IT Brief New Zealand - Technology news for CIOs & IT decision-makers
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IWD 2023: Agility for the win (and how to empower people across your organisation)
Wed, 8th Mar 2023
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Some couple of years. Many organisations have gone from close to bust to boom to potentially close to bust again in the space of time so short it feels like a decade was compressed into 24 months. This period of accelerated change has highlighted the absolute necessity for agility as a core factor for prosperity despite the vagaries of life, the climate, changing economic circumstances, and all the other unexpected events that come our way. And there's a way for you to contribute to agility, regardless of your job title or position within your organisation.

But first, let's address a somewhat obvious question. Just what precisely is agility (or, to be more specific, organisational agility)?

The definition is easy, to the extent of being obvious: 'Organisational agility is the ability to rapidly change or adapt in response to changes in the market'.

This flows on in support of some rather key benefits:

  • Adaptability to external and internal changes
  • Consistently meeting customer demands and expectations
  • Adaptive culture, practices, and outcomes
  • Maintaining a continuous competitive advantage

As for changes, they keep coming, giving rise to the popular expression 'change is inevitable' (and the attendant quip, 'except from a vending machine'). They always have, too – thousands of years ago, Greek philosopher Heraclitus got all philosophical about it: "No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man. There is nothing permanent except change."

Moving from the 'what' to the 'how', where there are different components, including structure, work processes, leadership, and culture. These components enable people working within the organisation to embrace change.

As you might imagine, influencing structure, work processes, and culture are generally the tasks of senior leadership. This might give the impression that there isn't much you and I can do to support organisational agility.

But here's how you can contribute and make a difference - by including the crucial component of 'purpose' as a component of not just dealing with, but welcoming change.

It's very easy, particularly in larger organisations, for the individual to feel like nothing more than a cog in a machine (or, as Pink Floyd would have it, just another brick in the wall). This is dehumanising and demoralising. When purpose is nothing more than securing a paycheck, it also means the work done is not likely to go far past the absolute minimum. It is also fairly straightforward for an individual at any position in any organisation to accept their own purpose and contribute to those directly around you doing the same.

We do this at 2degrees by encouraging individuals to understand how their work contributes to our company's overall strategy. Every role, every job, and, more importantly, every person working here is essential to achieving the company's goals. If you or I weren't essential, we wouldn't be here, and that's something we recognise and celebrate.

This approach provides a sense of purpose and enables autonomy because every individual understands the big picture and the vision, and is empowered to make appropriate decisions themselves. Alongside, we encourage a 'try, learn, and grow' mindset for every person while optimising the flow of work with a focus on finishing one task before setting out on the next, avoiding taking on too much, and doing work well rather than lots of it.

We take an iterative approach to deliver company initiatives where things are broken down into smaller pieces with outcomes measured along the way, shaping decisions on the next direction, and engage in regular team reflection sessions, acknowledging what is going well and what needs more focus for improvement; in these sessions, a significant effort goes into creating a psychologically safe environment where people feel they can speak up, that their opinion is valued and that it is OK to constructively disagree about the work.

In short, people need purpose. We all do better when we know our contribution is valued and valuable. With purpose, we are motivated, willing, and engaged – and motivated, willing, and engaged people are crucial for the organisational agility which will see our organisations win, despite everything Fate brings our way.