Agility is definitely one of the most talked about concepts in the business community today, as a philosophy, methodology, mentality, organizational culture element, leadership style… And our discussions with our Clients confirm that it is a topic of particular interest, linked to the survival and successful evolution of organizations.
To meet this new key business need, Stanton Chase enriched its Leadership Assessment & Development portfolio with the Agile Leader solution, based on the model created by IMD Business School and metaBeratung, and the consulting tools of Peter Berry Consultancy and Hogan Assessments.
But what does it really mean to be an Agile leader? And in which cases is this Leadership quality of essence? How can organizations support their Leaders in becoming more Agile? And what impact will that have on business outcomes?
We are happy to share insights on these key questions through a dialogue with Peter Berry, Founder and Managing Partner of PBC in Australia, and a pioneer in Leadership Assessment and Development, 3600 interventions and personality assessment.
Andriana Theodorakopoulou: In a survey we conducted in June, among senior leaders across industries in Greece, we found that Agility is by far considered the most important element of a functional organizational culture. How do you perceive Agile in the modern business landscape?
: Agile is not a fad, it has become a business imperative. Agile is turning the business world upside down. It’s having an entrepreneurial mindset to stay ahead of the market. It is a new way of working. Agility is being driven by competitive forces and market success, where disruption is the new norm. So, a key question for CEOs today is ‘what does winning look like in the next 3-5 years?’ The next question becomes ‘how do we get there?’
This is when leaders need to challenge traditional structures, processes and improve the customer experience. In this context, two strategic questions need to be answered:
- How do we prioritize innovation opportunities with the highest likelihood of a return on investment?
- Do we understand our business eco system, including the external threats and opportunities, to position ourselves for competitive advantage?
A.T: And what does it take to successfully address these questions from a Leadership and Culture perspective?
: It can take 1-3 years for full enterprise wide agility and many efforts achieve less than optimum outcomes, as ineffective leadership, dysfunctional teams and poor employee engagement can be issues. Research from the Harvard business school, McKinsey and John Kotter show that 70% of change programs fail to deliver to expectation. The biggest problem in driving agility is that it requires C-suite executives to lead change, which can be very difficult. Other common issues are employee resistance and ineffective leadership across the organization. So, employee engagement must be a priority and there needs to be leadership development programs aimed at facilitating agile leadership and results, because Culture can defeat strategy. Another key factor is that Agile strategy has to be clear, cascading through business plans and KPIs, as well as be supported by an agile structure with cross-functional networks and high performing teams. So, structure must support strategy too, silos are the enemy of Agility.
A.T: Tell us a bit about the theoretical and research basis of the Agile Leader model and tools you are applying? And how do they serve the business world?
: Agile programs need to be supported by assessments that measure agility, as self-awareness for individuals and teams is always the starting point of development and change. To that end, IMD business school, Hogan assessments and metaBeratung have produced a world class Agile personality and potential assessment. Their research is leading edge and it is wonderful to see such great collaboration by prestigious organisations. In parallel, the Agile Leader 360 measures leadership performance and was designed by Peter Berry Consultancy in partnership with metaBeratung based on 20 years’ experience with multi rater assessments. The personality and 360 assessments combined are perfect for capturing the private and the public person and creating self-awareness from which to build further agile competencies among leaders and teams.
A.T: For most organizations we talk with (more than 90%, according to our survey), applying an Organizational Culture management methodology will be a new experience. What business results should they expect, based on your experience?
: Applying the Hofstede Insights methodology with our Clients has supported them in achieving the specific outcomes THEY wanted, which range from reducing Customer Service email traffic by 30% to increase profit by 29% within a year, or to installing drilling platforms within 3 months after having been on a standstill for 6 months. The critical success factor is to make culture measurable in the first place. To not be afraid to visualize differences, because only by visualizing differences can you understand what people have in common. And those commonalities are instrumental in building an identity to which people can relate. An identity which creates predictability and with that, psychological safety. Safety to innovate, safety to fail, safety to grow.
There needs to be leadership development programs aimed at facilitating agile leadership, because culture can defeat strategy.
A.T: Indeed, we have found that Leadership development is the top priority on organizations’ people agenda. Give us some more ideas about how organizations can support their Leaders develop towards a more agile style.
: Leadership is observable, measurable and improvable by understanding personality, performance and reputation (personality + chosen behaviour is how others see us). So, self-awareness is the key to chosen behaviour and the basis for any leadership development program. In this context, the combination of a personality and a 360 assessment is perfect for coaching and leadership development programs to build agile competencies, improve individual and team performance, and business outcomes (through linking 360 to the strategic business plan and the delivery of key performance indicators). The good news is that agile competencies can be learnt, but it takes motivation and deliberate practice to enhance organisational capability. We have found that combining the Agile 360 with the Agile leader (personality) reports is the most cost-effective way to assess leadership capability for an agile environment. Our assessments work well with executive teams to create self and team awareness. They also work well for agile teams brought together for a specific purpose. We need to remember that investment in future leaders is also critical to building the talent pipeline. Our research shows that some famous brand names including Apple, Netflix, IBM and Microsoft are being very successful with agile investments, strategies and outcomes.
A.T: Having led many Agile Leader programs for many different organizations, what do you think is key for a successful Agile Leadership intervention?
: Our preferred approach is to work with team 1 and teams 2. Team 1 is the executive group responsible for the business or a key function or geographic area. Teams 2 are led by the executives sitting in team 1. We have found that these top 70-80 leaders must be aligned and passionate about the agile challenges. We use both assessments (personality and 360s), coaching over a 12-month period and a leadership program to build agile competencies. This has to be supported by a goal to foster high performing teams, because many teams are mediocre or even dysfunctional. Employee engagement must also be a goal, because global research shows that 1/3 of people are disengaged – they are ready to quit their boss, the team and the job (and Gallup says that 70% of the variance in engagement can be attributed to the team manager). The final prerequisite is to have the long-term strategic plan in place, supported by a one-year plan with clearly defined balanced scorecard targets. The agile agenda is built around the desired outcome using all these resources.
A.T: According to your vast experience of Leadership development in Client organizations, what is the impact of Agile Leadership on the business outcomes?
: Our extensive research shows that the best leaders today are achievement focused, strategic, inspiring and emotionally intelligent, and their focus is to build high performing teams and deliver agile business outcomes. These qualities and approach give them an advantage for achieving their strategic goals, which are often industry leadership, increased market share, enriched customer experience/loyalty, reduced time to market, cost reductions and service/operational excellence.
The ROI in Agility can be measured by individual and team performance and employee engagement. From an analytics point of view, the challenge is always in connecting people data with operational and financial data. A huge opportunity in the future is to measure leadership and team effectiveness and track and improve employee engagement and organisational performance.
A.T: You started by saying that Agile is not a fad, but a business imperative. As final question, do you think that the Agile approach is right for all businesses?
: Agility should be a priority for a business to maintain industry leadership or alternatively, to gain industry leadership. The agenda of each business is always shaped by its vision of future success, what they want to achieve, in a longer-term perspective. This vision of the future will then prioritise the importance of agility for each organization.
But we must remember that Agility adds real value when you have great leaders, high performing teams and top quartile employee engagement. If you get these right, you can create agile strategies and structures to deliver extraordinary business outcomes.