The Key to a Sustainable High-Performance Work Culture? Agility.
Everywhere you look, people are on their mobile phones. We have grown almost inseparable from these devices that fit right into our pockets and give us access to pretty much any information in a few seconds. Yet, the first mobile phone call was made only 40 years ago, and the very first iPhone was released in 2007, only ten years ago. People have taken the changes in stride, and now we have a new generation of people who can’t remember a time without digital cell phones.
History shows that people are adaptable, but what about organizations? Are they as adaptable to changes as individuals are?
According to the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Report, which surveys more than 10k HR and business leaders from 140 countries, 88% of respondents believe that building the organization of the future is an “important” or “very important” issue. Further, 94% report that “agility and collaboration” are critical to their organization’s success, yet only 6% say they are “highly agile today.”
What accounts for this emphasis on agility? A few major trends have caused organizations to rethink how they operate, including:
- The rise of digital technology
- An increasingly mobile workforce
- Millennials rising to leadership positions
- Globalization of business – both internal teams and customers
In response to these trends, there are several strategies that companies can undertake to ensure they build an agile and adaptive culture, to ultimately create a long-lasting high-performance work culture.
Agility is all about optimizing. Challenge yourself to look at how things get done in your company with a fresh perspective, because there are probably plenty of opportunities to simplify. Try conducting a monthly audit of your processes to identify and remove unnecessary or repetitive steps that cause delays in moving ideas through the company. For example, if there are three layers of approval for a decision, when only two layers are really necessary, eliminate the extra layer. This will create more time for people to work on the projects and initiatives they care about the most.
You can also ask employees for feedback and suggestions about internal processes via monthly surveys. You’ll likely receive plenty of ideas from employees who are eager to contribute. Then, hold a team-wide vote to select the best ideas and assemble a committee to build them out and see them through. Pro tip: Treat participation in this committee as a professional development opportunity, and select the members by asking managers or peers to nominate high performers.
In addition to removing process layers, consider reducing the layers of hierarchy. As the Deloitte report explains: “Agility plays a central role in the organization of the future, as companies race to replace structural hierarchies with networks of teams empowered to take action.” Pushing decision-making rights down to senior managers enables them to make key decisions more efficiently. The concept of “delayering” can be a tough pill to swallow, because it may cause people to worry about losing their jobs and authority. Therefore, be careful how you position this initiative. Remind leaders that it isn’t about cutting jobs; instead, it is about flattening the organization to spread the span of control.
Combat silos by giving employees tools and resources to operate across departments, borders, and teams. Here are a few examples of software that can increase efficiency and collaboration across teams:
- Slack: A messaging platform that enables you to organize your conversations into channels based on topics, projects, or teams. Anyone can join an open channel, but you can also create private channels and direct messages. Slack also enables voice and video calls.
- Asana: This project management platform helps you track projects from start to finish. It helps your team organize next steps and ensure they get done on time.
- Mural: This tool helps your team with brainstorming and collaboration via virtual whiteboards that you can update in real time. Mural provides a variety of helpful design templates as well.
- Skype: Most people think of Skype as a tool for free international calls, but it also has many great features for businesses. It integrates with Office 365, has instant messaging, and enables group video calls with screen sharing.
- Google Hangouts: Google Hangouts enables messaging, voice and video calls, and the ability to sync across multiple devices.
Enable experimentation and innovation
The most agile companies provide employees with the space, permission, and resources to innovate. Part of enabling innovation (albeit, a scary part) is encouraging failure, because failure is often a sign that employees feel comfortable to try new things and experiment. Reward employees for rapidly iterating on ideas, and if (when) they “fail,” coach them on how to quickly adjust their strategy and try again. In other words, give your people the permission to break things and build them back up.
What does this look like in action? One idea is to set up a hackathon or big idea competition across your organization or department. Another is to empower employees to allocate 10 to 20% of their time on projects of their choosing. Google is well known for this practice, and major products like Google News, Google Maps, and AdSense have been born out of 20% time projects. The truth is that 20% time isn’t easy to stick to for employees, but formally providing the space for employees to work on new ideas is important and will future-proof your company
When it comes to organizational innovation, it’s not the absence of new ideas that holds companies back, it’s often the ability to push those ideas through the organization. According to data from the hundreds of companies that participated in Top Company Cultures, 87 percent of respondents indicate that their company encourage new ideas; however, only 69% of respondents understand the process for advancing news ideas. Toyota is an example of a company that both encourages new ideas and has a process for moving them through the organization. They have a supervisory team dedicated to collecting ideas about improving manufacturing processes from assembly line employees. Ideas are vetted by a peer-circle and then moved up to managers for action. It is an intentional bottom-up approach.
Collect and act on feedback
Finally, in order to be agile, leaders must be tuned in to what is going on around them. Collect regular employee feedback through a variety of channels–anonymous surveys, online forums, in-person focus groups, town halls, staff retreats, and suggestion boxes–to gain valuable insights about how your organization is performing. Respond to this feedback and adjust programs and practices accordingly. Make sure to close the loop on all data and ideas collected and thank everyone who submits feedback.
Pro tip: House any ideas that couldn’t be implemented in an “idea parking lot” and explain why certain ideas are implemented over others. This will also help employees submit suggestions that are more actionable in the future.
It will be tempting to work on as many ideas as possible. However, it is important to prioritize and select one or two projects at a time. Trying to do too much often ends up in nothing getting done well. Once you implement a new initiative, collect additional feedback down the line to ensure the roll-out was successful, and then iterate as needed (that’s a key theme here!).
Change is never easy. But, just like individuals, organizations can take changes in stride, especially if equipped with the right strategy. Forward-thinking, adaptable, and open-minded leaders will build organizations that not only stay ahead of competition, but also ones that attract and retain the best and the brightest minds of our future.