By: Sarah Kyo
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically transformed the ways we do business over the course of several weeks: policies have been amended, new technology has been adopted, and remote work has further evolved. When there are constant updates in the news cycle, it can be hard keeping up with necessary adjustments for your employees and organization’s well-being. That’s why having an agile mindset can come in handy when rapid change occurs.
Perhaps you have heard of the term “agile” as it pertains to software development and project management. In 2001, a group of software developers came together to create the set of values and guiding principles that make up the Agile Manifesto. However, this approach can actually be useful to many different industries and teams in terms of how they operate and how they communicate during times of change.
What is an Agile Mindset?
According to author and agile expert Steve Denning, someone with an agile mindset focuses on innovation and discovering efficient ways to deliver consistent value to customers. They tend to complete work on a small, self-organizing team while collaborating cross-functionally. This is in stark contrast to what Denning describes as “a bureaucratic mindset,” which heavily emphasizes top-down hierarchy, sticking to traditional rules, and maximizing money to deliver greater shareholder value.
Based off these side-by-side descriptions, it’s clear which approach is much more appropriate for dealing with frequent evaluations and reprioritizations – an agile mindset is necessary for creating fast response plans in our current global state. For example, the French government asked corporations in March to help fill in medical supply gaps during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 72 hours later, French luxury cosmetics and fashion company LVMH switched from making Christian Dior perfumes to hand sanitizers for doctors and nurses in hospitals. Meanwhile, Ford and GE Healthcare have begun a collaboration to create 50,000 ventilators for COVID-19 patients by July 8.
How to Adopt an Agile Mindset
While these large corporations show that it’s possible to shift approaches, it can take some patience for an agile culture to be fully adopted. Long-time employees, including leadership, may be more accustomed to traditions, the existing culture, and familiar processes. However, individuals and smaller teams should still experiment in order to introduce this mindset to the rest of the organization. Here are a few steps to help you get started:
1. Do more with less
Companies are now faced with cutting back on spending and finding new ways to obtain more funding or additional revenue. When you’re experiencing limited time and resources, you need to focus on prioritization. For instance, perhaps a cool feature request for a product is no longer relevant due to the current state of the world, but there might be smaller, more tangible needs that your customers are facing that your team can address now.
2. Use consistent feedback and data
An agile mindset can help your team make quicker decisions. In a more bureaucratic model, you may wait until you’ve finished production of the first batch of a new product to make any adjustments. However, in this same scenario, your team can use an agile approach by conducting some user tests, analyzing the feedback and data, and adjusting while still developing your prototype. This can help reduce risks while potentially benefitting your customers.
3. Break down barriers
In order to be agile, your employees can’t be siloed – they need to be willing to communicate with their teammates and across divisions and departments. Perhaps there’s expertise on another team that could be helpful for a project that you’re working on now. By making connections, you’ll strengthen your organizational culture while creating an even better product or service. Organize cross-functional meetings on a regular basis to develop those relationships and share relevant news.
The Importance of Agile Communication
With such a heavy focus on feedback and collaboration, it’s unsurprising that one of the most important components of the agile mindset is communication. While the original proponents behind the Agile Manifesto valued in-person teams working together on the same projects, that’s not always possible, especially when our current workforce has been dispersed to their homes. Instead, you can still have daily stand-ups and weekly meetings using video conferencing, and you can still use software to collaborate and iterate on projects. For quicker bits of news, ad hoc messaging such as texting and emails can help communicate the same message to a larger employee population. In other words, it’s important to figure out the best digital channels for your team that make the most sense for your specific message and desired outcomes.
However, what if your team has been experiencing a lot of changes over a short period of time? Overcoming change fatigue is a potential concern considering that the average employee experienced 12 changes last year, according to Gartner. With the COVID-19 pandemic, changes that might have typically been carried out over several months or even years are happening in a drastically shorter window of time. This is where implementing agile communications becomes even more crucial. Creating campaigns such as GuideSpark’s GuideSpark Communicate Journeys™ can sustain your employees, helping them understand your organization’s latest updates through engaging, educational content and allowing time for behavior changes. Each person adjusts to changes at different rates, so this approach allows for multiple touchpoints to help prepare your team.
“Responding to change over following a plan” is one of the Agile Manifesto’s values, and it has become even more relevant during a time of unpredictability. The COVID-19 pandemic is sure to have long-term ramifications after offices re-open around the world. In order to adapt to this “new normal,” utilizing an agile mindset and encouraging a similar thought process throughout your organization can make a major difference in being innovative and resilient. Dealing with changes, though, can be challenging overall, and you may face some resistance from your own team members. With both time and communication, your employees can gradually become more receptive to adopting this approach.