Business Agility requires leaders to recruit, hire, nurture, and develop people with a strong fit for future potential and mission alignment, over fit to position.
As organizations flatten and delegate greater accountability, authority, and autonomy to the workforce, the role of people managers (as distinct from process managers) increases in importance. To their workforce, they are coaches and mentors who energize people, remove impediments, resolve conflicts, and communicate the corporate vision. The culture of the organization lives through them. There is also a large difference between people managers and traditional process managers, as we now expect the team to decide and self-correct their own work.
A recent Gallup study showed that only 12% of employees were actively engaged at work. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, it was people managers who made the biggest impact. Managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement.
At the pioneering end of business agility and, in particular, People Management, there is the concept of self-organization; teams or divisions where everyone takes on managerial responsibility. Self-organizing teams remain aligned to company strategy and expectations, by being accountable for specific, and measurable, business outcomes. And, although this requires a significant level of fluency across all business agility domains, self-organization takes the position that, as Drucker puts it:
“every man sees himself as a ‘manager’ and accepts for himself the full burden of what is basically managerial responsibility: responsibility for his own job and workgroup, for his contribution to the performance and results of the entire organization, and for the social tasks of the work community.”
Your goal is to create a supportive management layer.
Develop an Agile Mindset
An agile mindset and culture is a central tenet of business agility and is one of the first areas that you need to encourage in your leaders. Redesign your corporate policies and governance structures to promote a growth mindset, a sense of unity and single purpose, and personal ownership of work outcomes. If business agility is truly important to your organization, managers must model an agile mindset to their teams.
Empathy, the ability to understand and relate to the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another person, is a critical skill for leaders in all organizations. This is especially true for leaders in agile organizations. As leadership in these organizations shifts from a top-down command and control structure to one where authority is delegated and teams and individuals self manage, the ability to lead effectively becomes increasingly more about influence and persuasion. Agile leaders must be able to relate to those they wish to influence to be successful.
The most powerful place to start is to change from delegating actions to delegating outcomes. You hire great people and expect them to be professional, competent, and develop expertise. Then, you tell them what to do: “I need this report by Friday”. Instead, give people ownership of outcomes: “we need to convince our executives to fund this initiative”.
This shift is paramount to building an agile organization. As the closest people to the customer, your teams have the greatest operational knowledge. Thus, the operational decision of what work to do (and when) should sit with the team. Whereas, the people manager communicates the strategic vision, sets the business outcome & associated metrics, and then ensures that the team has everything that they need to achieve the outcome.
Managers care that people have relevant and up-to-date skills and are competent to do their job.
Managers coach individuals and develop complementary skills and behaviors (e.g. diversity & inclusion, resilience, recognizing cognitive biases, etc.).
Managers actively invest in understanding the whole person; beyond just skills and capability.
Managers believe that part of their role is to develop people (e.g. through clear and constructive feedback) to be the best version of themselves.
Leaders delegate work to their teams with clear expectations of how to deliver it.
Leaders support teams in localizing operational decision-making (within the team) to reduce the lines of communication and subsequent delays incurred.
Leaders focus on team autonomy & individual security, growing the talent of their teams, reducing skills gaps, and removing any impediments in their way.
Teams are empowered & accountable for deciding how to achieve the business outcomes (what work to do, which product to build, etc.) in alignment with their mission.