This is the second installment of a five-part conversation about how work is changing, why it’s changing, and what the people who lead companies and teams can do about it. We hope it spurs some new ideas for your organization, and we invite you to share those ideas with us on the Slack Twitter feed (@SlackHQ).
For hundreds of years, economies of scale were the dominant force in any market: The first companies to grow big grabbed the best resources at the lowest cost and ate up market share. Scale also created a moat, discouraging new entrants and preserving the status quo.
Today, scale may still confer real advantages, but it’s just as likely to prove a liability. For instance, a bank that’s carrying 900 retail branches might struggle to defend against an all-digital, mobile banking startup. Even before the pandemic, it was clear that agility had become the new scale. The winners in every market would be the companies that stayed closest to their customers and pivoted fastest to serve them better.
Today, in every market, the push to increase agility has accelerated dramatically. The good news is that even the most legacy-bound global companies have just discovered that they’re far more agile than they thought they were.
Take multinational bank HSBC, which executed a rapid pivot to work remotely in March. “We already had a live Slack instance, and the scalability was ready,” says Jamie Newham, the digital collaboration lead at HSBC. “We didn’t need to do much apart from really just put people on it.”
Newham adds that there’s been a culture shift at HSBC, as perceived roadblocks are overcome with a “you can get these things done” mentality. “I think that mindset has definitely changed us from being a classic bank to being more agile,” he says. In the future, “we have to accept a little bit more risk and do things to develop and change.”
“In an increasingly dynamic world, the fundamental business advantage is organizational agility: the ability for individuals, teams and organizations to maintain alignment while continually transforming to meet evolving challenges.”
Read the full guide on Navigating the Disruption of Work here.
The next normal: Nimble wins
The more dynamic and uncertain the times, the greater the value of organizational agility. But while agility as a business advantage has been understood for many years, it’s only recently emerged as a methodology or set of behaviors.
The agile methodology has already had a big impact on the most complex disciplines, from manufacturing to software engineering. Now the ideas captured in Scrum, Kanban, DevOps, Design Thinking and Agile project management have moved into the wider world of work. And the results speak for themselves.
“The muscle you need to build is to continually adapt to changing circumstances,” says Barry O’Reilly, an entrepreneur, business advisor and best-selling author of Unlearn: Let Go of Past Success to Achieve Extraordinary Results. “If you can build or cultivate that characteristic in [your company], it doesn’t matter what problems come at you.” (You can learn about how leaders from Slack, Wired UK, the Financial Times, HSBC and John Lewis are adapting to a radically different working environment, here.)
Instead of simply rushing to return to the way things used to be, we’re seeing business leaders double down on agility, looking for ways to design work to be more lean, agile, resilient and “anti-fragile.”
“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”
The next imperative: Rethink your business to optimize for agility
The most successful companies in the next decade will be the most agile and responsive. But it won’t be by accident; they are the companies that are taking active steps to optimize for these agile-driving dimensions:
- Faster decision-making: Removing hierarchy and bureaucracy to speed up time to action.
- Power to the front line: HQ’s job isn’t to make every call. It’s to empower the people doing the work with the data they need to make better calls.
- Strategic alignment: Agility can only work when you’re pivoting from a stable place. The whole organization needs to be aligned around things like values, mission and strategy.
- An agile mindset: Training for resilience and agility is different from training for productivity and efficiency. New skills and a new orientation toward continuous improvement are needed.
When U.S. health-care systems went into overdrive in response to Covid-19 in March 2020, Oscar Health, a direct-to-consumer health insurance company, was at the forefront of the sprint to start up new services and testing. With Slack, Oscar was able to pivot quickly, align multiple high-level stakeholders, and make quick decisions to launch a risk assessment survey and then a testing center locator for free public use. The tools, which typically would have taken months to put online, were available within a matter of days.
Agility has always been a virtue. As seen on dev teams everywhere, it’s now become a systematized methodology.
Our next acceleration is on the rise of openness.