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Right now, people and organizations across all industries are grappling with new ways of operating. For many, these shifts weren’t planned. Heck, they probably weren’t even imagined a few months ago. But suddenly, there we were, with lots of changes that needed to be made right away. The questions for most leaders included: How do we make these shifts and do it quickly? Are we really an organization that is great at business agility and embodies an agile mindset? To be clear, we’re talking about leaders of all different functions and at all levels of the business.

For some people, shifting to an agile mindset comes easily. They are fluid in their thinking and can see possibilities as part of their mindset. And as you know, to be successful in operations, you must not only be able to see the possibilities but have a clear, flexible way to get there. This is true regardless of your business function. But the truth is that agile operations and mindsets don’t come naturally for many, so you need to increase awareness and understanding of them, from your leaders down to your front line.

To learn and implement business agility, you need to go first. You can start no matter your level in your business. You must embrace some of the principles of business agility. If you’re thinking, “uh, that’s a little too meta for me,” hang in there for about five minutes.

Five Tips to Achieve Agility at Work

Here are five tips that individual contributors and leaders can take to ensure that business agility becomes part of your daily work and sustains the mindsets and behaviors that will serve you and your organization well into the future.

1) Do a little research

The terms “agile” and “business agility” are widely used but not universally defined. There are countless books, websites, articles, podcasts, courses, and other ways to learn about these topics. Start learning about their origins and how they are being widely applied today. This will quickly demystify the language that accompanies business agility and helps you start figuring out how the concepts benefit you and your organization. But don’t get overwhelmed by the amount of content or spend all your time learning from others. After all, business agility has a bias for action.

Get tactical:

  • Start googling “agile” and “business agility.” Do it in short blocks of time (say, 15‒30 minutes).
  • Check out an agile manifesto to review its building blocks.
  • Start thinking about how other business gurus you like (Simon Sinek and Eric Ries come to mind) talk about principles of business agility in their own words and how they see it coming to life.

2) Start small

If you’re leaning into the concepts of business agility, you’re probably excited. And why shouldn’t you be? You’re starting to unlock all these possibilities for capturing value at your organization and serving your customers. You’re looking forward to performing at your best and delivering for yourself and your teammates. It’s like someone has pulled you back in a slingshot and is about to let go – and now it’s time to start small.

Wait. Huh?

Although it’s tempting to start applying everything you’ve learned all at once, pick one or two ideas that are easy to implement. Don’t even consider the scale of impact it’s going to have on your organization. Lots of amazing achievements started small. To embrace business agility, applying the mindset and the behaviors on a smaller scale maximizes your opportunity for success – whatever that may look like – and increases your chances of sustaining the movement. Starting small allows you to learn and adjust as needed. Sound familiar?

Get tactical:

  • To get started, choose something you’re interested in that you think can help you in your role.
  • Choose something that will get you started with minimal involvement from others.
  • Block off time in your calendar to work on whatever you have started.

3) Experiment

Try some things and see what happens. The rigor necessary to explain and act on results from an experiment are definitely important – and no doubt beneficial to you – but at the basic level, you’ll just need to try some things.

There are lots of free tools, such as apps or templates, that can help bring business agility to life. Since you’ve already decided to start small, experiment with one of them and see how it goes. Even if you don’t achieve the success you desire, it’s still productive because you’re learning what works for you and your organization and what doesn’t. As uncomfortable as it may feel, it’s critical to embrace your vulnerability knowing that things probably won’t work out exactly as you expect. As with everything else in life, you must practice if you want to get great at something. Even people who are highly successful still practice. For example, have you seen The Last Dance? Michael Jordan was arguably the greatest basketball player ever in games and at practice. Coincidence? I think not.

Get tactical:

  • Don’t wait for the perfect time to experiment – there’s no such thing. As Nike has told us for years, Just Do It!
  • Write down your goals before you experiment. Later, follow up by writing what you learned so you can apply it to the next experiment.
  • Conclude each experiment by setting up your next one.

4) Talk to people about what you’re trying to do

First, you’re not the only person thinking about business agility. Find like-minded souls at your organization to learn with and scale these mindsets and behaviors in your work. When you break out of your business agility silo and start learning and experimenting with other people, you’ll see way more value.

Second, you’ll probably be trying approaches that are very different from what normally happens (or happened) across your organization. People are going to have questions, so it’s essential to give them the “why,” “what,” and “how” of business agility in your own words. Help them see the big picture and they’re much more likely to come with you.

Third, to scale business agility across your organization, you must engage your leadership team in your goals and objectives. Business agility works when it stops being terminology and tools and starts being part of your culture – actions and behaviors. Leaders need to embrace it and lead by example.

Get tactical:

  • Incorporate what you are trying to do into your “normal daily work” by showing people you what you’re doing.
  • Discuss the benefits of business agility to the organization in your regular manager touchpoints and how it will be achieved by everyone.
  • Look for internal working groups in your organization with similar mindsets or ones that could benefit from more business agility, then support their cause.

5) Celebrate and recognize your success

Typically, organizations and leaders aren’t great at recognizing and celebrating successes. This neglect can lead your people to think they’re not adding as much value “as we should be” or not winning in ways that are valuable to the business. Bringing business agility to life is hard. There are many obstacles. You and your people can burn yourselves out. It’s easy to fall back into old habits.

To avoid these outcomes, reframe what winning looks like for your organization and your people. There are lots of ways to define winning. Take time to celebrate and ensure you don’t skip this step of the process. Build it into your schedules and assign work around it. You will build your confidence, encourage yourself and others to lean into business agility even more, and be happier.

Get tactical:

  • Schedule time (sound familiar?) to celebrate your achievements.
  • Write down what you are celebrating and collect a record of all your celebrations – it helps motivate you and shows you how much you have achieved.
  • Reward yourself with something earned for a job well done. (I go for some Jeni’s Ice Cream – in particular, Brambleberry Crisp. But you do you.)

As change continues to happen at an accelerating rate, business agility becomes an organizational imperative. Does anyone remember the five-year strategy? Those days are long gone. Both leaders and individual contributors must become comfortable with pivoting quickly or else their organizations are going to be like this article ‒ finished.


July 7, 2020


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