Becoming an Agile Leader

At NMPi’s roundtable Senior Marketing Communications Specialist,  Victoria Karo, spoke about how Exact became an Agile Business.

What does it mean to be an Agile Business?

A groundbreaking management methodology, being Agile, focuses on developing people, fostering inclusivity, and encouraging personal growth. To be an agile business, you have to create a space where it’s safe to fail. This seems contrary to everything we are taught in business, from the stringent targets we set to the way we talk about wasted spend. But rest assured, it is worth implementing. It gives employees autonomy, and managers have more time to truly lead, not micromanage. It also creates an environment where innovation can flourish, where ideas you may have never even considered can be tried and tested without fear.

Staying Ahead of the Competition

In today’s ever changing world, to stay ahead of the competition, you need to be the first to make changes in your industry either by using breakthrough technology or creating something that hasn’t been seen before. Sound impossible? It doesn’t have to be; this doesn’t mean that your brand has to reinvent the wheel, it can be as simple as providing the solution to a small, niggling problem.

Karo shared the example of Amazon Prime Wardrobe. People are increasingly turning from brick and mortar stores in favour of online shopping, but many shoppers shy away from these digital marketplaces when it comes to fashion, uncomfortable with the idea of purchasing something without trying it on or dealing with the hassle of returning it if it doesn’t fit.  Prime Wardrobe, which is currently in an invitation-only beta, tapped into that frustration by allowing customers to get the items first, try them on in the privacy of their own home, and only pay for the items they want to keep, thus reducing the barrier to purchase. Amazon has solved a small, but common complaint, while creating a new and innovative means of disrupting the traditional online clothes shopping model.

The Method

Karo also spoke at length about the methods Exact uses to integrate Agile Leadership into their daily work environment:

  • Internal messaging: In addition to an external mission statement, there is an internal message meant to encourage team members to use agile leadership in their day-to-day interactions and activities.
  • Diversified Teams: Vary your teams. Have individuals with different skill sets so that they can bring new ideas to the table and challenge the status quo. Having a varied team also prevents work silos from developing.
  • Skill Share: Transfer skills among team members. Broaden your skill set by learning from each other.
  • Scrums: Agile leadership does away with traditional meetings and project plans. Scrum teams consist of 3-9 people (any more than this and it becomes too difficult to manage effectively). Teams meet daily for no more than 15 minutes to debrief and discuss any obstacles they have encountered and share how they are contributing to the team goal. The scrum leader steps in only to assist overcoming barriers to goal achievement, not to guide the work being done. The team must be able to realise their potential and their goals with minimal interference, even if the manager isn’t in agreement with the method or style of work used to reach that goal.

The Obstacles

Karo acknowledges that this can be a difficult process, and in the beginning, they made many mistakes and had to overcome many obstacles. From our roundtable discussions, we have identified some of the most common problems businesses are facing when they try to implement Agile Leadership:

  • Embracing Failure: Uncertainty is not a word that businesses like. Managers are taught to continuously strive for success, so the idea of embracing failure can be scary, but often, the best takeaways come from our missteps. Allowing your team the space to err, then rebuild and learn from their mistakes not only promotes growth but fosters trust and confidence.
  • Flexibility: Many businesses lack the flexibility to implement agile leadership in their organisations. Some are hampered by budget constraints, unable to find the leeway to move budgets around to buffer for setbacks or accommodate longer test times. Another obstacle to flexibility is having to wait for change as it moves slowly down through work silos. Many organisations are still operating in departmental silos so implementing changes can be slow going as the process gets held up by different departmental directives.
  • Measurement: Implementing proper attribution models to measure success can often be confusing and overwhelming with the sheer amount of stats you can track and report on. We all know the last click attribution model is flawed, yet, it is still a method being used by many companies. An Agile Business requires accurate measurement, because whilst it is all about testing and trying new ideas it is also necessary to understand what true failure and success looks like.

Remember, change takes time and in order to change the culture of a business you must commit to new methods and get buy-in from not just owners and management, but from staff.

The Agile Leadership system strongly promotes trust and allows individuals to flourish in a team setting. Team members come up with their own ideas and work parameters. This can be difficult for many managers as it forces them to relinquish control to allow for testing, experimentation, and failure, but can also help organisations grow, create and stand out from the competition.