5 Books about Agile to Read in 2021 – Book #2
‘The Agile Leader: How to Create an Agile Business in the Digital Age’ Simon Hayward, 2018
Now more than ever, we are in a ‘digital age’. Before the pandemic, digitisation was an option – one gaining increasing traction for sure, but an option nonetheless. Post pandemic, businesses are set to remain driven by digital means and that needs a different kind of leadership – leadership that supports Agile working and organisational agility.
Simon Hayward’s ‘The Agile Leader’ not only points us towards this new reality, but clearly maps out the steps we need to take to get there. This book supports a world of work that’s powered by transformation, rather than repeatable transactions. It spells out how an Agile approach creates a culture based on shared values, where increased connectivity and collaboration feed success and sustainability – for people, for businesses and for society as a whole.
As anyone with foundational knowledge about Agile ways of working will know, Agile is not only a process, it’s based on values and principles that can define an organisation’s culture and form the bedrock of cultural transformation.
Trust or Conditional Support?
For businesses to demonstrate the creativity and responsiveness needed to stay competitive in today’s fast-changing world, employees need to have the space to grow, to develop their talents, and have the confidence and trust to create timely value – serving the customer to the full. This simply doesn’t happen where work is a transaction of effort for financial gain. Hayward draws an insightful comparison between ‘trust’ and ‘conditional support’: “I meet many managers,” he writes, “who believe that people need to earn their trust, and that it can be given and then withdrawn at their personal discretion. This is not trust, it is conditional support, and it is a corrosive approach that undermines a healthy, agile culture.”
Agility needs a high level of trust to feed a strong ethos of collaboration. The alternative, says Hayward, ‘Is the silo environment with an emphasis on tribal loyalties first.’ An Agile approach strengthens an organisation by creating an effective network, or web, of connectivity. The book quotes a 2016 PwC report, “Stripping down of silos is the key to profitability”. Agile is designed to break down silos and create an optimal environment for efficiency and effective working.
Building an Agile Business
Hayward explores the factors affecting success in building an Agile business:
- Closeness to customers
Underlying culture can often be missed as an obstacle to agility. Yet, where there is fear of making poor decisions for instance, this can hold organisations back from the experiments, tests, and pivots on which success depends. ‘Without an Agile culture, you cannot build an Agile organisation’ says Hayward. Trust and empowerment build the confidence to act.
‘Comprehensive documentation’ is anathema to an Agile approach. An Agile system aims to strip away the bureaucracy that can get in the way of effective decision making and action. However, maintaining effective governance and control is still paramount, and so success relies on clarity around organisational goals and expectations. Where goals are commonly understood, transparent, clear and accessible, an organisation’s path forward becomes clearer. Prioritisation is key to Agile but relies on there being clear goals to prioritise against.
Closeness to Customers
As Steve Denning highlighted in our earlier book review, customer centricity is a core premises for Agile working. Involving customers reduces risk and ‘enables you to deliver what they value more quickly’. Hayward points out that ‘every interaction with a customer’ provides the opportunity for competitive advantage. Continuing to do what has been done before is an option but, in a world of fast-moving change, keeping pace with customer needs will bring stronger results.
Creating closer connection and collaboration across teams, functions and business units allows knowledge and experience to be aggregated where it’s most needed. It allows different perspectives to be brought to problems, so innovation can thrive. ‘The way teams interact has become a business-critical issue’ confirms Hayward. This need to collaborate more effectively has fed the popularity of Agile working, as organisations worldwide have realised the power that the framework, values and principles of Agile can release.
This book is a valuable read for business leaders across all industries and disciplines. It takes a practical viewpoint on how and why the introduction of Agile principles can enable an organisation to meet the challenges of fast change. When Simon Hayward wrote this book, he cannot have imagined how much change was on the horizon. In the post pandemic world, his guidance becomes even more critical and valuable for organisations of all sizes and disciplines.
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Without an Agile culture, you cannot build an Agile organisation
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