Tuesday, September 29, 2015

How to Shape an Agile Culture

Agile Culture is the foundation of digital transformation from "Doing Agile" to "Being Agile."

Every forward-looking organization is transforming from doing Agile to being Agile while the fundamental to such shift is the culture thing. Every experienced professional will be agile enough to say that few things are vital for creating an agile organization, such as seamless communication, focus on innovation, harnessing collaboration and employee empowerment. But to digital deeper, what's the fundamental for such shift, it’s about shaping the collective mindset, attitude, and behavior to adapt to the increasing change environment and take action more proactively.

Organizations with Agile culture can identify both opportunities and risks, and response to them with speed and resilience. Agile organizations are able to adapt quickly in a sustainable manner to changes (threats, opportunities) of any dimension in the operating environment and grow. This can happen only when an organization is able to (1) recognize a change in the environment quickly, (2) assess its impact on the organization, (3) determine how to reorient itself, in terms of strategy, policy, structure, capability, processes, practices etc. to tide over the threats / benefit from the opportunities with speed and at a optimal cost, (4) campaign effectively in creating awareness about the need to adapt and willingness to embrace the changes and finally (5) embrace the changes at a fast and uniform pace across the length and breadth of the organization.

The spirit of the organization comes from the top! Agile culture is one that continuously learns and executes based on those learnings. It’s about the attitudes and behaviors needed by senior management to help their organizations respond promptly and creatively to change. In order to cultivate an Agile culture across the whole organization, creative agility as a core value is a prerequisite. Unless managers and employees at all levels recognize the reality of discontinuous change in today's world and own the critical importance of being ready and able to respond promptly, they'll lose the game. Agile or any methodology should be driven by top management seriously, otherwise, there will be no takers. Agile cultures have agile leaders who have the wisdom to know the difference between what needs to be maintained and what needs to change. Agile cultures require empowered employees. The leadership challenge is to empower with control. Shorten feedback loops and raise employee visibility/accountability can deliver dramatic results.

Shift top-down culture to bi-directional: The #1 thing in creating an Agile culture is to replace the old top-down culture with a bi-directional culture that has frequent communication of knowledge from the bottom up as well as top down. Many old-fashioned top-down restricted hierarchical companies are now more and more trying to emulate the culture of “digital native” companies, that "enabling" the lower ranks to be heard and being part of the dialogue is the biggest thing companies can do to not just do Agile on paper but truly thrive in an innovative culture as being Agile. Usually, in a big company, there are a lot of players and not everyone "gets the memo" at the same time. It does take a while and good examples have to constantly be set from the top down, none of that happens overnight.

Transparency is important in creating an agile culture. It has to be easy to communicate openly within the organization. Make interactions possible and be on the lookout for signs of fear from speaking up. Agile encourages creativity and interaction. However, it evolves changes from altering the system, acting differently, creating awareness and inspiring/challenging others.

Agile is a journey, not a destination; it’s more as a "direction" than an "end." Transforming to Agile culture means the business knows the direction they want to go on, and as the people discover new ways of working, collaborating, delivering value, they inspect and adapt in that journey. This, in the end, may have the effect of promoting culture change organically while reducing the stress, to run a high-agile and high-mature organization.


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