our business world often has people we don’t get along with.

And so, co-operation becomes key. The ability to achieve a common good or goal.

And this is where the lack of agility often comes from; the boundaries (physical, emotional and psychological) that exist in business. People choose not to co-operate with others, especially those they dislike. But customer value always crosses functional boundaries.

The customer does not care whether Dave likes Sarah or not.

When people don’t cooperate you see work break down. And this causes wider problems that become harder to fix over time.

To bring this to life, here is an example:

I worked in a company where the software development team had a clear mandate to build new features for the sales people to sell. And sell it they did, often before it was even built. (and often things we hadn’t committed to building).

However, within this same company, the operations team wanted platform stability at all costs. The platform had been under-invested in for years and was wobbly. Our customers were leaving because the system kept falling over.

So, you had competing goals from the execs in each area. The Dev team’s goal was to build more features, which always requires deployment to the platforms, which always increases the risk of something not going as well as expected. The Ops team had a goal of platform stability at all costs, so they didn’t want frequent releases of anything at all.

These goals were in competition to each other resulting in many heated discussions. The problem wasn’t at the team level though, it was at the exec level – like many problems are.

Remember : customer work always crosses functional boundaries.

So, we set common goals at the exec level.

BOTH Ops and Dev ended up with the same two goals, and consider that this was about 15 years ago before DevOps really became a common thing.

  1. More frequent releases to live (the more you do something the better you get at it, the more you understand it and the less risky it becomes)
  2. 99% up time on the platform

They seem at odds with each other, but both teams came together and ideas flowed, experiments were run and a smooth(ish) DevOps process was born.

This idea works in every single business, no matter the business domain.

When you see functional siloes, or people not working well, or delays, or handovers, look for a forcing mechanism or common goal. Look for a way to “force” people to cooperate together.

Q - Don’t be obsessed with being QUICKQuick is only one dimension. And it requires immense discipline. Start with being effective first.

Let’s be fast. Let’s be efficient. Let’s be quick. You hear people banging on about this all the time.

There is little value of speed if the thing you are speeding up is ineffective.

There is little point in making something ineffective more efficient or faster. All you’re doing is driving the failures faster and further away from being fixed.

Start with being effective first against your business results and goals. Define the processes, tooling and outcomes. And then find ways to accelerate and remove the problems that prevent effectiveness from being more efficient. Business Agility is about delivering value smoothly and quickly. Start with value, then work out how to get smoother and faster.

R - Your company is already very agile. It’s just hidden. Find it, remove blockers, get rid of red tape. RELEASE business agility.

A company rarely starts out with epic amount of profit and cash. It has to be released little by little. The more money you make, the more you can re-invest and the more growth you may have.

Releasing Business Agility is the same…… yet different.

It’s different because most companies actually start out with epic amounts of agility. People rally together, move quickly, cooperate and overcome problems in order for the business to survive.

Then the rules come in. The functional separation around budgets appears. The over the top control. All of this is from well intentioned leaders and managers trying to bring some control as the company grows and scales. The problem is, if done within studying the work itself (from a customer’s perspective) it leads to agility being squashed.

Here’s where Releasing Agility is like releasing profit. If your company has lost it’s ability to ship value and the problems are creeping in around red-tape, rules, siloes etc, then you need to release agility little by little. Remove a rule here, break down a barrier here, open up a conversation there, align goals here. See a bottleneck pop up somewhere else and resolve that one too. Solve one problem and discover three more. It goes on.

Little by little you release agility. It will never return to the heady days of small companies with limited money using creativity and energy, not if you’re scaling a business, but it doesn’t mean you have to be slow. You can release it, given your current market conditions, size etc, little by little to move smoothly and quickly towards your goals.

Release agility. Don’t buy a framework solution from the shelf and slap it on to be more “agile” and do nothing about the systemic problems. Don’t force it. Don’t mandate it. Release it.

S - Most blockers to agility are SYSTEMIC. Solve these and big change happens.

If business agility were easy to find, all companies would be truly thriving.

The reality is many problems businesses face are systemic, as in, they are across the organisation. They are rarely isolated to one area and easy to solve. So look across the organisation, not down within a part of it.

This is where and when it gets hard. It can be hard for managers to hold their hand up and own the problems they created. Politics creeps in. The budgeting model is likely functional and not aligned around how work actually moves (across functions).

Leaders and managers have great levers to pull to release business agility – after all, they created the systemic problems in the first place.

T - Take your TIME. Business Agility cannot be forced, mandated, rushed. It comes from overcoming obstacles one at a time.

We’ve covered how hard it is to release agility.

It’s not simple, easy or quick. I may make it sound straight forward, and conceptually it is, but in the mix of the politics, egos, bureaucracy and hidden agendas, it’s REALLY hard. But keep at it. Study, gather people around the evidence, find people who also want to solve it, try small experiments and measure so you know you’re making a difference.

And take your time. It will take time. It always does. If it’s quick you’ll create the problems of tomorrow.

Be consistent, persistent and optimistic. But realise it will always take time.

U - UNDERSTAND the purpose of the business – and your team. Only then can you be sure you’re overcoming the right problems and obstacles.

You’d be amazed at how many executives, and especially managers, cannot describe the purpose of their business. As in, why does their company exist? Sure, some misguided people say “to add value to someone”.

What is that value? Why is your customer choosing you? What good are you doing for society?

Once you understand the purpose of the business, and the purpose of the team you are part of, you can understand how to overcome problems that aid the customers.

The best managers know how their work adds value and how to get smoother and quicker at delivering this business value.

If we adopt an agile framework, like MoreOrLessSafe and our business results tank, then we’ve got something wrong, even if we are mature in an agile assessment. If we tweak our CRM system and it allows us to see richer insights into our customer experience, this could be good and we should see the changed we make borne out in the business results.

If we fix the quality issues on the platform and customers complain less and stay with us, that’s success. If we remove the long drawn out decision making process about new releases and deliver value 3 times quicker, that’s a win.

Agility is NOT about frameworks and adherence to methodologies. It is about understanding why you exist and what value you bring to customers, and working out how you can get BETTER at delivering that value. How can we get better? How can we improve?

  1. Without knowing the purpose of your business or team, it’s hard to get better, because you have no yard stick of purpose to measure against.
  2. Without knowing how the purpose means you’ll never really know whether work, changes and improvements are actually making things better (or worse).

It starts with studying. Studying leads to purpose and knowing that gives you insights (and measures) so you can release agility.

V - The true VALUES of your organisation are displayed in everyday behaviours. Not by the posters on the wall. Be sure you are congruent in your words and actions.

Many people fall for the marketing and PR buzz that well intentioned leaders and HR create around values. A few years back it was hard to even go on social media without some self promoting exec or leader or company extolling the values of their company. These values were usually glossy posters on Instragram, or codified in handbooks that others could download, or cool artwork across the wall that lit up LinkedIn. People on social media lapped it up. And, interestingly, many of these companies posting this stuff a decade ago are hitting the news today for poor behaviours, unethical practices and toxic work cultures.

Promoting your values is not the same as living them.

Every company I visit has their values plastered all over the place.

Most of these values sound plausible, welcoming and positive. They sometimes sound inspirational.

Positivity. Genuine. Stewardship. Respect. Agility. Quality. Involved. Ownership. Integrity. Customer First. Give. Deliver. Include. Diversity. Inclusion. Sustainable. Fast. Slow but good. Fun! Lead by example. Be humble. Break stuff.

They are great. They sound like these companies would be awesome places to work in.

But the values that the leaders talk about and print on posters and plaster all over the wall or post in a Medium article, aren’t always the real company values.

The real values are what the leaders and managers and everyone in the company ACTUALLY value – as in, what they actually DO – their everyday behaviours.

  • How and why are people promoted?
    • For being positive? Or genuine? Or customer first? Or inclusive?
    • Or because they worked the weekend for 6 months in a row to beat the competition?
  • How are people treated?
  • How are people spoken to?
  • Where do leaders and managers focus their energy and attention?
  • How do the leaders and managers behave?

I worked at one company where the word “respect” was plastered on the lift door. It was a core value. Within a few days I realised respect was one of the last things the leaders had for anyone. Let’s just say you knew where you stood every morning when you opened your inbox to threatening behave and insulting emails from leaders under pressure. Some behaviour was so bad it should have been an instant dismissal – certainly not acceptable at work, yet nothing was done. What was the company value again? Respect? Abuse more like it.

  • In another company they had “wellbeing” as a core value, yet wellbeing was taking a nose-dive. Dangerously so.
  • In another company they had “diversity” as a core value. A value created by the all white, middle-aged male executive team.
  • Another company had “keep it simple” as a value yet had the most complex onboarding process I have ever witnessed.

I have no doubt there are MANY companies who live and breathe the values they extoll and if you work in one – stick it out. But I don’t see it often.

It’s partly why I created my own business 🙂

The values in an organisation are brought to life by the interactions, behaviours and outcomes of people in the business.

Why does this matter for releasing agility?

Because in order to move smoothly and quickly towards your business goals, you’ll need people to believe in the vision, bring their best selves to work, cooperate with others, get close to the high bar of behaviours that you’re role modelling and enjoy coming to work. So you must drive out fear and inconsistent behaviours and anything toxic, illegale and immoral.

The words you use and the actions you take need to be congruent with each other and in line with what you expect from others.

You don’t need to write the values down on a poster or an intranet page – it should be obvious to all what the values are by how leaders and managers behave, how people get promoted and how people interact.

W - WORK carefully, consistently and with focus. Every-day actions lead to big outcomes for Business Agility. Focus on the day.

There is always a veritable rush of energy at the start of some new sounding initiative, like an agile transformation or new ways of working.

This initial rush then plateaus as the work gets hard, the routines take time to develop, the behaviours don’t shift straight away and people realise it’s actually harder than they expected.

This is make or break time. For change to happen, keep pointing at the new world and work, shining the light on new ways of working, highlighting what is going well and encouraging others. Whilst also pointing at the old way and telling people “we don’t do that anymore”. I’ve done a video on this before about pulling a car along a road.

It requires this focus every day. And this is why I say that Agility always belongs to Managers.

Why managers and not leaders?

Well, frankly, everyone is obsessed with leadership at the expense of management. Leadership is ensuring you’re doing the rights things (direction and clarity) and management is about doing those things right (attention to details, dealing with the problems).

And that daily, consistent, hard, sometimes tedious grinding away at the basics of “doing the right things right”, is exactly where agility is released – assuming leaders have painted a bright picture of the future. And this daily consistency needs management to be engaged, involved and nudging the business towards this bright future. It needs managers to focus on business results. To identify which problems need addressing.

Agility belongs to managers – they get to nudge the business forward.

Paul Hawken said it best:

“The most rewarding aspect of management, is working with people”.

Managers work with people when the initial excitement has gone and the questions arise; when the fatigue sets in; when the challenges surface; when the energy is waning. But every single day these seemingly small, and sometimes tedious actions, lead to big things.

X - A XYLOGRAPH is an impression made by a wooden block. Make your impression through your behaviours. It’s not easy with an “x”.

Seriously. X is an hard letter to find suitable words for.

When we’re releasing agility we are making our employees lives easier and better. They will have less red-tape and more freedom towards. There will be fun, joy and interest. And you, as a manager or leader or employee or change consultant or whatever, will have made a mark.

A xylograph is an impression made by a wooden block. If you can help people find meaning in their work, delivery exceptional value to customers, have fun and help everyone grow as part of this journey, you will have made a memorable impression.

In every gig and job I do, I want to articulate and demonstrate what good work looks like, behave in an admirable way and creat an environment of fun, growth and respect. An this will leave an impression.

And great people (especially managers) leave a positive impression that can last for a lifetime.

Y - YOU can’t control your reputation, but you can control your character – how you respond to things and how you behave.

As you embark in any career, whether that has you releasing agility or not, you will be faced with challenges. You will meet people who annoy you. You will meet people who don’t have your best interests at heart. You will fail. You will succeed. You will enjoy some work more than other work. You will like some companies more than others.

And you will hear people say (or hear that they have said) things about you that can hurt you.

But you cannot control your reputation. A reputation is what other people make up in their minds about you. You may be able to influence it but you cannot control it.

But you can control your character.

Your character is who you are every day. How you behave. How you speak and how you respond to what happens in your life. And you can entirely control that. It’s not easy when emotions run high. It’s not easy when people rile you. It’s not easy when things go badly. But you can control it.

And the most peaceful, easy going, positive and inspiring people I know, are those who understand this concept. They understand that they cannot control everything, but they know they can control themselves. And they control themselves well.

This doesn’t mean they don’t show emotions, or open up, or are vulnerable. They do all of these things but they don’t let their emotions bring their behaviours down.

It is naive to assume you will make it through your work life without encountering problems. And what makes work so rewarding, is the fact you get to work with other people – to amplify your own abilities with the support of others.

When you release agility you will HAVE to work with others. Value add work crosses functional boundaries – and as such, you will need to work with people. Some will be onboard, others will resist, others will openly challenges the change you seek to bring, but all of these people are just that – people.

99% of your time, when releasing agility, will be spent working with humans. And that will test you. You will need to control your behaviours. And you will need to own your character.

You can control your character. Remember that when it gets tough.

Z - Business Agility is not about frameworks or tools. It is about business change and delivering business results. This requires energy, ZESTFULNESS and enthusiasm. This is contagious.

The art of good leadership and management is making the problems ahead of you so compelling, interesting, challenging and exciting that like minded people want to help you solve them. (I’ve paraphrased Paul Hawken here a little).

This not only requires knowledge and good communication skills, but it also requires zestfulness. It requires energy.

People remember how you make them feel and people gravitate to those who make them feel good. If you can inspire enthusiasm in solving business problems through your zestfulness, then you will find there are no shortage of talented people inside (and outside) of the business who can help you.

After all, if you’re not enthusiastic about making the workplace better, why should anyone else be?