We live in unprecedented times. Digital technology and faster communication have transformed the world of work. More than ever before, businesses need to adapt quickly to stay ahead of the game. Consumer demand for better and more customised products and faster service delivery has intensified business competition.
As a result, agility is the new buzzword in business circles. The ability for an organisation to adapt now ultimately defines its success. This applies to technology and employees, and critically the customer is key. If a single department is agile, that won’t necessarily benefit customers. Meeting customer needs is central and requires a company-wide adoption of agile working practices.
So, how exactly does an agile culture lead to business success?
First, let’s take a look at what agile culture means.
What is an agile culture?
In a nutshell, an agile culture is a flexible one. It is a culture that learns and adapts quickly to internal and external change. Management Consultants, McKinsey, point to five key elements in agile organisations. These are:
• A business strategy with a shared purpose and vision – ‘the North Star’
• A clear, flatter structure with strong leadership, accountable roles, active partnerships and a network of empowered teams
•A culture of continuous learning and information transparency enabling rapid decision-making and supporting learning cycles
•A passionate and cohesive team community with dynamic people and role mobility
Perhaps most importantly of all, McKinsey highlight the underlining paradigm that is achieved in truly agile organisations, in that they are both stable and dynamic at the same time. Agility means bringing people together. It requires clear, consistent and open communication, and a culture of trust.
Many businesses struggle to achieve agility because they either focus on speed and flexibility at the expense of stability, or they put too much effort into economies of scale to adapt effectively and efficiently. Agility and stability, albeit ironically, really do go hand in hand when it comes to business success.
How do you create an agile culture?
An agile culture is extremely powerful in giving a company the edge. But creating an agile culture that properly addresses the human factor is extremely hard. Transitioning through rapidly changing technology is challenging, but that is the easiest part of the equation.
Supporting employees through change, on the other hand, requires exceptional skill. It’s why only the most successful agile businesses have a deeply-rooted and strong culture that respects and looks after its employees.
One thing that stands out in truly agile businesses is the fact that they value growth mindset. They communicate effectively, share knowledge and understand how to engage ALL of their employees (not just the management team and a handful of key players).
Cultural change is in fact the number one barrier to agile success. Breaking down silos and creating more collaborative and cross-functional teams isn’t easy. Reward and recognition, along with open and honest communication are powerful levers with which to change old behaviours.
According to a recent report by Gallup on How to weave agility throughout your corporate culture, most companies want to be more agile, but don’t have the culture to support this. The Gallup study found that agile companies had the following eight cultural attributes:
• Speed of decision-making
• Trial tolerance
• Knowledge sharing
• Innovation focus
Essentially, agility starts by addressing problems in business culture and creating flatter, cross-functional structures.
How does an agile culture lead to business success?
Agile businesses have significant advantages over competitors. Customers expect companies to deliver great products and services. An agile business can respond faster to consumer demands and get new products and services to market quickly.
When a business is responsive to customer needs it helps to build customer loyalty. Customer retention is a good indicator of a company’s potential for long-term growth and success.
Agile companies have the intellectual capital and growth mindset to lead on innovation. They innovate faster than companies without an agile culture.
In an agile culture employees’ input and views are valued. This has a positive impact on morale, employee buy-in, engagement and productivity. Culture affects how employees think and act. Agile cultures encourage everyone to participate and to value different opinions. This is a real enabler of business success.
Talent retention is increasingly associated with strong and positive business cultures. Humans are naturally resistant to change. The most successful businesses develop a healthy working environment and help to support employees through change. This is key in agile business cultures.
In agile businesses knowledge is shared and staff are developed. These are the businesses that are most likely to thrive in an era of rapid change. An agile business is able to meet changing needs, respond quickly and effectively to threats and seize on opportunities. These are distinct qualities that determine competitive advantage and business success.