Since the COVID crisis leaders have had to suddenly shift focus from the typical 3-5 year strategy to making decisions critical for the day, the week or at best, the upcoming quarter. Rapidly pivoting to new priorities and understanding what can be done now to solve immediate impediments to work are the new normal for executives. Their need to be more responsive has led to rapid acceleration of digital transformation plans and business agility.
The current times could be seen as the first real test of the digital-first business mantra. While some have been slow to move, COVID has forced a major rethink on how quickly to proceed out of necessity for business survival.
Business Agility and Innovation
I’ve seen amazing examples first hand of innovation and agility helping organisations meet new customer needs, new challenges, re-assessing and re-imagining new services, and ways to meet customer needs and stakeholder expectations. Problems and services that weren’t even on the product development road-map have been rapidly elevated to the top of the list, not through knee-jerk reactions to a disruptive environment but through consideration of the risk and cost of delay in waiting or doing nothing.
One of my colleagues has been working with a health professional team on modernising their business. While they had a long term digital strategy to move to telehealth and virtual patient care. Once a national health lock-down was announced, they had to quickly pivot and digitise their normal face-to-face patient care. The executive sped up the plan and the facility was up and running with virtual telehealth options for patient appointments via video conferencing within 48 hours. The rapid pivot to these new services focused on impact, not on traditional “deliverables”, or defining requirements and implementing tools. Maintaining continuity of care, rapid clinical decision making, and ability to assess, reinvent and action were their new metrics.
Agile Teams Pivot Faster
During the current crisis, as an agile coach, I’ve been working with leaders who have had to rapidly look for better, faster ways of engaging and meeting emerging customer needs and expectations. Large scale product pivots to new services has meant a renewed focus in finding smarter ways of finding solutions and stronger executive support for innovation. We have actually found our agile teams actively looking for new ways to solve problems as well as rapidly moving to using new mediums to communicate internally with people and teams as well as clients.
One of my Agile teams is running a hackathon this week asking for teams to come up with bright technological ideas for virtual solutions to internal staff issues. The buzz and motivation that this is giving those agile teams is great as they feel they a renewed sense of purpose and are solving a problem together that may actually make a big difference. These same teams are also working on new services that will bring much needed financial assistance to their clients. Team’s ability to innovate is a vital key success metric for executives, especially in today’s time of crisis.
To fuel, foster and reward this innovation going forward, and continually re-evaluate our ability to innovate, executives should be asking:
- What prevents us from delivering new value?
- What prevents customers, users and stakeholders from benefiting from that innovation?
We shouldn’t wait for the next crisis for the next wave of innovation to happen. As leaders, ability to innovate should be built into executive thinking as the new normal.
There are still many organisations operating using 20th century practices that have been reluctant to let go and evolve. Their traditional planning models can’t adapt to the current pace of highly disruptive change. You can’t deliver to market faster if you don’t change the way you work.
For organisations to survive and work through to the other side of a global pandemic, executives have to focus on what can be done to improve their time to market, and create operating models designed for rapid decision making.
- What rules should be put in place to support decisions to be made where the knowledge is
- How fast can teams learn from new information and adapt?
- How fast can the organisation learn from new experiments
- How fast can the program deliver new value to customers?
True agile leaders are highly effective in times of crisis. They manage the “system of work” and establish frameworks for making decisions over requiring others to escalate decisions to them for approval. Where formal communications and stepwise decision making up and down a traditional hierarchy is time consuming and slow, decentralised decision-making is rapid.
The “system” for staff for decentralised decision-making are simple: where decisions are far reaching consequences and effects multiple teams and parts of the organisation, the decision should be centralised, otherwise, the decisions are made by staff.
Agile frameworks are built on these guide rails and trust that these will be followed. They help establish clear structure for making good evidence-based decisions, bring transparency to delays and breakdowns in quality, highlight risk to compliance needs
Ultimately trusting and empowering people will allow you to attract and retain the talent who are more engaged, loyal, productive, and innovative. While it takes time to change, the sooner you start, the sooner you will reap agile’s benefits.
These pivots work best in organisations that have embraced an agile mindset as core to their digital transformation. The organisations who will work through this crisis are the ones that look beyond just installing Zoom and have found how to do things differently. This is what good agility looks like. I, for one, hope that executive’s rapid uptake of agility continues and grows long after the current crisis is over.