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Why Your Organization Should Care About Agility

June 2021
Andriana Theodorakopoulou
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An interview with PBC Australia founder Peter Berry, a pioneer in leadership assessment and development

Agility is one of the most talked-about concepts in the business community today. It’s a philosophy, a methodology, a mentality, an organizational culture element, and a leadership style. According to our discussions with clients at Stanton Chase, this is a topic of particular interest which is linked to the survival and successful evolution of organizations.

To meet this new key business need, Stanton Chase has enriched its leadership assessment development portfolio with the Agile Leader 360 solution, based on the model created by IMD Business School and metaBeratung and the consulting tools of Peter Berry Consultancy and Hogan Assessments.

But what does it really mean to be an agile leader? And in which cases is this leadership an essential quality? How can organizations support their leaders in becoming more agile? And what impact will that have on business outcomes?

Andriana Theodorakopoulou, a Partner at Stanton Chase Athens, recently talked to Peter Berry, Founder and Managing Partner of PBC Australia, about his insights into these key questions. Berry is a pioneer in leadership and development, 3600 interventions, and personality assessment.

Andriana Theodorakopoulou: In a survey we conducted in June of senior leaders across industries in Greece, we found that agility is by far considered the most important element of a functional organizational culture. How do you perceive agility in the modern business landscape?

Peter Berry: Agile is not a fad; it has become a business imperative. Agile is turning the business world upside down. It’s having an entrepreneurial mindset to stay ahead of the market. It is a new way of working. Agility is being driven by competitive forces and market success, where disruption is the new norm. So, a key question for CEOs today is ‘What does winning look like in the next three to five years?’ The next question becomes ‘How do we get there?’

This is when leaders need to challenge traditional structures, processes and improve the customer experience. In this context, two strategic questions need to be answered:

A.T.: What does it take to successfully address these questions from a leadership and culture perspective?

P.B.: It can take one to three years for full enterprise-wide agility, and many efforts achieve less than optimum outcomes as ineffective leadership, dysfunctional teams, and poor employee engagement can be issues. Research from the Harvard business school, McKinsey, and John Kotter shows that 70% of change programs fail to deliver to expectation.

The biggest problem in driving agility is that it requires C-suite executives to lead change, which can be very difficult. Other common issues are employee resistance and ineffective leadership across the organization.

Employee engagement must be a priority, and there need to be leadership development programs aimed at facilitating agile leadership and results because culture can defeat strategy. Another key factor is that agile strategy has to be clear, cascading through business plans and KPIs, as well as be supported by an agile structure with cross-functional networks and high-performing teams. Structure must support strategy, too; silos are the enemy of agility.

A.T.: Tell us a bit about the theoretical and research basis of the Agile Leader model and the tools you are applying. How do they serve the business world?

P.B.: Agile programs need to be supported by assessments that measure agility, as self-awareness for individuals and teams is always the starting point of development and change. To that end, IMD business school, Hogan assessments and metaBeratung have produced a world-class agile personality and potential assessment. Their research is leading-edge, and it is wonderful to see such great collaboration by prestigious organisations.

In parallel, the Agile Leader 360 measures leadership performance and was designed by Peter Berry Consultancy in partnership with metaBeratung based on 20 years’ experience with multi-rater assessments. The personality and 360 assessments combined are perfect for capturing the private and the public person and creating self-awareness from which to build further agile competencies among leaders and teams.

A.T.: For most organizations we talk with (more than 90%, according to our survey), applying an organizational culture management methodology is a new experience. What business results should they expect, based on your experience?

P.B.: Applying the Hofstede Insights methodology with our clients has supported them in achieving the specific outcomes they wanted, which range from reducing customer service email traffic by 30% to increasing profit by 29% within a year, or to installing drilling platforms within three months after having been on a standstill for six months.

The critical success factor is to make culture measurable in the first place – to not be afraid to visualize differences because only by visualizing differences can you understand what people have in common. And those commonalities are instrumental in building an identity to which people can relate, an identity which creates predictability and with that, psychological safety: safety to innovate, safety to fail, safety to grow.

A.T.: We’ve found that leadership development is the top priority on organizations’ people agenda. How can organizations further support their leaders develop a more agile style?

P.B.: Leadership is observable, measurable, and improvable by understanding personality, performance, and reputation (personality plus chosen behavior is how others see us). Self-awareness is the key to chosen behavior and the basis for any leadership development program.

In this context, the combination of a personality and 360 assessment is perfect for coaching and leadership development programs to build agile competencies, improve individual and team performance, and business outcomes (through linking 360 to the strategic business plan and the delivery of key performance indicators).

The good news is that agile competencies can be learned, but it takes motivation and deliberate practice to enhance organizational capability. We have found that combining the Agile 360 with the Agile Leader (personality) reports is the most cost-effective way to assess leadership capability for an agile environment.

Our assessments work well with executive teams to create self and team awareness. They also work well for agile teams brought together for a specific purpose. We need to remember that investment in future leaders is also critical to building the talent pipeline. Our research shows that some famous brand names including Apple, Netflix, IBM. and Microsoft are being very successful with agile investments, strategies, and outcomes.

A.T.: Having led Agile Leader programs for many different organizations, what do you think is key for a successful agile leadership intervention?

P.B.: Our preferred approach is to work with team 1 and teams 2. Team 1 is the executive group responsible for the business or a key function or geographic area. Teams 2 are led by the executives sitting in team 1. We have found that these top 70-80 leaders must be aligned and passionate about the agile challenges.

We use both assessments (personality and 360s), coaching over a 12-month period and a leadership program to build agile competencies. This has to be supported by a goal to foster high-performing teams because many teams are mediocre or even dysfunctional.

Employee engagement must also be a goal, because global research shows that one-third of people are disengaged – they are ready to quit their boss, the team, and the job (and Gallup says that 70% of the variance in engagement can be attributed to the team manager).

The final prerequisite is to have the long-term strategic plan in place, supported by a one-year plan with clearly defined balanced scorecard targets. The agile agenda is built around the desired outcome using all these resources.

A.T.: According to your vast experience of leadership development in client organizations, what is the impact of agile leadership on business outcomes?

P.B.: Our extensive research shows that the best leaders today are achievement-focused, strategic, inspiring, and emotionally intelligent, and their focus is to build high-performing teams and deliver agile business outcomes.

These qualities and approach give them an advantage for achieving their strategic goals, which are often industry leadership, increased market share, enriched customer experience/loyalty, reduced time to market, cost reductions, and service/operational excellence.

The ROI in agility can be measured by individual and team performance and employee engagement. From an analytics point of view, the challenge is always in connecting people data with operational and financial data. A huge opportunity in the future is to measure leadership and team effectiveness and track and improve employee engagement and organisational performance.

A.T.: You started by saying that agile is not a fad but a business imperative. As a final question, do you think the agile approach is right for all businesses?

P.B.: Agility should be a priority for a business to maintain industry leadership or alternatively to gain industry leadership. The agenda of each business is always shaped by its vision of future success, what they want to achieve, in a longer-term perspective. This vision of the future will then prioritize the importance of agility for each organization.

But we must remember that agility adds real value when you have great leaders, high-performing teams and top-quartile employee engagement. If you get these right, you can create agile strategies and structures to deliver extraordinary business outcomes.

Peter Berry is the Founder and Managing Director of Peter Berry Consultancy, which he established in 1990. He is an accomplished keynote speaker, facilitator, and executive coach who specializes in leadership development, coaching, change management, business performance, and teambuilding for leaders within the public and private sector in Australia and globally across various industries. 

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