Who hijacked "agility"?

March 8, 2018


I’ve just finished half-reading an article that was devoted to the concept of “agility" as it applies to HR practices. Why I found myself reading it, I’m not sure. At first it seemed to promise some interesting ideas but somewhere along the line either I or the article wandered off….


But it did get me thinking about the modern, corporate definition of the term “agile”. Back in the day, you’d describe rugby half-backs as agile. And gymnasts. Even maybe roof tilers. It just wasn’t a term you’d apply to all or part of any corporate.


Since it found its way into the corporate lexicon, I can’t help thinking the good intentions of the original users of the word (in the corporate context) has been lost in some quarters.


Here’s why….


First up, agility is a characteristic that definitely should be part of a corporate’s makeup. The quicker and more effectively decisions get made, and “stuff” gets done, the better. For everyone. Customers, employees, owners/shareholders, the economy, the community (generally speaking), and pretty much any other stakeholder you can think of.


And in tech circles, where the term seems to have first appeared, it’s a must-have state of mind. If you’re not agile in that world, you’ll last five minutes. If you're lucky.




Maybe, just maybe, “agility” has been hijacked by folks keen on the “let’s get everyone to do more with less and more quickly if you wouldn't mind” approach to corporate leadership (and leadership is a term I use loosely in this context).


Agile working, is one I came across in the not-too-distant past. Basically it was euphemistically applied to mask a move to hot-desking. People knew what the end result of a massive office refurb would be and no amount of “collaboration spaces” could hide it.


And the thing was, most people didn’t really care too much and readily saw the benefits of being able to work alongside folks from other teams to share ideas and work on projects together. 


So no need for "agile" in that example.


At BusinessBlades, we love helping other businesses cut the “BS”. Stop with the corporate buzz-words and get on with the business of communicating a real purpose, vision and strategy that team members can identify with and buy into. It’s amazing getting involved with businesses that get this. 


It’s easy for me, as a business effectiveness coach, to say that. Of course I would.  Because it’s a state we can help businesses transition to, so it sounds for all the world like a sales pitch.


Thing is...


I also have the benefit of experience as an employee, and leader of a large team, in just such an environment. We were part of a new business unit inside a large corporate and initially there were about four of us sharing a single office and an idea. 


Long story short, that business grew to around 80 people across the country making a significant profit contribution.


And here’s the thing. That success was created by being agile before the word ever stuck its nose in the corporate world.


The entire team knew exactly why the business existed. The entire team knew the vision. Strategy and planning discussions weren’t restricted to just the senior folks. Every functional area was represented with no emphasis on “seniority” of that representation. And for those not involved in those discussions directly, communications were frequent and two-way.


Right through the business, performance appraisals pretty much only happened when performance issues needed addressing (which was seldom). In all other cases “appraisal” happened by way of regular conversations about how things were going, what team members needed to get things done, what obstacles they were facing, how those could be overcome and so forth. 


To be frank, it was the closest thing to employment nirvana there could be. For everyone right across the team.


I recall a conversation I had with the most “junior” (for want of a better word) person in the team - a team assistant - after she’d returned from a couple of weeks leave. “I had a great time”, she said. “I had the trip of a lifetime”, she said. “But I really missed this place and looked forward to coming back to work,” was the last bit of that conversation.


That's not something that happens every day...


The moral?


Businesses need to make sure teams are aligned to a clearly articulated purpose and vision. Teams need and want to understand where they fit into the bigger picture and when they do, discretionary effort becomes common. Individual team members hold each other - and leadership - to account and feel deeply about what's being achieved. 


When a business can achieve that level of engagement, communications will become fearless, open and productive. 


Teams like that can achieve great things, beyond expectations.


Sure business also needs to be “agile”. But in the traditional, proper meaning of the term. The way it applies (still) to rugby half-backs, gymnasts and, yep, even the odd roof tiler.


It's time to do something...


You know it.


You know there's a "nirvana" inside your business just waiting to get out! And we want to help you uncover it and make it a reality. 


Creating significant change on your own is tough, so give us a call or drop us an email. We'll cut through the "BS"!


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