The modern workplace is changing and changing fast. A 2018 survey by blog TechNative found 43 percent of Australian organisations are testing technologies in service of larger business transformations.
The race is on.
Automation is sparking a rise in new, non-routine jobs, while the percentage of part-time work and other flexible work arrangements continues to climb. We will look at two examples of how this trend is manifesting across organisations.
The first is from Alexandra Heath, head of the economic analysis department at the Reserve Bank of Australia. While her remarks at the Business Educators “Australasia” 2018 Biennial Conference in Canberra were largely designed to inform monetary policy, she provided a clear snapshot of a country where the typical workplace is very much in transition.
She’s not alone in her analysis. The global survey company Gallup dips into this same well, polling workers across U.K., France, Spain and Germany on the need to create more agile workplaces in response to rising potential for disruption. It’s not surprising, Gallup says, given this level of historic change that “agility” has become the new business imperative.
But as the focus on agile ways of working moves away from software development and into new sectors, “the term [agile] has become more ambiguous,” Gallup writes. “These days it often is used as a synonym for more general attributes like speed or adaptability.”
The net effect here is that “little a” agile is now officially part of our collective business consciousness and has become much more of a mind-set and framework than manifesto.
So, what does this mean? Here are some examples of ways agile has stretched beyond its original roots.
A model that fits across many businesses
It’s one thing if a small start-up with mostly engineers saw agile principles seeping across the business. But could an “agile” way of organising work find a home in more conservative or regulated business contexts, such as corporate banking?
It seems it can.
ANZ chief executive Shayne Elliott’s plan to restructure his business according to agile principles became headline news back in 2017. The restructuring used familiar language like “squads” and “tribes” and put the ability to collaborate across disciplines as a “must-have” attribute for this new generation of leaders. By May 2018 that dip into agile waters had become a full-blown dive, and the bank had 13,000 employees working in agile ways. Outcomes credited to the move include a top-ranking banking app, integration with Apple Pay and voice biometrics.
Influencing employee perceptions
The international Gallup survey had several more interesting insights. For example, it found that employees who work in agile or partly agile organisations were far more likely to “strongly agree” their company was “ahead of the competition” and that they were “confident” in their company’s financial future. The same held true when asked if their co-workers “always do what is right for our customers.”
Another way to look at opportunities for agility is to take a pulse check of how many people are truly working cross-functionally, whether they are in operations, technical or creative backgrounds, and how frequently that happens. The Gallup survey found 61% of their global respondents said they work mostly with people who report to their same manager.
Two things we’ve seen time and again — and that which was echoed in the research — is that team leadership matters, alongside insisting upon (and supporting) a continuous learning environment. These are crucial precursors to greater business agility.
You can’t sprint your way to agile
Katherine Bray, listed as both the head of ANZ’s agile initiative and with the unique title of “New Ways of Working Lead”, has told reporters that the road to becoming agile is a true commitment.
“There is of course a risk that day one – everything’s done, high five in the corridor, move on, transformation over. Well that’s not the nature of this,” she told CIO.com. “There are many elements of this that will take time to mature and embed and that will continuously improve our efficiency over time. And that requires tenacity. We’re clear where we are on the journey with an understanding that we will never be done.”
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