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How to Build an Agile Culture

Fear breeds a slow, sluggish, and “too perfect” company culture

No one wants to fail, especially not business leaders who have so much at stake. But if there’s anything that most big-name companies have taught us, it’s that if you aren’t prepared to mess up, make mistakes, and fail, then you aren’t prepared to grow; because growth comes from learning from our mistakes.

When James Quincy became CEO of Coca Cola Co., the first thing he tells his staff is “to make mistakes.” Because according to him, the fear of failure itself isn’t an issue until it leads to inaction.

In order to create an agile business culture, you need to first acknowledge your fear of failure and to learn to give yourself permission to make mistakes.

Failure doesn’t mean the end of your career; it’s an opportunity for growth and becoming a more agile business.

Five ways to create an agile business culture

Put your ego aside

We attach our ego to many a lot of things, one of them being personal status. Our ego sometimes gets the best of us, leading to us becoming more self-absorbed and self-concerned, and therefore blinding us to what’s really important: driving results. 

With that said, you can’t create an agile work environment when you have a team of executives who only care about just that, title and authority.

For many people, it’s more about being a CFO, CEO, or manager than it is about moving things along both effectively and efficiently. Create a culture that values the results employees are getting and the work or effort they’re putting in more than their status within the organization.

Making your business culture more results-oriented than one that focuses on status was also discussed in Patrick Lencioni’s landmark book The Five Temptations of a CEO. Lencioni mentions how a person’s title within an organization can result in a dysfunctional team dynamic, as well as a company that sees no gains.

Learn to be accountable for your results, performance, and mistakes.

It’s challenging for employees who attach their worth to their title within an organization to embrace their mistakes, because to them, status somehow grants them immunity from making mistakes. In simpler terms, they don’t hold themselves accountable.

A 2014 study conducted by Partners in Leadership—also dubbed the most comprehensive scientific study on workplace accountability—revealed that accountability truly is a global crisis.

And one of the ways mentioned in this study that could help solve the accountability problem is to simply give feedback. But what this study reveled is that an overwhelming amount of leaders are too afraid to offer their feedback.

What’s worst is that a 2019 survey by Gallup shows that 26% of employees strongly agree that the feedback they receive from their team leaders actually helps them work better—so on one side, you have leaders that are too reluctant to give feedback, and on the other side you have employees craving for any sort of feedback on their performance.

Always give your team feedback, whether positive or negative. Teach your executives and team leaders to give feedback even outside the regularly scheduled, one-on-one feedback sessions with team members.

Learn to offer feedback on a regular basis, and when done right, your employees will appreciate it. Feedback will teach team members how to own up to their mistakes and hold themselves accountable when things go wrong.

Share your ideas and thoughts, no matter how outrageous

As mentioned before, one of the main problems facing the executives and business leaders we’ve worked with is fear. The feeling of fear isn’t a problem—it’s a problem when it starts holding you back from giving feedback or making bold moves. And for a lot of team leaders and members, the fear starts when they come up with ideas that they’re too afraid to share with their team or upper-management.

This is why if you want to build an agile culture, you must first create an environment where your team members and team leaders can freely express their opinions on what’s working and what isn’t. Let them speak their mind and encourage them to share their ideas no matter how crazy or stupid they think they are.

And pro-tip: watch your body language. Sometimes how we feel might show through simple body gestures like a knee-jerk reaction—you probably aren’t saying anything to make your employees feel rejected, but even the smallest scoff, the slight eyebrow-furrowing, or dismissive wave of the hand would be enough to discourage your teammates from ever sharing their thoughts with you.

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Allow your team to critique your work

In addition to a fear of giving feedback, there’s another fear that plagues c-suites, team members, and team leaders: giving constructive criticism.

Getting told that your product, service, or idea needs work is a tough pill to swallow, but without constructive criticism, or feedback, you, your teams, and your company will never grow.

Our products, ideas, and our way of doing things in the company are sacred to us. And because of this, it can be hard to point out the problems or issues in a product you came up with or an idea you hold dear. But if you want to move your company forward and adopt an agile business culture, you need to start embracing criticism and stop attaching your value to your product.

Let members of your team explore and question the products and services your company puts out, and better yet, highly encourage them to do so. Think, Is this the best way to do this? Are there simpler ways to go about this? Teach them that it’s okay to ask questions and be honest about how bad—and how good!—things are.

Employees, managers, and other members of staff are always taught to say the same old thing: “I love my job,” “I’m happy with the way things are going,” “The company is in great shape,” “My boss/team leader is amazing.” If everyone in your company continues to think like this, then you’ll never grow because your company is, well, already “in great shape.”

Yes, be proud of the work you’re doing and the “why” behind your business or product, but you should always be wanting more and seeking out more opportunities.

Monitor, refine, critique, and repeat

The key to an agile business culture is to keep you and your teams in check: you should not only monitor your team, but also constantly refine their strategy and technique, give criticism when needed, and then repeat the whole process.

But there’s no point in monitoring, refining, critiquing, and giving feedback when you aren’t tracking your team’s progress efficiently. One of the best ways to track progress your progress—a methodology that makes up the very foundation of Google—is to use Objective Key Results (OKRs).

OKRs allow you to constantly remeasure your goals, set a growth hacking strategy, and track progress. This is a fast and efficient way to not only move along company processes but also gain valuable insight into the strengths and weaknesses of each department.

It allows you to think in terms of the “big picture,” and therefore, keeps your teams better align their departmental goals with the company’s vision and ultimate goal.  In fact, Case in Point’s Exponential Blue Ocean Shift (EBOS) methodology will help you shape your “big picture” and come up with ground-breaking ideas that will disrupt your market.

Letting go of fear also means letting go of perfection

If there’s only one thing you need to understand about becoming an agile business, it’s this: Don’t try to perfect anything.

Our fear of failure and making mistakes usually stems from our want for everything to be perfect—our product needs to be perfect, our services need to be perfect, and if they aren’t, then they aren’t worth putting in front of the market.

Conquer your perfectionism by creating Minimum Viable Product (MVP)—think about it as “a rough draft” of the product or service you have in mind—, then go out there and let the market tell you what they think about it. We at Case in Point push and challenge you to face and conquer that fear and to let go of your perfectionism.

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