Success factor agility – no one knows how to achieve it!

What management structures, what tools and what ways of working result in agility? And what does agility actually mean? It’s something neither academics nor practitioners can agree on. At the 4th Haufe Talent Management Summit one thing was clear: agility is essential but no one really knows how it is achieved!

Agility means unleashing know-how

The cause and effect environment in which companies operate has completely changed. We are moving away from a complicated to a complex system in which causalities are not identifiable and events are not predictable. Agility and the courage to try out new responses are therefore becoming increasingly important – moving away from expert knowledge “between two ears” towards more creativity, employee involvement and latitude. Frank Roebers, CEO of SYNAXON AG, advocates the “abolition of knowledge as a tool of power.” As a result of this management disempowerment a company makes a complete break with traditional hierarchies and functions.

More wish than reality

Examples of such a radical break with classic management tools are thin on the ground in Germany. At present non-hierarchical agile forms of organization are more wish than reality. Prof. Dr. Stephan Fischer, Director of the Human Resources Research Institute of Pforzheim University, has a very simple explanation for this: no one knows what agility is needed for and how it is developed. And this is why attempts are usually restricted to half-hearted leadership experiments, for example, in young departments with creative approaches or spun-out companies. This was confirmed by André Häusling, managing director of HR Pioneers, based on his own experience: “Everyone is talking about it but there are few examples of concrete and effective implementation of agility!”

Making people hungry for change

At the German HR management summit one thing was clear: an organization can only change if employees are convinced by the new direction and driven by the desire for change. A group dynamic must evolve that draws employees into the transformation and enables a behavioral change. Which is to say: the roll-out must become a roll-in! For, as Marc Stoffel and Stephan Grabmeier made clear in their keynote speeches, most people take to the floor as soon as one person starts dancing! Regardless of whether fresh management tools, working methods or a new corporate culture are established: the most important thing is that all employees are on board for the journey.

A nice example was provided by Torsten Schneider of the Luther Rechtsanwaltsgesellschaft law firm in his presentation on network intelligence. “Can a 95-year-old man learn Chinese?” he asked his audience. His answer: Yes, but only if he is sufficiently motivated. Perhaps because he has found a new life companion in China. The desire to achieve something is ultimately the greatest motivation for changing and reshaping things.

Digitalization facilitates change

Digitalization is undoubtedly a driver and enabler of agility. But the transformation expert Stephan Grabmeier is nonetheless convinced that technology is not the be-all and end-all. In his opinion, collective intelligence is only 20 percent based on technology, with the appropriate culture accounting for 80 percent. Because the cultural preconditions must first be present in companies, progress towards new agile ways of working and management structures will take time. Grabmeier referred to the Cluetrain Manifesto as evidence that the unleashing of collective intelligence and the break with hierarchical organizations began over 15 years ago. Here is a quotation from the manifesto: “In both internetworked markets and among intranetworked employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way. (…) These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.”

People and companies remain immersed in this process today. Digitalization is creating diversity and breaking with traditional forms of management, from which new agile methods are emerging. As a result there is a unique opportunity right now! Despite everything, Frank Roebers issued a plea at the Talent Management Summit 2015: “Managers, relax! The feared changes will be nowhere near as powerful as we think.” And what do you think?


Photo Credit: Razvan Narcis Ticu via Unsplash.

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