As part of a panel during a conference last month, I got the question: “Should we not skip names like agile, business agility or other names we use for these kinds of frameworks? Is there perhaps an alternative way to talk about these topics to avoid buzzwords as they might scare people off.”
Fair questions and thoughts. But it’s the question who is scared of what and can it be that the image of something being a hype or buzz be more deeply rooted?
In our practice, we also come across these questions. When we start to dive deeper into the philosophy, values and principles behind agile and Business Agility, we often see leaders experiencing their own ‘AHA’ moments, which helps them get a different view and perception.
Are you also struggling to embrace Business Agility? Are people in your organisation sceptical about the buzz surrounding Agile frameworks? The truth is that there are many misconceptions about Business Agility that need to be addressed before embarking on a transformation journey.
To avoid the labelling and chitchat of something being a fairy tale, let’s explore 5 most common misconceptions about Business Agility, so you and your organisation can bring your own Business Agile aspirations to the next level:
#1 Business agility is about wording
People do not get scared by merely introducing new names for a way of working. People get scared because introducing new frameworks like Agile or Business Agility might involve a change or transformation which they are personally impacted by.
These responses have everything to do with how the human brain is wired. In the past we had to protect ourselves against dangerous situations, like meeting a bear or a lion on the plains. Our first natural response is either to fight, fly or freeze. Now you might think that introducing Business Agility cannot be labelled as being dangerous, but our brains have a different opinion about that. So, facing change, people will always first resist.
When you experience that people start arguing about nametags, the underlying problem can often be found in not understanding the impact and the why behind the change. The moment you start paying attention to that, you will notice that nametags no longer form an impediment.
Even more so, using different words can be very powerful in indicating the urgency of the change. Our brain needs a signal that change is coming. It needs a new experience to change the current image. It needs a powerful signal that the team no longer exists and will be replaced by, for example, a self-organising squad.
#2 Business Agility is about frameworks
I often hear people say: ‘Oh but we are already working Agile in our organisation’. Meaning some teams, or single departments are working with self-organising teams and use, for example, scrum. Or, ’our organisation/department/team is so complex with a lot of operational work. Scrum or Lean will not work for us .’ While frameworks and methods such as Agile, Lean, Kanban and/or Scrum are commonly used to support Agility, they are not ‘THE’ way to achieve Agility.
It’s no wonder that 2 out of 3 transformations fail. Or that leaders and employees experience Agile ways of working as a buzz or hype. Even when everyone is convinced that Business Agility would help the organisation to thrive, research and our own practice shows, that CEO’s remain in their executing mode, instead of driving real transformation.
What I often observe is that leaders like to work on the tangible part of change. Maybe pushed by external factors like stakeholder or investors, they compile intense roadmaps and build impressive PowerPoint slide-decks that explain the business case as in a cookbook. It frequently occurs that it’s a copy of a copy of what other organisations do or aim to do. After a fairly top-down communication, leaders start to execute on the plan, following the recipe from A to B.
And that’s when the new framework slowly comes to a grinding halt. Managers are still controlling the teams, while teams experience that some methods, i.e. Scrum or Lean, do indeed not work in their situation and start lacking behind on delivery. When they look at their managers for guidance, these managers start to push more and more and together, they get stuck inside the hamster wheel. Questions and resistance arise and the buzz starts – “it’s not going to work in our organisation.”
#3 Business Agility is only for employees
Let me tell you a secret. Leaders are also human, and at the same time, they are also just employees. A certain job title or having the most followers does not make you a true leader. In Agile organisations, leadership gets a different meaning.
It is a misconception to think that the biggest change comes down to employees who become part of self-organising or multidisciplinary teams. Another common misconception is to think that only employees require education, training, or coaching to learn and understand the new roles and new way of working. I dare to argue that before taking such a profound step as a Business Agile Transformation, leaders should first start to:
- gain deep insights into the philosophy behind Business Agility
- understand what this means for their organisation and role,
- learn how to let go of the reins,
- comprehend how to break out of patterns, and
- master how to help employees navigate the path towards Business Agility.
This path is not a paved one and Agility is not a magic solution that will solve all of your organisation’s problems. At times it will be hard and will therefore require endurance, long-term commitment, investment in all the people in the organisation, and a cultural change. Leaders are role models. Understanding what changes are required and the commitment to their new roles are crucial to the success of the aspired transformation.
#4 Business Agility means chaos
Some people believe that Agility means to do away with all meetings, rules and processes. That self-organisation means that all teams can do whatever they want, work on topics they enjoy, and in the structure they prefer.
It is correct that some organisations, departments and teams do the first and get rid of all the old meeting habits. However, they also create a new organisational rhythm to align on work that has to be done, in a more iterative way.
The same counts for rules and processes. To create Agility, you have to establish other rules of engagement and processes that do not hinder employees and customers, but care for flow and value, and are adaptive to changing circumstances.
In fact, Business Agility is very disciplined and requires a balance between structure and flexibility, with clear goals and processes, all aligned to the same shared purpose. Often, they introduce the use of visual management like big-room planning and/or the Obeya. This, to create a company-wide overview and transparency, so to enable teams and leaders to better collaborate, have a dialogue about topics that really matter, encourage reflection in order to learn and improve, and make decisions based on data.
#5 Business Agility is just for tech departments
Agile and the Agile Manifesto have been traditionally associated with the tech industry. Organisations that start with creating Business Agility, mostly start within the IT department. For some, this is a logical start as digitalisation is a top priority and directly linked with IT. However, this doesn’t mean that the other departments are less important or less able to create Business Agility.
During a planning session, product owners of several IT teams discussed the collaboration with other departments. They struggled with the topic of goalsetting and were grumbling about having different priorities. This was not the first time and would probably also not be the last, as none of the other departments where part of this sessions.
Hearing the discussions, we decided to do an intervention and dived deeper in the root cause of the problem. It turned out that the main problem was their siloed way of working, the lack of collaboration, conversation, and alignment with the overall goals and strategy of other departments. They began to understand that their department could not operate properly without the collaboration with others.
In summary, the five most common misconceptions are:
Business Agility is only about naming conventions
Business Agility is only about frameworks
Business Agility is only for employees
Business Agility is chaos
Business Agility is just for tech departments
Now it’s your turn. Have you ever experienced one or more of these misconceptions? Which one is familiar and why?
To rise beyond the above misconceptions, you have to understand the philosophy behind the WHY you are doing this transformation and WHAT you are aiming for. Business Agility is far from a fairy tale as it is about:
- behaviours, mindset, and the capability of an organisation
- create speed, flow and flexibility throughout the entire organisation
- people are able to connect with and follow a shared purpose
- become adaptive to change
Everything else like frameworks, tools, models, labels and nametags should merely contribute to that connected and shared purpose.
As I believe in the power of sharing, I have a special gift for you. Download my brand-new Ebook, “Leading with Agility” – Transform your business with people-driven agility.
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Thanks for reading this blog and looking forward to your response!
If you think this is of value for others, then please share it with your network. I greatly appreciate that.
Every day is a great day to transform the way you change. Let’s break the misconceptions and embrace Business Agility together to create a bright future.
I hoop to meet you soon. And don’t hesitate to connect. Additionally, if you have questions leave a comment or feel free to get in touch for a call to discuss how I can further help you on this journey.
Learn. Transform. Thrive.
It’s my purpose to spark the Human X-factor and create purpose driven spaces where everybody is able to grow.
How? Put people & purpose at the heart of your organisation and drive your transformation People Led.
Passionated about living by purpose. Entrepreneur and founder of Twinxter and the TwinxterAcademy, Author of Purpose Driven People, creating business agility & sustainable growth, Co-author of Agile People Principles, Transformational Leadership in the fitness and physical activity sector & Emergence, Creator of the People Journey Circle, Keynote Speaker