“Success today requires the agility and drive to constantly rethink, reinvigorate, react, and reinvent.” Bill Gates
One of the key attributes for thriving in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing world is to be AGILE. Indeed, faced with the challenges of the current situation, it may be agility that is the key for us to even survive, not thrive.
Social distancing and lockdown rules closed operations overnight for some businesses, particularly in the leisure and travel industries. For the majority other businesses the impact is less with the minimum being the need for their employees to work from home. At the other end of the spectrum some businesses are seeing an enormous increase in demand for their services, such as supermarkets and anyone in the medical industry. In fact, there are probably very few businesses that are not impacted at all by the current enforced changes to our lives and almost no individuals are unaffected.
So what stops us being agile?
As creatures of habit, humans tend to resist change and prefer familiarity as this is linked to our survival instinct. Knowing our environment, and any potential sources of threat in that environment, enables us to create responses that ensure our survival when facing those threats. In unfamiliar environments we need to be ‘on high alert’ ready to respond to whatever we are faced with at any particular moment.
Neuroscience research has shown that our brains prefer certainty to uncertainty. For example, if we were running for a train, from our brain’s perspective, not necessarily logically, we would prefer to know for certain that we had missed the train rather than not knowing if we will make it or not. Certainty allows us to understand where we are now, plan accordingly and take appropriate action. Conversely, uncertainty creates stress and anxiety, as we have no clarity about where we are now or the actions that we need to take or the resources we might need etc.
Furthermore, habits enable us to create patterns of response to familiar situations that can be repeated again and again on autopilot. In this way, habits conserve mental energy and free up our cognitive minds to be able to focus on more than one thing at the same time. Without habits, doing anything would require enormous cognitive input and would be extremely inefficient.
How can we improve our ability to be agile?
These skills can be developed both individually and collectively within teams and businesses. Here are a few techniques to work on that will help you understand your patterns, manage stress and develop agile habits;
AS AN INDIVIDUAL:
1. Understand your patterns:
- What triggers you?
- How do you tend to respond?
2. Be clear about what is important to you:
- What motivates you?
- Reflect on whether your automatic response achieves your objectives (long term and short term)
3. Develop agile habits:
PAUSE before you react
- Observe your emotions and get used to feeling them without fixing or suppressing them. Allow them to ‘BE’
- Choose to let go of a pattern if it doesn’t suit the current situation and develop new response patterns
Develop optimism (to overcome our negative bias):
- Train your brain to look for the silver lining or opportunity
- Practise ‘no constraints’ strategic thinking ie what could you do if there were no constraints?
- Be conscious of your language. Are you reinforcing negative or ‘catastrophe’ thinking patterns? For example, many people are using war language such as health war, frontline staff, fighting the battle etc Could this language be having a negative impact on your emotional response?
AS A TEAM OR BUSINESS:
1. Be aware of others:
- What are their fears and motivations? Using personality profiling tools, such as DISC, can be invaluable in spotting different personality styles so you can understand their triggers and response patterns
- Consider how you can modify your own style to communicate more effectively with different styles
2. Create a ‘psychologically safe’ environment:
- Be compassionate – everyone is different with different perspectives and different patterns
- Be open to ideas (remember to adopt ‘no constraints’ thinking when brainstorming solutions)
- Consider how you respond to ‘failure’. Approach failure as an opportunity to grow and gain insights about what doesn’t work
- Have ground rules for dealing with feedback and disagreements so people can speak freely and constructively without fear of being judged or criticised
3. Develop a Common Goal (Vision & Values):
- Agree the overall vision or purpose for the business – why do you do what you do?
- Agree the behaviours that are expected to deliver the vision, being the core values for the business. For example, to be open, collaborative or progressive
- Measure performance against the vision and values rather than specific outcomes. As an environment changes, people need to have a clear direction and steer for their actions, without being constrained by having to either achieve a certain outcome or perform specific activities
4. Empower individuals:
- Lead through coaching rather than instructing – less ‘control and command’ and more ‘coaching and development’
- Give teams and individuals autonomy to be creative encouraging participation at all levels
- Celebrate progress
There are some great examples of businesses being agile during this crisis such as:
Manufacturing – companies such as Dyson and Mercedes have adapted their manufacturing processes to manufacture ventilators and breathing aids
Catering – Leon, the fast food restaurant chain has turned its 65 UK restaurants into shops, selling meals via both click-and-collect and delivery and other restaurants have been providing meals to NHS staff
Food distribution – supermarkets have had to increase supplies and home delivery in response to many of us switching our eating from being approximately half at work and school, to being 100% at home
Hotels – some hotels have been providing rooms for key workers to self-isolate from their families
Schools – many schools have adapted their teaching onto online learning platforms
These businesses are likely to not only survive this period of uncertainty, they are likely to thrive and be at the forefront in the new world. They will have faced their fears, adapted their business model and processes and forged new ways of thinking, in short, they have been AGILE.
Going forward the only constant is likely to be ‘change’ so AGILITY is likely to be a foundational skill for all individuals and businesses. NOW is a fantastic opportunity for the evolution of human beings. How are you going to develop the AGILE skills that ensure you respond to change positively and effectively both now and in the future?