How to become an agile organisation

Agile working demands a new relationship between employer and employee and a different approach to management, according to a new book.

The book, The Agility Mindset, is written by Fiona Cannon, Lloyds Banking Group Inclusion and Diversity Director and Director of the Agile Future Forum with Nicky Elford also of the Agile Future Forum and draws on all their expertise in this area.

Fiona Cannon is speaking at an event today about the future of agile working at Cranfield School of Management.

The book argues that the business case for agile working is clear – in a world where we are increasingly connected, where turbulence is the new normal, competition is fierce and constant innovation a necessity, where there are fluctuations in demand, agility makes sense and can boost productivity. On top of that is an awareness that employees’ needs are changing and that if employers want to retain the best talent they have to recognise those needs.

The book outlines a blueprint for how organisations can make the most of  agile working. It provides examples of best practice and says that, contrary to what some may believe, organisations do not have to just look to those in their own sector for what works best. Important ideas can be gleaned from those working in similar environments, for instance, consumer-facing workplaces like a bank branch, a retail store or a call centre.

Moreover, the book suggests that there is no one size fits all solution, meaning within and across an organisation different practices may work. “The optimal agile working model depends on specific business needs and workforce characteristics at local level,” says the book, advising employers to work on a single operation or business unit at a time rather than to introduce changes across the board.

In terms of implementation, the book says most of the barriers are internal rather than external. It talks about the importance of senior leadership buy-in, of agile working being owned by the whole organisation not just HR and of the importance of organising agile working in a way that benefits both the organisation and its employees across their working lives. The book talks about the need to address multi-generational issues as employees stay in work longer.

No hierarchy

The book talks about the need to treat employees as adults and for non-hierarchical working structures to face the challenges of the next decades. This more equal relationship means employees need to share the onus for making their agile working pattern work – that means discussing its impact with colleagues and coming to a consensus on what works best for the team.

The book emphasises the need to review any agile working arrangements regularly because the business environment and people’s situations can change, often fairly rapidly.

It is optimistic about the UK’s agile readiness and gives a vision of a future where things are changing constantly due to technological innovation, where silos such as separate departments at work are phased out in favour of a more cross-functional approach, where work is more project-based and teams come together temporarily to work on projects and where workplaces may be pop-up offices that disappear after the project is finished.

It also provides some questions for the future, questions which many are grappling with now, such as the lack of match between agile working and availability of flexible childcare and how long the ‘normal’ career remain linear.

The book ends with some words from Sir Winfried Bischoff, founder chairman of the Agile Future Forum. He says he hopes it will be a call to action and adds: “Organisations need to learn to feel as well as see the power of agility in this increasingly volatile, unpredictable, ambiguous, and complex world if they want to gain the agile advantage.”

*The Agility Mindset by Fiona Cannon with Nicky Elford is published by Palgrave Macmillan.

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