How do Established Businesses in Existing Industries do Agility?
by Tess Julian, CEO of Catalyst Exchange
It’s encouraging to hear our politicians talking about agility and innovation, and what we need to do as a country to benefit from the opportunities that technology and global markets offer.
However, the conversation so far has focused on entrepreneurs and new industries.
At Catalyst Exchange the question we often get asked is
“What about established organisations in existing industries? How can they be more agile?”
What is agile?
The concept of agile management comes from the IT industry, which challenged traditional approaches to managing software projects and teams.
It has become popular among start-ups and entrepreneurs as a way of running the whole business—the mantra is delight the customer, make lots of small changes all the time and co-create. In small business or new sectors, which are unimpeded by traditional internal structures and job roles, agile principles come easily.
But what about the established organisations in existing industries? Banks, manufacturing, hospitality, health services and government departments can also become more agile by creating a culture in which all employees are responsive all the time. That’s being really agile.
What do they need?
An agile organisation needs:
- A shared mindset that focuses on the user or customer, challenges the norms, generates new and different solutions.
- Empowered employees who have the ability, opportunity and motivation to suggest change and implement it, locally and globally.
- Leadership that serves the needs of their employees and supports them to implement ideas.
- A culture that encourages internal and external collaboration, embraces change and learns from failure.
- Processes that manage risk through iteration—that is, the ongoing cycle of trying, refining, doing.
Where to start
Some organisations make a decision to convert all their employees and introduce across-the-board training in creativity and innovation. Or they set up competitions to encourage individual innovators.
While this may work for a while, it generally doesn’t stick. The immediate demands of “now” overwhelm the less tangible opportunities of the “new”. Not only that, the majority of the workforce doesn’t participate, even if they have been to training courses. Perhaps they’re not that interested, they’re too busy. For many, innovation is intimidating, and they don’t see it as their primary role.
However, in every workplace there are people who are motivated and interested. They are crying out to have the chance to have an impact beyond their day-to-day job role. They may not be the innovators or the leaders, in fact very often they’re not. They are the local champions who have the potential to bring about a quiet revolution in your culture.
We call these employees catalysts. Their role is to connect across groups, engage the silent majority and motivate their colleagues. They are the first listeners, the go-to people, the advocates.
Unleash the power of the “exceptional”
We’ve spent years working with leading organisations to understand the importance of catalysts and how to develop and retain them. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review ("The Behaviors that Define A-Players") confirms our findings. The author reports that after analysing a multitude of 360 degree performance evaluations (50,286 of them) nine behaviours emerged that separate the “competent” from the exceptional”:
- Setting stretch goals and high performance standards
- Working collaboratively
- Embracing change
- Taking initiative
- Walking the talk and following through
- Using good judgement
- Displaying personal resilience
- Giving honest feedback
These are the traits that catalysts develop while assisting the organisation to generate good ideas that can help them do things differently or do different things.
Organisations need to harness these skills and continue to develop them so that employees remain engaged and active, and also inspire others to be innovation active too.
So for those of you who are wondering how to create an agile culture, start with the employees who are well on the way. Talk to us about how to use the exceptional to become agile.