Should Agility Be The New Focus?

Businesses need to innovate and find new ways of getting products to the market more quickly; the concept of agility is quickly becoming a focus for businesses that are now looking at appointing board members and business leaders purely to assess and make recommendations on the agility of the organisation.

It’s time for a new entrant to the board — the agility officer, with the executive responsibility for altering the way that work gets done in an organisation, not what works gets done. A disruptive influencer, the agility officer will focus on decreasing time to market for new services and products using asset tracking systems, improving responsiveness to external pressures and releasing the organisation’s potential to innovate.

The shortage of technology and electronic skills poses a real threat, impacting business leaders, owners and workers in some way each and every day. Whilst technology provides an exciting economic and social opportunity, the current potential of the UK technology sector is limited by the lack of technology and digital talent available. This presents a challenge for the future of UK businesses and the countries overall economic market. Long term, we can put faith in changing educational curriculum but, for today, we believe the people who can work towards solving this challenge are already out there.

Most organisations now accept there is a need for greater business agility — to be able to react to change in an effective and dynamic manner, to raise the degree of experimentation, to trial new offerings more easily and to unlock their employees’ potential all while increasing worker productivity. However, organisational inertia is important. The bureaucratic burden of recognized control mechanisms and governance all too often gets in the way and stifles the innovation possibilities.

Changing the way work gets done in an organisation and improving levels of agility requires systemic change to mindset, processes and, ultimately, culture. Such systemic change requires substantial leadership commitment from the very top, and sometimes even the help of an online coaching business.

However, many leaders who successfully progressed to a position of power in present structures often lack the knowledge of how to influence such a significant cultural and transformational change. And where leaders do have the knowhow, do they have the disruptive remit and the time alongside their “business as usual” activities to deliver a transformational change?

We are familiar with the case for introducing a disruptive influencer in the boardroom to drive considerable change. Take the instance of the chief digital officer (CDO) — a now familiar role on the board of many organisations. They are often recruited when a chief executive officer (CEO) realises the organisation doesn’t have what it takes to change with its current capability and structures.

However, The CDO, with a main focus on the digitisation of an organisation’s products and services, isn’t the same as delivering business agility. After all, many organisations deliver effective externally facing electronic offerings designed and assembled from the metaphorical “digital garage” bolted on to the side of the organisational “house”. Frequently, the remainder of the organisation (the house) remains battling with legacy working practices and technologies. Put another way, improving time to market for goods and services is dependent on offline processes, governance practices and organisational arrangements just as much as electronic solutions.

The same applies to the chief information officer (CIO)/chief technology officer (CTO) — with a remit to deliver technological change and IT system equilibrium such as creating helpful tools like a reporting dashboard. However, this role does not have the mandate to change broader governance processes and how work gets done in an organisation, and risks relegating agile to be an IT thing focusing on agile software methods.

Continuous Improvement

So Perhaps it should be the chief operating officer (COO’s) remit? After all, the COO should have the responsibility for systemically driving improvement to operations. Largely, however, the role has accountability for executing day-to-day line-of-business responsibilities on behalf of the CEO — the role is less so about transformation.

So how does an organisation become more agile if it isn’t the CDO, CIO/CTO or COO’s remit?

For many organisations, this responsibility should be embodied within a new entrant to the board — the chief agility officer (here called CAO for brevity, but not to be mistaken inside the chief administration officer).

The CAO would exist solely to have the responsibility for changing the way work gets done, not what job gets done. Thus the heads of support lines/business units and the COO maintain all their focus on executing against operational goals and strategy. The CAO takes responsibility for measuring how work gets done, identifying systemic improvements and agreeing with her or his peers on the board how these improvements should be delivered. The remit is intentionally broad and can include:

  • Facilitating the removal of organisational silos
  • Coaching agility with the leadership group
  • Taking executive responsibility for removal of systemic blockers experienced from the groups
  • Implementing agile portfolio management methods to decrease the time taken from someone having an idea to starting the actual shipping work
  • Adoption of “beyond budgeting” approaches

Improving Levels of business agility requires culture change and dedication

Any Organisation wanting to transform needs a CAO to provide this leadership from the very top of their organisation. Organisation culture is formed by its leaders, and a CAO, operating at board level, is needed to shape the management team to embrace the right culture.

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