Radically human transformation

How agile is your organization?


In the last year, we’ve all had to get clear very quickly on what matters — both personally and professionally. With the unknown facing us at every turn, we, and our organizations, have had to do things in new ways.

What the pandemic has done is force us to be more agile and radically human. In a recent session in our Radically Human series, The Agile Organization, leaders from Korn Ferry discussed what it means for organizations to be more agile and radically human and offered tips for how organizations can start transforming themselves today. The panelists included moderator Lisa Finkelstein, who has spent her career working to bring out the best in people and organizations and to challenge the status quo; Adu Opoku-Boahin, who helps organizations find ways to fast-track their transformation; Nikita Sood, who enjoys curating and designing human experiences to link strategy and execution; and Leandro Martins, who helps organizations and leaders become more agile.

What does it mean to be agile and radically human?

When we think about agile organizations, we think about companies that focus on what matters to customers. They do what brings the most value to their organizations, and they give their people the space and autonomy to perform.

It takes courage and boldness to take a truly agile approach. At the same time, it frees us from old ways of working — the ways that have become our default and may have caused us to lose sight of our purpose and of what really matters. Our old ways often get in the way of focusing on our people and allowing them to bring out their best, so they can use their creativity to make an impact and move the organization forward. An internal focus also gets in the way of our ability to be customer-obsessed. Instead of meeting our customers’ needs and wants as we think they are, we’re too fixated on defining those needs and wants from our point of view.

Here are several takeaways from the webinar that you can use today to start on your journey toward becoming a more agile, radically human organization.

Be inspiring, not directive

Martins suggested that a first step toward becoming more agile is for all leaders to stop thinking that they’re the boss. He added, “The idea of the ‘boss’ is one that we should throw out the window.” Instead of leaders making all of the decisions, they should inspire their team members to dare to think differently.

Drawing on Korn Ferry research, Martins observed that the most effective leaders share a set of characteristics, including curiosity, open-mindedness, optimism and energy. They enjoy being challenged and learning about new perspectives. They’re aware of their strengths, but they’re humble enough to highlight the contributions of others. But one of the most visible attributes of successful agile leaders is the ability to inspire. Leaders who give their employees freedom and empowerment find that their employees are more motivated. And, to empower their employees, leaders need to be equipped with competencies such as active listening, so they tune into what drives their people and can assign them work that’s inspiring to them.

Changing your approach to leadership may seem like a daunting task, but Martins suggested an incremental approach. First, focus on awareness, he said. Understand who you are as a leader; identify your strengths and opportunities to improve. Assessments are key, because they uncover your talent’s opportunities for growth and target them with individualized learning.

Consider the whole person

Sood recounted a story to explain the importance of taking a whole-person view: one that considers not just an individual’s experience but also their readiness, mindset and behaviors.

Sood’s client, a pharmaceutical company, wanted to improve its efficiency on two fronts: it wanted to transform digitally to enable faster responses to external challenges, such as patient needs and regulatory demands, and it needed to corral the legacy processes, systems and silos that resulted from growth through acquisitions. To solve these challenges, the company wanted to become more agile.

It was too daunting a change to roll agile out to the entire organization, so leaders decided to start with an incubator. The incubator consisted of five structured, cross-functional project teams of about 100 people, each with clear roles and objectives. People would rotate through these teams and solve business problems, then move back to their regular work and become a champion, disseminating these ideas to the rest of the organization.

To minimize disruption, the organization wanted to recruit outside resources with agile skills and capabilities, such as scrum managers and data scientists. It was taking a short-sighted view of its talent, focusing only on their people’s experience. Sood said that her team challenged the client’s thinking, asking them to consider whether internal high-potential candidates might have the ability to learn agile skills on the job and then share their learning.

Sood encouraged the client to think about the big picture and the sustainability of its approach, and the company started to shift its thinking. To identify high potentials, Sood’s team assessed the company’s workforce, looking for people who felt comfortable with ambiguity and who were curious and courageous enough to ask questions, challenge existing paradigms and take risks. So, instead of recruiting extensively outside, the company learned how to leverage the best capabilities from its current talent pool and only fill gaps from the market.

Start somewhere and create a movement

Some companies are 100% agile. But that may not make sense for every organization. Many companies have certain functions that are agile, and many start with IT. But business functions have been slower to adopt an agile approach. It’s important to assess which areas of your organization are appropriate to become agile at scale. Opoku-Boahin described the foundational questions organizations should ask before they begin: Do our people have the mindset to understand the purpose of transformation? Are they empowered to make decisions? If not, how can we create the structures in our organization to empower teams to make decisions faster and to be closer to our customers?

No matter whether you plan to go agile in whole or in part, you need to create a movement. It’s important to remember that becoming agile is a journey, not a sprint. It takes people who are willing to change and are committed to making the sacrifices required to transform.

To build a movement, everyone needs to understand the why. They need to know how their roles and work fit into your purpose, and they must be aware of the resources and tools available to them to make it happen. Opoku-Boahin recommended, “To create a movement, people have to understand where you are going and why they should be part of your movement.” Agile is a culture, and you have to bring people into it. So, you should start by building a case for change and setting achievable metrics for attaining your goal.

Are you in the business of process?

How internally focused is your organization? Do processes and structures dictate how work gets done? In other words, is your organization radically human enough to not only do agile, but to be agile?

What we often see is that organizations are doing agile. That is, they’re putting the structural elements of agile in place, but they’re not doing what it takes to change the behaviors needed to transform. It takes both the structural and behavioral elements to be radically human.

Are you ready to get started on your agile transformation journey? If you’re feeling courageous and want to get rid of the artificial obstacles hindering your progress so you can unleash your people’s creativity and talents, watch the webinar for even more takeaways. Then get in touch to discuss how we can help you make an impact.