When I ask teams of executives if they can identify the business imperatives for culture in their organisation, one thing that is often mentioned is agility. "We need to become a lot more agile or flexible as an organisation."
More and more organisations want to be in a position to quickly respond to market changes, be the first to implement new ideas, or simply reduce bureaucracy. This question of agility appeals to all – small, medium and large organisations.
But what does it mean for an organisation to be flexible?
When a large, global organisation with a strong engineering focus says to me, "we want to be flexible", do they mean they want to get rid of processes designed over time to ensure safety and wellbeing? Or turn their maintenance plan over its head in a week? I don't think so. And this is probably not what they should do anyway.
What they need is a flexible mindset.
A flexible mindset is a mindset that can see things differently, that is open to new ideas, to others; a mindset that can look beyond the obvious and see things that could be. It is a mindset that sees possibilities in the context of the real world it lives in.
An agile organisation is an organisation whose staff have a mindset of agility.
This agile mindset needs to be applied in the context and environment that the company operates in. As a consequence, it will mean different things to different people in different organisations - and this must be considered for culture management. The business will benefit from staff responding to new information appropriately, but not at the risk of seeing its well-established processes and risk management mechanisms destroyed by spur-of-the-moment decisions.
So what kind of behaviours would you expect to observe in an agile mindset? Here are a few examples:
- Listen actively
- Seek to understand
- Course correction
- Learn from mistakes
- Give and receive feedback freely
The values that would be at play include openness, curiosity, empathy and continuous learning.
How do you facilitate the development of an agile mindset in your business?
Start by identifying the current beliefs that hold the organisation back in terms of flexibility. What assumption or belief leads people to shun risk-taking or to stop listening to others' ideas? Once identified, those beliefs are the target for the change.
Of course leaders will also need to role model flexibility in everything they do. Leaders cast a long shadow and need to be reminded that the messages they send through their behaviours are more powerful than what they say.
How flexible are you?