Milestone Systems Vice President APAC Benjamin Low examines the challenges organisations face when it comes to agility, from restructuring organisational communication methods, to creating a culture of openness among employees.
By Benjamin Low
The tech industry is constantly challenged by disruption, and leaders know that they must adopt an agile and open mindset. These qualities have often been touted by tech companies as one of the most important traits which have helped bring innovation and digitization to the frontlines of the Covid-19 battlefield. However, despite the increasing awareness around the significant benefits of agile practices, a 2019 report by Accenture and Agility Health found that average maturity levels among businesses are still low.
With current uncertainties, businesses need to find a way to resume their pace in a post-COVID-19 world. According to PwC, agile communication practices are listed as one of the key steps for businesses to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.
With unpredictability and change being the only constant in the long term, an agile organisational structure will equip businesses to deal with looming challenges.
Agility is the product of a cohesive ecosystem
Being agile ensures that an idea is continually refined and delivered incrementally. It is the ability to constantly and effectively apply contributions from all levels of an organisational ecosystem, to develop a product/solution to better fit the needs of end-users and develop more effective ways of working. Agility focuses on team collaboration and caters to shifting goals and requirements when plans change.
The ability to be agile stems from a community with a cohesive and common culture. It is essentially adopting a people-first approach, which values positive peer behaviour and a high-trust environment rather than rules, processes, or hierarchy. On a macro-level, it also works to the benefit of a larger partner ecosystem.
A cohesive partner ecosystem will allow for transparent communication between individual business. This allows them to tap on each other’s expertise and resources, which may otherwise not be available to them, in pursuit of joint offerings that can better benefit the end consumer.
Organisations usually face three challenges when it comes to being agile: breaking up siloed teams, low-risk appetite, and the ability to move beyond ambitious goals. How can they address these challenges in the current landscape where teams work remotely and are usually focused on putting out daily fires?
First, leaders need to think beyond just facilitating output, but also facilitate relationships within their teams and with other groups. This will improve open communication, which is key for effective collaboration. With teams now working from home, it adds to the challenge of establishing cross-boundary relationships and collaboration.
For a start, creating a central point of reference for organisational communications (for example, regular updates from the leadership team), establishing routines that encourage teammates to stay connected can go a long way. It’s crucial, however, to make sure that virtual meetings don’t become a distraction and create an illusion of productivity. While fostering real-time connections through digital tools can break down social walls and help to make team relationships feel less virtual, it’s crucial to keep the internal and external calls focused on essential updates.
Secondly, leaders can unintentionally fall into the trap of prematurely killing new ideas because of the risks involved, especially in the current climate. They need to carefully consider new ideas that foster an organisation’s balance between risks and expected returns by setting a clear criterion for taking ideas forward and having an open line of communication. They should also actively encourage team members to develop new ideas.
What I have learned during the early days of the pandemic, was to be courageous in making fast decisions, reassess new and ongoing projects regularly together with my team and adapt to new developments swiftly. This ensured that our employees continued to work safely and were well-equipped to adapt and implement new contact centre structures, webinars and virtual trainings that will support our customers and partners remotely.
Thirdly, leaders tend to make quicker decisions during times of crisis, which may result in setting ambiguous or conflicting goals for their teams. Disruptive events such as the pandemic will generate new tasks across the business. Leaders need to continually clarify goals to stay true to the course.
Ensuring clearly defined goals that are aligned throughout an organisation’s ecosystem is paramount for an agile structure to work, especially during these uncertain times. Leaders need to play a role in articulating big picture goals clearly, explain why these goals are important to the company and encourage their team to achieve them.
Teams should have a clear understanding of the objectives, their individual roles, and how each person contributes to the outcome. Successful remote teams often have very clear goals, measure the right metrics, engage all team members, and foster accountability and transparency.
Ultimately, a combination of these three factors will help organisations better develop a culture of nimble collaboration - a core foundation of the agile practice.
A culture of openness encourages agility
As a technology company, being agile has always been a key component of our work strategy and has allowed us to continually push the boundaries of innovation. This is largely attributed to our culture of openness, which is engrained not only in the solutions we provide, but also in the way we work and communicate with each other as well as our various stakeholders and partners.
The culture of openness has been vital to the work we do. Having a ‘people first’ culture encourages teams to provide transparent and honest feedback, which we take very seriously, and it inspires them to set the bar higher, and take greater ownership of their work.
This has been the key lesson in agility for me – familiarity and synergy in working remotely through virtual bridges has allowed us to quickly set up channels to ensure that our customers and partners get our continued support from service levels to equipping them with the skills needed to ensure the resilience of their business.
Through our ‘open’ culture, we want to not only gear up for opportunities to come, but also to encourage and inspire the wider community to look beyond present barriers and see the inevitable need to prepare themselves for change.
In the words of Leon C. Megginson, “it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself”.
(Ed. Author Benjamin Low says he has more than 20 years’ experience in tech. Prior to joining Milestone in 2015, Low was Managing Director APAC for Guidance Software. Low also worked with Computer Associates, Entrust, Cisco and McAfee, running their operations in Asia Pacific. He says he holds a Master of Science in Business Administration, (University of Adelaide, Australia), and completed a post-graduate program in International Management from Stanford University Graduate School of Business, US.)