Create the right business culture to achieve business agility

30 September 2020 4 min. read

Amid looming economic recessions and global pandemics, businesses are realising they need a core attribute to help them achieve long-term success: agility. Christian Lucarelli, a Vice President at Nintex in Asia Pacific, on the importance of culture as a catalyst for process-driven agility.

This agility needs to be spread throughout an organisation and affect everything from IT systems development to product design, manufacturing, and customer service. The result will be a business that is more responsive to a fluctuating environment and better placed to change appropriately when conditions around it shift.

According to global consulting firm McKinsey & Company, companies that outperform their peers in agile maturity rank in the top quartile of organisational health:

Seventy percent of agile companies rank in the top quartile of organizational health

An agile organisation consists of five key elements: strategy, structure, process, people and technology. Zooming in on process – a healthy process culture is an essential foundation for the kind of freedom and flexibility that an agile business requires.

The importance of continuous improvement

Continuous improvement is a key tenet of process excellence and it should come as no surprise that it contributes significantly to an agile approach. Processes are not static documents but are constantly evolving as users push the boundaries of what procedures require, find shortcuts or explore new approaches, eliminate boring tasks, and add value.

While it’s true that not every change is beneficial, in an environment of continuous improvement potential changes can be quickly evaluated and implemented if they meet the organisation’s needs. This should happen in a constant cycle as users are encouraged to look for opportunities to do things faster, cheaper, and more effectively.

When conditions change, processes can be quickly shaped to suit. They can be amended to incorporate new systems or technologies, and better address new competitors or markets. By investing in a culture of continuous improvement, these shifts in practice become a smooth gear change rather than bringing everything to a jarring halt.

Flattening the chain of command

The ability to quickly and effectively implement changes requires a shift from top-down direction to a more decentralised decision-making structure. When conditions are changing rapidly, needing every procedural change to move up and down a chain of management for approval is simply not practical.

This certainly doesn’t mean that staff must be given full and open control to make changes to processes at will. Rather, it calls for a different approach to authorising and implementing them.

Agile businesses deploy process champions within teams at the front line, putting process ownership as close to the point of execution as is practicable. By employing subject-matter experts as process champions, informed decisions can be made quickly and effectively on process changes, leveraging their expertise and empowering teams to swiftly innovate.

Also, careful development of clear communication channels with senior management ensures that decisions are made in line with company strategies. Progress can be made in an efficient and effective way.

There are five trademarks of agile organizations

Many people recognise that a failure is only truly a failure if you do not learn something from the experience – and this is particularly the case in an agile business environment. Within a culture of continuous improvement, rapid iteration, review, and revision are at the heart of process evolution. While failure seems like an unwise business approach, embracing it in fact liberates teams to try something new.

Individual improvements mount up

Because process changes are likely to be incremental, any one improvement is not likely to derail a project. Process improvements are regularly evaluated against previous iterations and where the desired outcomes do not meet expectations, the changes can be rolled back easily.

Having a culture of undertaking such checks creates a safe environment for innovation, staff are more likely to look for creative opportunities to reduce costs and increase value for themselves and customers. When the inevitable failures do occur, having a culture that looks for learnings rather than scapegoats will encourage others to try new things without fear.

It should be remembered at all times that operational excellence and process improvement are not one-off activities. Instead, they need to be an ongoing priority for any organisation that is serious about success. Circumstances change, markets shift and workforces ebb and flow, so no one can afford to be complacent or satisfied with the status quo.

Begin your journey today and be prepared to enjoy significant improvements and benefits over time. The goal of becoming a truly agile organisation is within reach.