Empowering individuals helps organizations thrive
Organizations all over the world, from multi-billion-dollar enterprises to small businesses, are trying to “be agile.” While some businesses may have found more success than others, truly agile organizations are always working to improve. In the most successful agile businesses that may have mastered some critical elements of business agility, one of those elements would be the agile or growth mindset.
In the turbulent days since the start of the global pandemic in 2020 and the ever-present possibility of an economic downturn or recession, adapting to become or remain an agile organization is always relevant. Furthermore, a low unemployment rate coupled with a high number of job openings have businesses competing to attract and retain talent. Employee satisfaction has become increasingly important, with factors such as competitive pay and hybrid work at play; however, one emerging metric is employee well-being, which can affect both current performance and longevity at an organization. Employees want to work for a thriving organization where their value is recognized, and their growth is encouraged.
Business agility supports organizations in their efforts to survive and thrive in a hyper-competitive world. To make your business successful, both internal and external processes must be aligned and adaptable, and a growth mindset must be at the forefront of operations. Being able to respond to change, recover from failure, and adapt to fluctuating consumer demands quickly will remain paramount to running a high-performing business. A successful organization is built and maintained by employees with a clear understanding of its mission, values and goals.
Transforming an organization to adopt a growth mindset is critical to the success and survival of a business’ agility. Pushing mature agile practices on an organization before it is ready can lead to staunch resistance from middle management and other employees. This mindset must be carefully cultivated and nurtured in an organization over time to bring about meaningful and sustainable change. With leadership support, an agile mindset is achieved through high-performing teams that operate under agile frameworks, satisfied employees who can envision their future at the company, and supportive technology and data management to measure and calculate success.
Frameworks to support agile methodology
Business agility is the ability to compete and thrive in the digital age by quickly responding to market changes and emerging opportunities with innovative, digitally enabled business solutions. These solutions include agile frameworks to help businesses meet their agile goals.
Supportive frameworks and methodologies such as Scrum, Kanban, and a DevOps delivery pipeline allow organizations to deliver value at a greater speed or provide an increase in value delivery. These increases allow the organization to better and more quickly respond to opportunities and changes in the market. Additionally, these agile frameworks allow for transparency and more readily address impediments among working teams to increase efficiency and value.
The frameworks mentioned along with many others can be customized to suit the individual needs of the organization. These guidelines and processes help the organization’s individuals learn agile process actions that will, with coaching, help them gain the agile mindset. Additionally, when employees feel supported by their peers and clearly understand their roles and responsibilities within a team, they may be empowered to do their best work.
If an organization is living the agile values, it is doing what’s needed to bolster employees, give their work purpose and enjoyment, and ultimately build a successful career. Employees who feel empowered and have purpose and meaning in their work are more likely to be retained, saving the company money in recruitment and training as well as ramp up time.
A key agile value is “individuals over processes and tools.” This value does not state that processes and tools do not matter; but rather that processes and tools are in place to support the individuals.
Often, in the early stages of an agile transformation, leadership looks to plug in “agile” tools to their organization without first considering the needs of their employees. It is important to look at the current ways of working for individuals and determine if the tools are a good fit. Processes and technology should be used to support the people and not vice versa.
Agile tools, such as JIRA or ADO (Azure DevOps), are put in place once the company culture is ready for them. If the individuals do not understand lean concepts or the value of a Work in Progress (WIP) board, then they are not going to benefit from an agile product management tool or utility. If anything, implementing a technology solution without thoroughly assessing the fit for the employees can lead to failure of adoption, discouraged employees, and wasted money. The emphasis on the individual over processes and tools is supported by the agile mindset. If the agile mindset is not living and working in the minds of the individuals of the business, they may not be ready for a new piece of agile technology.
Being able to get a pulse check on how your employees are responding to the new agile methodologies and how they are understanding the changes the business is undergoing is critical to employee satisfaction and agile success.
The journey toward the agile mindset
Rapid change across an organization is likely to fail rapidly; shifting to an agile organization is no different. This process is slow, requiring educating employees on agile principles, company culture conversations, workshops at the executive level to form the agile vision, lunch and learn sessions to teach supporting agile tools, and more. As these activities start to take shape in an organization, the agile mindset begins to take hold.
As an organization undergoes its agile journey, it is key to benchmark along the way to determine how the mindset of the organization is being transformed. The benchmarking method can be as simple as sending out an initial survey to test the waters and set the baseline for your organization. This survey should be comprised of probing questions to gauge how the employees respond to agile principles, if they are feeling empowered, their satisfaction with their job, how they view failure, their desire to meet challenges, and their understanding of their value to the organization. Once the initial data from the survey has been captured, business leadership should send out surveys quarterly to gauge progress. This method of benchmarking teams and repeatedly capturing feedback allows leadership to react and adapt to the needs of their organization. Additionally, the focused survey data will allow insight into the areas where the organization is responding well, providing the opportunity to share successes and celebrate wins.
Leadership should not be discouraged when immediate success is not realized — solid, stable change in company culture takes time. While there is no perfect science to shifting company culture to become agile, one critical component is the switch from a “fixed mindset” to a “growth mindset.” An example of this shift could be seen in an employee’s survey response to their abilities and the value they provide to the organization. In a “fixed mindset,” an employee may view their skills and abilities as stagnant; what they know how to do today and where their strengths lie will be largely unchanging. In a “growth mindset,” an employee would view their abilities as strengths and seek opportunities to build on them. They would tie together effort and success.
Targeted survey questions will serve as a temperature check for the organization’s journey toward a growth mindset. Once the survey results start to transform from meeting a “fixed mindset” to a “growth mindset,” leadership will have the results needed to move forward with more rigorous agile practices to bring about innovation and business change.
Using the mindset to produce results
After some time, effort and retrospectives, the agile mindset will begin to take hold across your organization. Employees will recognize their value, seek growth in their development, and feel empowered and happy on their career path. While these benefits of an agile mindset are great on their own, they serve as building blocks to discovering business success, problem-solving innovations, and product delivery.
Employees working with an agile mindset should be given opportunities to use their abilities and to display the value they bring to the organization. This opportunity to demonstrate skill or value is especially critical to developers, analysts and non-management employees. One event that can provide both an opportunity for empowering employees and creating unique and innovative business outcomes would be a hack-a-thon. A hack-a-thon offers an incentivized competition for developers and other business analysts to create a product that solves a problem their organization may be facing.
These events provide the business with unique solutions and allow the developers and analysts to contribute in a meaningful way to the success of the business. Events such as this foster teamwork, build trust and motivate employees to reach their potential.
Data has been referred to as the lifeblood of an organization and can serve as a critical success factor in an agile transformation if used correctly. In agile methodologies, it is critical to ensure data is being managed and disseminated appropriately to enable increased visibility, improved quality and flexible, innovative creation. Whether it is ensuring structure for all user stories or the creation of an online Kanban board, data lies at the center of all agile practices. To effectively adopt an agile mindset, organizations must also understand the immense power of data. Companies that commit to collecting, understanding, and storing data appropriately and securely will find themselves capable of adopting agile practices because information is already transparent and readily available to harness.
Analytics in agile focus on harnessing data to identify trends that assess how well agile practices are being adopted. Agile KPIs such as velocity, cycle time, lead time, and throughput can all be captured and tracked to ensure that your organization is consistently improving. Velocity can measure the amount of work completed in a defined period. Lead time tracks the amount of time for a task to go through the production and delivery cycle. These KPIs can reveal how well your agile teams are running and provide a basis for evaluating how teams can continually improve their production.
Benefits and outcomes of the agile mindset
The agile mindset can produce long-lasting change across an organization through iterative and incremental improvements that slowly shape company culture over time. As company culture shifts, so does employee satisfaction as the growth mindset empowers employees to determine their own future and contribution to the organization. With a shift to focus on improvement over production, a positive culture of continued learning is built. Software delivery and new feature rollout is accelerated. Innovative ideas thrive and agile methodologies can drive projects and support teams to bring those ideas to life. When successfully implemented, the agile mindset can transform an organization.
It's about a culture of collaboration; a shift in mindset and a deep look in the mirror. Business agility can only be created by the organization’s people. To become an agile business, organizations need to hire agile people, support an agile culture, have agile leadership, and practice business behaviors and governance structures that are aligned with agility. In other words, agile principles should infuse the entirety of a company, from its people and culture to its structure and resources.
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