How to make your company agile

Building agile enterprises is not a one-off change; it’s about growth, efficiency, and, most importantly, about creating a compelling, differentiated experience for customers

Updated: Jul 29, 2019 06:36:28 PM UTC

Sanjay Menon is Managing Director of Publicis Sapient, India.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

The need to change and the transformation imperative is a reality for all companies across the world. The urgency may vary across categories and markets, but the direction is the same. With these perpetually changing market needs, the importance of agile enterprises cannot be undersold. Many approaches to creating agile enterprises have been advocated by business evangelists and management thinkers.

Why do we need enterprise agility?
When it comes to creating the right environment for change, the focus must be on agility. Change is inevitable, so creating a culture that is responsive in real time is key. Some, like Jacob Kotter of Harvard Business School, have advocated a two-pronged approach: one part of the organisation rooted in the past, and the other looking towards the future. However, I feel that this is only effective for a brief, transient stage. The urgency of the requirement for change and the desire to create value has to be felt across the enterprise and must be responded to equally. Some parts of the organisation transforming and changing will not deliver the overall value required. The ability and desire to respond to change is a cultural shift that must be felt enterprise-wide.

What are the goals of the ideal agile enterprise?
Building agile enterprises is not a one-off change; it’s not about moving from point A to point B. Instead, the question being answered is, “How do you live and thrive in a world that is changing in increasingly thinner slices of time?”

The goals of an agile enterprise come down to three things: The first is growth. Every player in the market aims for this, which comes from being able to identify opportunities to create value for the consumers and responding swiftly to it. The second is being focused on generating efficiencies to remain competitive and strengthen the bottom line. And finally, but most importantly, the third is the focus to create a compelling and differentiated experience for the consumers which, in turn, drives the other two goals.

A successful example of this kind of thinking is to look at the response to demonetisation. Most nationalised banks had a digital wallet. But only one company introduced a QR code as a method of payment within 72 hours: Paytm. This is not because the technology wasn’t widely available to others. But it is because as a business, they were hungrily looking for the next opportunity to deliver value and knew how to be there for it.

How do you build an agile culture?
There are two aspects to building a culture that becomes inherently agile:

Creating a culture
No change is possible without employee buy-in. First, you have to very clearly and simply communicate the ‘Why?’ to them. But not the ‘why’ from a position of threat. Instead, the ‘why’ needs to be defined from a position of opportunity. Why are we doing this, and in service of what value that can be unlocked? Why does it benefit the company? Why does it benefit them? Because at the end of the day, the transformation for the business is also a transformation for the employees. That’s what the Amazons and the Ubers have done. They've continued to evolve and have a strong people fabric. So what they're doing very well is translating this as an opportunity for their people to constantly be on the steep curve of change.

The minute you communicate, “Hey, I’m giving you a chance to disrupt yourself, and an environment to be the one you never thought you could be"—organisational culture comes into play. That’s the time when people start realising that they are valued for who they are, and who they will become.

Making the culture real
Creating the culture is just the first step. The second is actually following through with it. Unless you rewire yourself to make this culture real, employees will hear the talk, but they won’t see the walk. Success lies in driving both the creation and realisation of an agile cultural mindset.

Creating the culture happens by setting the vision, clarifying it, and positioning it as an opportunity. But this must be followed through and made real. This can be done by helping people invest in themselves, develop themselves by being risk-takers, making decisions, failing and learning from it. Essentially, pushing a culture that supports that failure, as long as you're learning from it.

Consider, for example, a trapeze artist. Without a safety net, a trapeze artist may still end up being a great trapeze artist, but they'll never make that leap that’s just an inch farther than the one they usually take. Now, it doesn't mean they'll always fall in the safety net, but the fact that they know there is one, liberates them. They make that bolder leap. And when they take that chance and actually make it, they’re a changed person.

I strongly feel that today’s organisations have to be that safety net. Not because they want people to get comfortable with failing and stagnating. Rather, they want their employees to feel it’s okay to fail and be more comfortable with making that leap again the next time around. That culture of being invested in people is one of the key things organisations should focus on.

How leaders can foster an agile workplace culture
A leader’s primary role when building an agile culture is centered around empathy. There’s no way one can lead people through change without really understanding them. The second trait to foster is authenticity. Because empathy without authenticity is a very short-term game.

Authenticity and empathy, to me, are the key attributes to building a culture where people are actually invested. Back to the trapeze artist, they're happy to make that one bolder leap because when people transform, organisations transform. And people can only transform when they are able to sense that they are being led by someone who is authentic in their organisational values and mission and empathetic to their people’s needs.

The author is Managing Director of Publicis Sapient, India.

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