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The Train Has Left the Station - Why Agility Matters Now

07.07.2017 • Holger Nauheimer

If you have any interest in what is currently going on in the corporate world, you cannot escape a whole suite of new buzzwords which we have not been using only a few years ago. Digital Transformation is certainly one of them and maybe it is the most ambiguous, maybe even the blurriest one. However, if you look at the trends of Google searches on that term you will see that it was virtually not existent until about two years ago when the public interest suddenly picked up.

Whether you like the term or not, it is certainly something that is here to stay for a while and it will influence the way we think organisational development and all related topics such as leadership, recruitment and talent management, learning & development, performance management etc.

The core challenge that organisations face is to master the accelerating pace of change. We as change management practitioners grew up in a world that allowed us to carefully design and roll out change processes over a longer time period. Of course! Hadn't we learned from Kurt Lewin that organisations need to be UNFROZEN, to be MOVED and then be REFROZEN again? Haven't we all seen the sheer amount of different and often antithetic change initiatives, pushed into the business by different sponsors at the cries of dismay of the poor employees and their bouncers in the middle management? So, isn't it time to slow down and think about what is really important for the organisation and act with grace and great oversight from the answer that emerges from this quest for purpose?

Yes and no.

Here are my 5 ct on what matters now:

  • There is a fundamental change going on in the way we think about leadership and management and we will never go back to old times. Think about Frederic Laloux's concept of Reinventing Organisations as you like, but the time of leading by telling or selling will come to an end quickly.
  • Corporations cannot afford any longer to insist on their well-established administrative and managerial processes. There is just no time. I was so enlightened by listening to the story of Céline Schillinger, Head, Quality Innovation & Engagement at Sanofi Pasteur. Her aim was to create a global community that connects around the issue of Dengue Fever. If she would have followed the rules, it would have taken her months and many, many written consents from all kinds of Departments of her company. She didn't. Instead she cut all sorts of red tape and just moved ahead – an extreme form of self-empowerment. Her eventual success legitimated her actions.
  • Disruption of business models is happening in front of our eyes. We all know that the business world has changed profoundly in the last ten to twenty years. Traditional business models are being challenged from two sides, on the one side from start-ups which are invading successfully any kind of industry, and on the other side from the big technological players such as Google, Amazon, Apple etc. who diversify into all conceivable directions. It is quick, it is dirty and it bears bg risks for any company who does not see the spell at the wall.
  • Purpose actually matters. Without connecting all employees to the raison d'être – the reason of existence – transformation cannot happen. Facilitation of this process of deep alignment is a precondition for change and for the futurity of corporations.
  • The point of departure for this great transformation process might be the increase of organisational agility. There are plenty of things that need to, and will change. It is actually happening in front of our eyes. Governance models, incorporation of new technologies in all sectors of the business, new mindsets, etc. creep in at a fast pace. Some of those changes will not come over night. A good start however is the increase of individual accountability and decision power. It is about innovating fast. The tools of agile management have been around for a while, they are tested and proven and they can be implemented on team or departmental level. And they have transformative potential.

In many organisations, change will rather happen from bottom up. Local initiatives will have their impact on the entire system. However, it takes a courageous manager to transform herself into a digital leader. The train has left the station.

If you want to know more about how leaders can pave the way for agile team work, join us in our upcoming training series on Agile Leadership.

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