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Agility: the surviving trait for today and tomorrow´s leader.

A conversation with Alvaro Moreno, Entrepreneur & Hugo Immink, Lead4Agility.

You´re young, bright, talented, and full of life…. You have a brilliant idea…. You create a start-up…. but it unfortunately fails. And then what? “You dust yourself off and try again!” states Alvaro Moreno. “Resilience is all about trying and trying over again, and never giving up,” he says. In that sense, Alvaro thinks resilience is more short-cyclical in nature compared to agility, which he sees as more long-term in how to get to the desired situation.

I think this is an interesting viewpoint that needs to be explored further……

He continues, “You need agility in order to overcome the obstacles you are certain to find when defining the roadmap that takes you from the current situation to the desired situation”.

In my own view, ‘Resilience’ is definitely a good foundation for an agile mindset though. Making mistakes makes you humble, especially when those mistakes are significant. Being and staying humble and the ability to learn fast is crucial for an agile mindset. When you stop being curious, this immediately undermines the essence of what agility is all about.

Alvaro thinks there are not many companies that are truly agile. His view is that “The drivers need to be to learn, adapt and try different ways to get where you want through the process of iteration, something that is an innate and fundamental process in the start-up world”. In order to be truly agile, what is really needed is a combination of top-down and bottom-up, inside out and outside in approach.

In almost every company it still appears to be pretty much a ‘top-down’ process. What appears to be artefacts of agile philosophy, and ways of working in many companies, (the use of sprints, scrum, etc.), in reality, is often a lot of ‘window dressing’ and a compulsory ‘tick and check’ exercise. In some cases, the top is still ‘old school’, and Agility continues to be very much a ‘buzz’ word in those circles.

However, according to Alvaro, “There are companies that do seem to have agility as a core part of their DNA”.

For example, Typeform, a Spanish company based in Barcelona, was created to be truly agile when the founders designed the business model that made Typeform so successful. In my opinion, Typeform was one of the first companies that truly embraced agility as the future of work with ultramodern and hip offices which placed the employee on a shared first place, together with their client.

Another example that springs to my mind are Bunq, (a Dutch company based in Amsterdam), the first bank with what they termed a ´soul´, in that they are socially responsible and fully transparent in whatever they do. Everything is designed to promote agility across all departments. For example, sprints with short iteration cycles are applied across the entire organization, with no exception!

Alvaro argues that “For any company that wants to adopt, and consolidate a truly agile mindset, there are a few conditions that are essential for agility to work and keep on working”.

His view is:

Firstly, it is important to constantly assess what is happening in the ´political arena´, for example, what the influence and power of investors are within a company. When politics enter into the ‘arena’, then agility is at risk (to stay humble, curious, to learn, and try to learn from your mistakes). Especially in scale-up environments, over time “The ´why´ from the big investors tends to get more weight than the internal ´why´”, and needless to say, the drivers for the agility of these two parties are fundamentally ‘different’. “One does not need to guess who has the real power and influence and therefore who is the real client…”

Secondly, values that are at the core of, and therefore drive agility, are fundamentally different from the corporate way of thinking and corresponding values. Needless to say, “Adopting agility as a mindset and its implied values has a huge impact on how to get, keep, and motivate talent”.

Thirdly, one needs to accept that there is no ‘silver lining’ when it comes down to being or becoming agile. It is important to start with the right belief that people are able to work the agile way. “It´s about taking a leap of faith”.

Fourthly, you need to surround yourself with people who arecleverer than you, thus avoiding mediocrity and the ‘weak links’ throwing spanners in the works! “There are certain rules that need to be followed when adopting agility, the common goal needs to be clearly communicated so everybody is aligned”. Going from A to B is important in getting people aligned.

Alvaro feels that this is the hardest thing to do. His view is that “If you manage to create the right environment to get the most out of people, the rest will follow automatically. It is crucial to create a sense of community, which encourages a sense of ‘psychological safety’”. Alvaro goes on to say, “Agility is about ‘empowering people’. There is no secret recipe when it comes down to aligning everyone with the company”. He recommends listening to a podcast called ´Master of scale´ (from Reid Hoffman, one of the co-founders of LinkedIn). In this podcast, Reid compares agile teams with roleplaying (a bit like archetypes) and every member needs to assume a role that ‘he or she’ feels corresponds to ‘him or her’.

Last but not least, Alvaro thinks that it requires a certain personality make-up to embrace agility, which he states, “May not be everyone´s cup of tea”. Needless to say, this is important to take into account when playing to people´s appetite for agility.

To finish our meeting, I asked Alvaro for a final piece of advice. “I recommend not falling into the trap of falling in love with ideas, and solutions that you want to provide as a start-up or company in general. Get obsessed with the problem you want to solve. Not the idea itself” he replies. Wise words…..from a wise man.

Hugo Immink

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