Little did we know when we started writing about Learning Agility in 2019 that we were soon to face a worldwide threat that would cause millions of people to dramatically change their daily lives.
We expected our next topic would focus on defining Change Agility and making a compelling case for it to be central to leadership development in 2020 and beyond.
Now, we find ourselves in the grip of a global crisis. The coronavirus pandemic has reached more than 2.5 million known cases, claiming over 177,688 lives across 210 countries.*
Revisiting our plan in this context, we quickly recognised that the mindset and behaviours associated with Change Agility are even more critical for leaders than before.
To explain, we initially called out the need for leaders to:
- Understand the social needs of their people, especially during times of change.
- Cultivate curiosity and scan the environment diligently for opportunities and threats.
- Prepare for the future of work with strong growth in flexible working and remote teams.
Today, we are seeing these in a new light through our coaching practice as we talk daily with leaders dealing with the critical issues of caring for their people and safeguarding the future of their business.
Change Agility defined
Energy for the new and different is the essence of Change Agility. We see it in people who embrace change and seek out continuous improvement, from small, incremental enhancements to large-scale transformations.
As we look at the characteristics of change agile leaders, we see they:
- Regularly scan the environment, inside and outside the organisation, for opportunities and threats.
- Envision the future and project multiple scenarios to maximise their chances of success.
- Like to experiment and use an iterative process in devising new methods, products and services.
- Look outside the box to find creative and unique ideas they can bring to life.
- Recognise that change is unsettling for many and take steps to deal with their own feelings and alleviate the anxiety and fear of others.
- Encourage input from others, recognising that they themselves do not have all the solutions.
How many of these are true for you?
Take time to reflect on each point and ask yourself how much time and attention you devoted to practicing each one in 2019. What does this tell you about what you need to do differently in 2020?
An accurate view of our self and our capability is essential for leveraging strengths and managing weaknesses. Sometimes, we know what we need to work on for development, but don’t prioritise the action steps that are required.
At other times, daily pressures get in the way and we lose sight of the value of equipping ourselves with new skills, habits or the mindset that will make work easier and results more attainable.
If you need inspiration on how to strengthen your Change Agility in the current environment, seek input from two or three people who know you well. Invite their suggestions on how you can strengthen your impact as an agile leader.
Listen to their suggestions and decide which to apply to raise the bar for yourself, as you support people, lead change and ready your business for the future.
Leadership in a crisis
Leaders everywhere have faced accelerating disruption in recent years. No industry is immune and disruptive forces come in many forms, such as rapidly emerging new technologies, unexpected competitive threats and shifting social trends.
Right now, disruption has landed in the form of the coronavirus crisis at a scale and speed that the majority of people have not experienced in their lifetime. The reaction of leaders we know is an all-consuming urgency to find ways to manage the impact and fight for the survival of their businesses.
In this context, Change Agility is vital. We propose to amplify it with two critical behaviours identified though research at the IMD Business School in Switzerland:
- Act quickly to execute decisions. Unfortunately, there are many barriers to speed especially in large organisations. Leaders need courage and determination to implement change promptly.
- Be visionary, which means holding fast to a sense of long-term direction even in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty. Hard to do, but a clear definition of where the organisation needs to go is important for everyone as they work out how to get there.
In her book Forged in A Crisis, Nancy Koehn illustrated how five legendary leaders demonstrated a sense of urgency and unwavering resolve during times of great adversity. She described how each one navigated through the calamity they faced and was transformed as a result. You can see her latest blog post here.
Tips for increasing Change Agility
We put it to you that the way you conduct yourself during this time will be long remembered by those who work with you and for you. Here are some thought starters:
- Help people adjust to the new and different. For many, resistance is a natural response. Be more available to your people, keeping them informed and letting them know you are there for them. Accept that this is going to take more of your time.
- Keep things in perspective. Identify the issues that are of most concern to your people so you can address them. Tune in to any individuals or groups who seem to be having a greater struggle. Find ways to resolve their immediate challenges and act on them.
- Be ready to disrupt your usual style of leadership. Human beings are creatures of habit. Formed in the brain, habits allow us to perform daily tasks without having to think about them. Reboot your approach to leadership by looking for what you can do differently for greater impact.
- Create a safe place for yourself. Stress and anxiety can impede performance. When times are tough, establish a physical location you can go to regroup and do your best thinking. Find a trusted person who can act as a support for you.
- Behave strategically. Leading through a crisis involves intense pressure to focus on day-to-day operations. As soon as you can, address the longer term by working with your team on future-focused planning with clear intentions and purposeful actions.
* Worldometer, 22 April 2020