Changing culture is the biggest challenge in creating agility at an enterprise level

For much of the past few years, the leadership agenda has been dominated by strategies and initiatives to create agility at an enterprise level to face the disruptive challenges brought about by the digital revolution. There is growing recognition that our old paradigm of ‘organisation has machines’ no longer serve us and a new way of working is required. Enabling agility at an enterprise level, however, requires moving strategy, structure, processes, people and technology toward a new operating model.

In the time of COVID-19, many organisations have accelerated their shift to agile. Remote working brought new opportunities as well as new challenges to the agile transformation journey. One of the primary opportunities has been the quick uptake of new technologies such as Zoom, Teams and Miro that enable remote collaboration and have helped us feel more connected to each other during these difficult and often, isolating, times. For many, it has opened new markets as the need for direct face-to-face engagement with customers lessens and therefore, reduces the cost and risks of operating in new geographies.

Nonetheless, the key challenge to enterprise agile transformation remains transforming the culture and ways of working, according to the latest research by Jurisic, Lurie, Risch and Salo (2020). Despite COVID and the uptake in technologies, we see many organisations continue to hold to their previous ways of working and as soon as lockdown restrictions lifted, returned to old habits of command and control and managing people rather than managing outcomes.

In contrast, an agile organisation requires a network of teams within a people-centred culture that operates in rapid learning and fast decision cycles which are enabled by technology and guided by a powerful common purpose to co-create value for all stakeholders. This requires a new leadership paradigm that sees organisations as ‘dynamic living organisms’ where design and decisions are iterative as not everything can be planned up front. This requires leaders who are comfortable with ambiguity and who can balance the need for stability with dynamism within their organisation.

Transforming an organisation’s culture to enable this new paradigm to take hold needs leaders to focus on engaging hearts and minds of their people first. An early task for senior leaders needs to be identifying the behavioural shifts they and their teams would need to thrive in the new agile operating model and to implement capability-building activities and initiatives that enable these shifts to occur and be embedded in the organisation. This, along with a clear, purposefully and authentically bought into vision for what great agility looks like, can go a fair way towards changing the culture towards agile ways of working.

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 Jurisic, N, Lurie, M, Risch, P, and Salo, O, 2020, ‘Doing vs being: Practical lessons on building an agile culture’, McKinsey & Company
Jurisic, N, Lurie, M, Risch, P, and Salo, O, 2020, ‘Doing vs being: Practical lessons on building an agile culture’, McKinsey & Company