Articles 3 min read

Agility is in your people, their mindset, and their trust

“Complexity is the enemy of execution”

I heard this quote for the first time from Tony Robbins; an American author, coach, speaker, and philanthropist.

I took it to mean that the more we try planning and anticipating everything upfront, the more likely we are to procrastinate and get paralysed into inaction, or partial completion. Information overload feeds procrastination and can lead to overwhelm.

This is a challenge both for companies and individuals. Even more so now, where access to information abounds and is easily accessible.

Zooming out. Your company’s perspective

Earlier this week I was listening to Chris Roebuck (Leadership & Employee engagement speaker) interviewing corporate entrepreneur Lak Ananth – Perspective from the top – EP #8: Entrepreneurs — From Failure to Success (ft. Lak Ananth). One of the things I learned is how talking about 5-year plans today has become implausible, at the very least.

Although I’m not an expert in macro-economic trends, this has also to do with the exponential growth of technology capability (connectivity, digital, apps, infrastructure, IoT, AI, Cloud and so on) making it impossible to predict (in detail) how a market ecosystem will look like 2 years from now. Let alone 5.

Companies are attempting to adapt, through market volatility and political uncertainty, by seeking to leverage new opportunities (and reorganising themselves internally). Through this process, they often spiral into deeper complexity that entangles them at many levels. New projects are kicked off to try and align it all more efficiently, but the challenges, particularly from people and leadership perspectives, are enormous.

In 2014 Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling published the book ‘The 4 Disciplines of Execution’ and reported the results of a study of 1500 implementations. After grouping them into levels of delivery excellence they found:

1. Organisations with between 11 and 20 key priorities did not achieve any with excellence.

2. Those that focussed on 4 to 10 priorities managed to achieve 1 or 2 with excellence

3. Those that focussed on 2/3 of priorities managed to achieve all with excellent results.

In other words, the higher the number of priorities, the less work is done well.

Zooming in. The leader’s perspective

From a people and leadership perspective, leaders and managers on the ground (at all levels), often struggle to juggle shifting priorities and guide others well. There are huge demands for their attention, while simultaneously the expectations of good work remain high.

I believe that to develop a more agile organisation (agile as in the adjective), organisations must learn to loosen their grip, by betting on their people, their skills, and mindsets and, creating an inner ambience that is more conducive to higher trust and safety. Nothing inherently wrong with projects, frameworks, and delivery methodologies, but primarily focusing on these things can mean strangling any possibility for sustainable change.

With better skills, mindsets, and a bit more safety and space, people do not need much supervision and know what needs to be done, well. One of the areas I focus on in my work with leaders is to help them become better coaches. I think coaching is one of the most effective ways to loosen up the grip on people so they learn how to trust their teams to do the right thing.

Here are 3 skill areas I find helpful for teams aiming to simplify complexity, regain focus, and rebuild momentum:

1. Learn to Filter

Not all company-wide information is equally important, and everyone wants your managers’ attention. You need a filter. By understanding the bigger picture of your organisation (Strategy or Vision) and which parts of it are relevant to your team (directly or indirectly), you can set clearer boundaries for how time is spent and what the team focuses on.

For example, if your Ops manager becomes very clear on how to connect his team’s objectives to the overall company strategy (For example enabling colleagues in the commercial and sales functions to improve sales conversations), then it becomes a lot easier to set clearer boundaries around how the team’s time is spent.

They can now say no to, postpone, or drop altogether, other activities that are not as important or urgent.

2 – Translating the bigger vision into micro mission statements.

It’s great to be factually correct however facts often fail to move others, at least willingly, into action. Narratives do.

For example, your manager in credit and collections can begin to use this narrative with her team. “Our work is important because it ensures that cash flows timely through our business. Cash is the lifeblood of any business. Your role is critical, particularly in challenging times, because it helps us to build enough cash reserves to keep the business moving forward”. It’s a real-life example used by a manager, which was found to be both purposeful and energising.

Cashbacks, refunds, and other domain-specific jargon are also important, and they gain more meaning within the framework of a story.

3 – Leadership skills for agility

Domain competence does not necessarily lead to good leadership abilities. There are other skills that enable your teams to do their jobs well.

Some of the most important skills are delegation, setting clearer expectations, learning how to have candid conversations, championing the value of a project, holding others accountable, removing obstacles, and not getting involved in every aspect of the work.

All of these can take a little time to develop however it is worth the effort.

What would it feel like if your teams were clear, focused, trust each another and needed very little supervision to go do great work?

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