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  • Writer's pictureSue Morris

5 Mindset Shifts Critical to Agile Operating Models

Staying behind industry trends is a great way to tank your share price. This is why more than 90% of senior executives in a recent Deloitte survey indicated that they are giving a high priority to becoming agile. The largest organisations on the planet are agile: Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Facebook. They have figured out a way to deliver fast, risk-free value at scale. And yet, as is always the case with change, I know that some companies will stick with the bureaucratic models of the 20th century and fail to evolve.

With any large transformation, there are costs and risks. The biggest risk is when agile is implemented as a set of processes and ceremonies, without any change to the way teams are managed and led. If increasing organisational agility is your goal, I believe that leadership mindsets are the best place to start. This is how to de-risk agile.

Here are the five key mindset shifts that I believe are foundational:

1. Profit to Purpose

As humans we are motivated by making a positive difference much less than we are by increasing a share price. Leaders need to define and communicate a compelling story about the organisation’s purpose that employees can relate to.

This sounds easy, but it isn’t. It requires ignoring short-term results and putting money behind actions that support this purpose.

2. Managing to Coaching:

This shift is perhaps the biggest of all. None of the competencies to be a servant leader were taught in business schools until recently, and we remain heavily influenced by the Industrial Era worldview that employees can’t think for themselves and must be controlled. The hierarchy of authority and the command and control structures in our organisations serve to reinforce parent-child relationships. For both managers and employees, these roles become part of who we are, and are incredibly hard to shake.

Google has spent millions researching effective management and teams. They discovered that the number one trait of the most effective managers was “Be a good coach” and the second trait was “Empower, don’t micromanage”. Additionally, they looked at which teams where most effective and here they discovered that psychological safety was the key variable.

I would argue that for a coaching mindset to take shape, a coaching culture needs to be an explicit part of the aspired culture and that leaders need 1-1 coaching to support their growth into leaders who prioritise the growth and development of their teams.

3. Fixed to Growth (Abundance) Mindset:

An abundant perspective is one that sees technology as a positive force in the transformation of industries from scarcity to abundance. As industries are transformed, their products and services become cheap (sometimes free) and quality improves. Consider how the internet changed our access to information or how solar and battery technology will transform energy, making it cheaper, cleaner and ultimately limitless. Open and abundant-minded business models will ultimately win.

Similarly, understanding that human capabilities are not fixed, that challenges can be overcome, and that it is appropriate to take risks, is a critical mindset underpinning an agile way of working.

4. Reactive to Creative:

This is a profound movement from an outside-in way of seeing the world, to creating or self-authoring. According to Mastering Leadership (Anderson and Adams) the movement happens for individuals on two levels.

The first involves the natural tension that occurs between our purpose in life, the part of us that wants to make a great contribution, and safety, the part of us that is reluctant to take great risks. If we choose the safe operating system, where we live and lead reactively, there is little room to be great. However, when we orient towards the contribution that is driven by our purpose, we accept the risks and evolve toward a creative mindset.

The second movement is about shifting identity from one that it formed from outside-in to one that is created from the inside out. In a reactive state we are defined by outside influences: key people, institutions and important affiliations. As we progress to the creative stage, we become more internally oriented. We are no longer defined by past conditioning and are freed from the fear of not meeting other’s expectations.

Agile and innovative ways of working require creative leadership. Reactive leadership cannot free itself from the status quo.

5. Secrecy to Transparency:

Kent M Keith said: “Transparency may make you vulnerable. Be transparent anyway.”

Traditional organisations limit information to top leadership, and the resulting inequality creates the disengaged workforce we read so much about. Secrecy not only directly impacts ownership, it gets in the way of teamwork, slows organisations down and undermines trust.

In agile business models, information and decision-rights need to filter to the team working most closely on the topic and who are closest to the customer.

These powerful mindset-shifts are illustrative, I believe, of how fundamentally different agile is as a way of working. They also point to the fact that agile puts the human being at the centre of the workplace. So, while agility improves the likelihood of business success in the long run, it will hopefully also create workplaces with more joy.


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