British Minister of Finance asked the famous English scientist Machael Faraday about the value of his invention, electromagnetism. Faraday said, this would be taxed one day. He had a great mind; he could imagine centuries ahead of his time and set an inspirational direction for the Minister. Organizations are now on a superway and racing against one another towards audacious goals. One of the many virtues that they need is agility in their engines. They need their cars to adjust to the uncertainties on the way and keep up the pace at the same time.
Agile methodologies have become popular in the last few years in IT project management practices because the users start seeing the benefits of a new device or a new system in small chunks. They discover it in phases and get accustomed to it over a period of time. If we think of some of the natural processes such as growth of a child into an adult, a sapling into a tree and so on, the process is not digital or instantaneous. It happens over a period of time and the stakeholders experience it on a real time basis. Similarly, construction of a building, a road, a business takes time and it happens over a period of time. Transforming our habits, our beliefs and thoughts take still longer.
An organization needs flexibility and agility in each of its steps, whether it is manufacturing, sales, production, procurement, supply chain, compensation, recruitment, name anything. Some of these changes could be deep-rooted and could take time to take place. Like a petrol engine cannot adapat to diesel as a fuel, all systems cannot scale up to the range of changes that it may be subjected to. People are the only resources where one can create high degree of agility because human resources have intelligence and capacity to adapt. Such energies need to be channelised in the right way!
Firstly, it is about the mindset of staying agile. It is a top down kind of a phenomenon. The leaders at the top need to be aligned about the kind of agility that they need in the organization. Agility can be in the kind of people that the organization will hire for itself versus the kind of people it would take from someone else for a fixed time. Also, an organization can be agile in the way it fills its leadership roles to fuel its growth. It can recruit external talent or can develop its internal talent and promote them. Similarly, an organization can be agile in the way it rewards and recognizes its people. These are examples where the leaders set the operating principles. The context of each organization is different and hence, the operating principles have to be customised for its own context rather than a copy-paste of another.
Secondly, the leaders need to communicate the rationale of the operating principles and make them a way of life. This needs to be understood well by the operating leaders. Many a times, people have a partial understanding and hence, the implementation on the ground becomes weak. For example, an organization which has a certain amount of flexibility in its staffing, uses human resources who work for them for a fixed period of time and their productivity needs to be managed. One needs to understand the objective of having temporary resources in the team before managing the staff on day to day basis for their goal setting, performance tracking, rewards, recognition, cultural alignment, training, development, compensation and so on. We notice hugely disparate practices being followed by different managers in the same organization and hence, the impact of agility is not felt on the results of the organization.
Last but not the least, one needs to assess if the level of agility built into the system is adequate or not. Moreover, one needs to review if the intended benefits of agility are being seen or not. This is the most difficult part of the entire puzzle to solve. Organizations follow agile methods but do not deliver the desired results. There could be several reasons; the leadership needs to spot the most important one and solve it rather than throwing out the baby of agility along with the bath water!