5 Tips on Creating a More Agile Workplace – Keeping Up with the Pace of Change

As agility in the workplace, or as a business overall, is about the speed and effectiveness of adapting to change, there are countless “pro” arguments for this ranging from business sustainability through to having an engaged workforce. You’d think, with that in mind, there wouldn’t be any cons. Actually, the biggest “con” I can imagine, and have seen happen time and time again, is when an organisation is so focused on the transactional side of the change (e.g. changing markets, products, processes, etc) and neglects the transformational side of change (e.g. engaging and preparing the workforce, inviting the workforce to be partners in the change, or even inspire it in the first place). As you’ll see from the rest of my comments below, if an organisation is so focused on the “what” that they lose sight of the most appropriate “how” options, then they’re at risk of putting short-term gains ahead of long-term sustainability; of being too performance-focused (what to achieve), and not enough moral-focused (how to achieve it). How do you go about making people more responsible for their own performance and is this a good way to create more agility in the workplace? First, let’s be clear about the distinction between “responsibility” and “accountability”. Accountability is being open and transparent about the role one has taken in the outcome already achieved and doing something constructive with the feedback from that. Responsibility however, is accepting in advance of the outcome, the necessary behaviours and attributes that are required to achieve the desired result. So your focus when engaging your workforce about the change, needs to be more about inviting people into the bigger vision and engaging in multiple conversations with them about how to get there. Ask, don’t tell, about individual contributions, ideas, applying strengths, getting involved, etc. This is about creating inspiration to be a part of the change. Forcing people and telling them they’ll be held accountable is likely to only create fear, not effective engagement. Do you know of any leaders who are successfully using this as a strategy and if so, what are some key benefits you have seen from this approach? Although I don’t have permission to share the name of the organisation, I am acutely aware of one major international business that has adopted an approach where everything is considered by looking at both performance (the “what”) aspects and the moral (the “how”) aspects. If any situation has one item performing lower than the other…out of balance in some way…the outcome is never to compromise and bring the higher one down, but to instead raise the lower one up. So if a situation is full of performance components and opportunities, but is lacking on some core moral components, then it is immediately recognised as not the right approach. The team then look to see which moral components could be focused on and improved that might make the overall performance target more fulfilling, appropriate and sustainable for all stakeholders, including customers. Similarly, if a situation is full of moral components, but lacking on performance components, then it simply looks like a “feel good” activity without any sustainable or real performance outcomes. Therefore, the team has to stretch themselves to come up with suitable performance outcomes, which also adds greater meaning to all stakeholders. Ultimately, everyone feels they are making wiser decisions, considering the needs of people, vendors, customers, reputation, sustainability, and long-term outcomes and not just short-term wins. With this foundation in place, people are also making amazing discretionary effort decisions to get involved and ensure successes with these changes. What are some key questions CEOs can ask themselves to determine how agile their organisation is? Based on what I’ve already shared, consider these questions to ask yourself and others:  

  • What’s the goal, for whom, when and why? Does this make both emotionally-intelligent AND logical sense?
  • What are the reasons to NOT go for this change goal? What does this tell you about how you could approach this differently?
  • Are you more focused about the performance, the morality, or do you have a true sense of balance between the two?
  • If you go for this goal and it doesn’t work because you weren’t focused on the performance and/or the moral components thoroughly enough, how comfortable will you feel later explaining this to the Board, or the media? If you don’t think you’ll feel good in that conversation, then what can you do differently right now?