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Scientific Newsletter #9

Are Agile Leaders Becoming Hyperactive?

Again this week, I thank you for being here. Today I want to talk to you about leadership and why it’s so important to understand the opportunities and challenges of exponential markets and their potential consequences.

It is clear that agile leaders not only need to guide people but also need to be able to deal with rapidly changing market conditions. This means that they need to look at these changes not only from a strategic perspective but also from the human side. They must be able to assess the physical and psychological impact of constantly changing situations on themselves and others.

Changing conditions or exponentially growing markets can cause a lot of anxiety and increase cortisol levels in the brain. This leads to a decrease in mental agility and the ability to lead. Someone with higher levels of cortisol will try to manage people to feel safe rather than lead them.

Recent studies show that people exposed to constant stimuli (e.g., exponential change) can become hyperactive. Anecdotal evidence suggests that, for example, smartphone use makes people increasingly distracted and hyperactive. This is an example of what constant disruption can do to leaders. These suspected symptoms of constant digital stimulation are also characteristic of a well-known neurodevelopmental disorder: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Therefore, every leader must be able to use practices and techniques to constantly manage the personal consequences of exponential external stimuli such as changing markets. 

In turn, new leaders must also master the following 3 areas if they’re to stay in the game:

1. Know techniques to sense the markets. This helps them know what the next move will be and prepare individuals for the coming situation.

2. Be able to guide people even when everything has changed and there’s no longer a frame of reference.

3. Break promises and restore trust.

When the market situation changes, the promise must also change. In such scenarios, it’s normal to have to break previous commitments. This can be perceived by employees as a loss of trust. The secret of an exponential leader is to be able to break a promise without destroying the trust people have placed in them.

This is one of the skills needed, and it’s also part of the M-Leadership Framework. Without the above, it would be difficult for their companies to survive.

Today I’ve kept it short because I want to make room for the excellent article by Prasad Kamath, an experienced international leadership consultant. Prasad and I have an ongoing conversation about how to build a better ecosystem for leaders and employees. Please check the article below “The Secrets of Outcomes Agility

 

Our Coming Courses from the Enterprise Agility University

We’re pleased to announce that in February we continue our Certified Change Consultant courses and start with the Enterprise Agility Leadership Program in various parts of the world.

Irena Pavlovska, EuropeEnterprise Agility Leadership Program

Issame El-kharbili (Europe) Certified Change Consultant

Sandip Rananavare (Australia)Enterprise Agility Leadership Program

 

The Secrets of Leadership and Outcomes Agility

By Prasad Kamath, Leadership Consultant

The Certified Change Consultant® program equips the participants with a set of tools and models to facilitate lasting change so that each individual could choose to use one or more of those tools or models appropriate to the situation at hand. One such immensely useful model covered in the program is EAU’s Enterprise Agility Model which forms the foundation of the entire program, and is one that Change Consultants need to build a sound understanding of, to help infuse agility into the fabric of an organization.

The Enterprise Agility Model describes five types of agility that must be considered in order to holistically and sustainably build agility into an organization. One of them is Outcomes Agility which is the focus of this article. According to the EAU:

Outcomes Agility is about delivering results even during turbulent times to respond to changing market conditions

Leading Exponential Change, 2018

Market conditions keep changing with time, whether times are turbulent or not. However, turbulent times, caused by events such as the recent COVID19 outbreak, serve as an acid test for organizations to demonstrate their agility to the world, and especially, to their customers. Organizations need to build Outcomes Agility in order to consistently deliver both customers as well as business outcomes, while maintaining or enhancing their organizational health, during turbulent times

Organizational health is about cultivating psychological safety and creating sustainable value in perpetuity

Leading Exponential Change, 2018

I’d like to consider Outcomes Agility as a result of the interplay of 3 elements because they are closely intertwined with each other (see Figure 1).

Strategic Agility: The ability of an organization to align everyone in the entire business ecosystem to a single collectively defined vision, and to use it to purpose define and execute a strategy, that itself emerges over time through continually running market experiments to effectively adapt to changing customer needs [1]

Leadership Agility: The ability to leverage collective intelligence to take wise and effective action amid complex, rapidly changing conditions [2][3]

Learning Agility: The ability to learn from experience, and subsequently apply that learning to perform successfully under new or first-time conditions [4]

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Figure 1. Outcomes Agility

Strategic agility itself is a result of 3 elements, which are again closely intertwined with each other:

Collective Strategic Sensing [5]

This is about continually “sensing” changes in the customer needs and business environment by defining strategic hypotheses, running market experiments, and capturing evidence to either validate or invalidate one or more strategic hypotheses.

The term “collective” in the element name has special significance – it emphasizes that the responsibility for continually “sensing” changes in the business environment is taken on by all participants of the entire business ecosystem, rather than just one individual or group, such as the Executive Leadership team. The Leadership Team needs to foster “collective ownership” of the strategic vision and strategy, in addition to psychological safety, for this to happen. Another aspect of Collective Strategic Sensing is that it needs to be technology-enabled. Technologies such as artificial intelligence and big data can be leveraged to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of Strategic Sensing.

Tactical Response [5]

This is about continually “adapting” the strategy to the changes in the customer needs and business environment, in response to the sensing; that is, the results of the experiments conducted and hypotheses validation.

Collective Capabilities [5]

By “capability” is meant “business capability”. Collective Capabilities is about continually identifying and closing the business capability gaps that prevent the strategy from being realized.

The elements Strategic Sensitivity and Tactical Response emphasize that “adaptive strategy” requires continual “strategic discovery” cycles rather than traditional strategy planning. There’s a major difference between the two, and understanding the difference requires a wholesale mindset shift, especially where the Executive Leadership team is concerned. 

A business capability represents “what” a business does, or specifically, a particular ability or capacity that a business may possess or exchange to achieve a specific business purpose or outcome.

Prasad Kamath

That’s where Leadership Agility comes in and why the M-Leadership Framework is important. Strategic sensitivity through hypotheses validation, followed by appropriate tactical responses essentially requires “triple-loop learning”, the essence of which is ascertaining “is our strategy itself still valid”. This is closely associated with the mindset shift alluded to above because most organizations are known to implement singe-loop learning, and occasionally, double-loop learning.

Implementing triple-loop learning effectively to enhance Outcomes Agility requires a major cultural shift, as well as Learning Agility. This is because, in most circumstances, the Executive Leadership team believes that they “know” what the “right” strategy is, without being cognizant of the fact that in today’s dynamic and complex business environment, the “right” strategy continually shifts. 

This leads them to believe that they are responsible for “strategy planning” which is interestingly considered to be an annual event, which when completed, the Execution teams must “take over”. This makes the strategy approach strictly top-down, without any provision to use market evidence from the Execution teams for triple-loop learning. That’s where Learning Agility comes in!

Without Learning Agility, the willingness of the Leadership team to allow (bottom-up) feedback from the Execution teams, and to use it to continually revise one or more elements of the strategy would be non-existent, thereby severely impacting Outcomes Agility. 

Without Learning Agility, leadership cannot be agile. In fact, Learning Agility is the foundation on which both Strategic Agility and Leadership Agility rest (see Figure 1). The Collective Capabilities element is probably relatively the most important because, without the required business capabilities to realize strategy, even the best of strategies would remain only on paper. Organizations invest (or must invest) most time and effort in identifying business capability gaps, and closing them through multiple initiatives.

Doing this requires a clear “line-of-sight” from the organization’s strategic vision, through to the initiatives the organization undertakes. Without this line-of-sight, it would be impossible for organizations to figure out whether and how the business capability gaps have changed as different elements of the strategy change to adapt to changes in the business environment.

In summary, Strategic Agility, Leadership Agility and Learning Agility strongly support each other, and the strategic outcomes would be directly and severely impacted if any of them is missing or at a sub-optimal level.

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT TO AGILE PRACTITIONERS, COACHES AND CONSULTANTS?  

Most agile practitioners, coaches, and consultants possess skills to effectively operate only at the team level and have never forayed beyond agile for IT or product development.

However, organizations have come to realize that unless they look at agility holistically, it would not possible for them to reap the benefits of agility. Additionally, an astronomical number of agile transformations have been failing because organizations fail to understand that transformations require more of a cultural shift than anything else, to be successful, and hence, must be centered around people.

What organizations need is professionals trained and skilled in facilitating lasting change, and it’s no surprise that there’s a severe dearth of such professionals in the industry.

That’s the gap that the Enterprise Agility University intends to fill, with its focus on enterprise agility, and enterprise change facilitation. The Certified Change Consultant certification course (and Certified Strategic Leadership on Enterprise Agility certification) equips professionals with the skills essential to facilitate lasting change towards the enhancement of enterprise agility.

From Enterprise Agility University, we hope you found our scientific newsletter useful, and we’ll see you next week.

REFERENCE

[1] Adapted from Lean-Agile Strategy: An Introduction by Lawrence Cooper

[2] Leadership Agility by Lawrence Cooper 

[3] Leadership Agility by Bill Joiner, Stephen Josephs

[4] FYI for Learning Agility, Korn Ferry International

[5] “Collective Strategic Sensing”, “Tactical Response” and “Collective Capabilities” are terms used in the official material for the EAU-CCC® and the EAU-CSL® certifications.

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