What culture do you envision for your organisation? Agility and Collaborative Culture is not enough.

By Jonathan Daniels,CCXP posted 17 days ago

This post originally appeared on the CX Centric Training Blog.

Speaking to many business leaders especially in my part of the world, I am always keen to find out the overall culture that they set out to create. There are two specific themes that seem to be re-occurring today:

1.     Agility

2.     Collaborative Leadership

In this article, I discuss both Agility and Collaborative Leadership, and argue that these two disciplines are not enough to ‘win’ in today’s competitive, fast-moving and complicated landscape.

In late 2007 there was a study which said that 70 per cent of IT projects were over budget or delayed. Remember that? This article is not about IT projects per se, but bear in mind that the majority of projects these days involve technology, hence they would all have been labelled as ‘IT projects’ back in the day. The first project I took over in 2010 was over 1 year late, and still hadn’t been delivered. And judging from how people were reacting, it seemed like this was the norm back then.

2010 was the first time I attempted to deliver a project using an Agile Methodology known as Scrum. It was a big success. We delivered on time, and the Sponsor was delighted. And in fact, the only hiccup was when there was a change of personnel on the project. I was unaware of the change so didn’t get to brief them on how we were functioning. Apart from that things went swimmingly.

Since then I have been an Agile coach, helping organisations transition to the Agile Mode of working. Agile delivery initiated as an approach to software development, and took its roots from Lean Thinking. Amongst other things, agile focuses on early and regular delivery of value to customers. And hence its practices have now spread further than just software development.  Over the years Agile practices have helped to streamline delivery in many organisations. The key benefits taken from Scrum Alliance include:

  • Increased ability to manage changing priorities

  • Better visibility into projects

  • More alignment between business and IT

  • Faster Time to market

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The issue I have is that Agility should be seen as a means to an end, not an end in itself. Whilst having many benefits, I believe that singularly implementing an Agile Framework can only take you so far. Agility needs to be directed. If we think about our business as a car, I believe we can learn a lot. It is great to own a car, especially if it is fast, comfortable, and fuel-efficient. But what is equally as important is being clear on where your destination is, and the route that you want to take. With Agility, more and more organisations are now able to get to their destinations quicker than ever before. This means that the competitive advantage rests in being able to choose that destination well and to ensure that everyone in the car is aware of it.

This translates into the precision of a strong customer strategy, supported by a strong communications plan for your organisation. The problem is that if you look at the performance of your organisation, you will think that things are going well. We have a nice roadmap, we are generally delivering against the roadmap, life is good. My question is ‘What are you delivering, and how is this going to help your business to grow?’

So often we choose to deliver things because they seem interesting, or because there is one person with a more aggressive character who better argues for a particular initiative. After this brief time of discussion, we quickly step out of ‘thinking-mode’ and quickly get into ‘delivery-autopilot’. Today, I propose a culture of ‘customer-centricity’ where employees are encouraged to continuously learn about their customers, and are given the space to innovate to offer better experiences.

The second culture that many leaders mention today is a ‘collaborative culture’. The main facets of collaborative culture are as follows:

  • No Silos
  • Shared information organically
  • Collective responsibility for business results
  • Shared Control and Power

In theory collaborative culture helps to build more effective teams. As it helps resolve some of the common blockers of team work including:

  • Selfishness / Lack of team spirit
  • Lack of transparancy/no information sharing
  • Misunderstanding of a common interest
  • Dictorial leadership

Although collaborative leadership looks like a great idea on the surface. Simply because it is solving many problems that we currently are witnessing. In a similar way to Agility, it quickly brings its own problem. As your organisation begins to share information, and you begin to give more power to your employees, the question quickly turns into: “What does success look like for our team, and how do we measure it?”

This notion of ‘success’ needs to be carefully and clearly thought through. And should normally be presented in your strategy. If your strategy is not clear, or is generally not strong enough, your whole organisation may be collaborating around the wrong thing, and this could lead to grave results. In addition, the key issue of today especially with remote working is employee engagement. Many leaders are finding it hard to motivate employees generally.

Again I propose a ‘Customer Centric’ culture. Which always begins with a strong Customer Strategy answering the following questions:

  • Who are we?
  • What are our core beliefs and values?
  • Who are our customers?
  • What problems and opportunities have we uncovered for our customers for the short, medium and long term?
  • What can we offer to our customers to improve their experience and support them to achieve their goals?

Centering your culture around improving the experience of the customer is profitable. It is a worthwhile end. Supported by Agility and Collaborative Leadership, this is a strong platform for success. It gives your team a clear target, and hence something that seems achievable. In addition, it humanises the work that you do, as we focus on improving the experience of people who use your products and services, and this can be measured through feedback. All of this increases employee motivation and general engagement.

There are a number of organisations which run this customer-centric strategy, and which have witnessed great results. A strong example of this is Blablacar, which has dominated the ride-sharing business, with their slogan ‘The member is the boss’. I urge you to consider a Customer Strategy in addition to Agility and Collaborative Leadership as you plan for 2021.