• Bruno Collet

Four Management Hacks Toward Agility

Updated: Apr 5, 2018


Management guru Gary Hamel noted that “Management was originally invented to solve two problems: the first—getting semiskilled employees to perform repetitive activities competently, diligently, and efficiently; the second—coordinating those efforts in ways that enabled complex goods and services to be produced in large quantities. In a nutshell, the problems were efficiency and scale, and the solution was bureaucracy, with its hierarchical structure, cascading goals, precise role definitions, and elaborate rules and procedures.”


The new focus of management in the digital age is almost diametrically opposed: empower knowledge workers to self-organize and foster a culture to deliver value early and frequently, and to anticipate and react to changes better and faster. Agility.


Here we’re looking at management hacks. What makes a change in managers’ and leaders’ behavior a hack – and not just a “regular” change – is based on three conditions:

  • It has the potential to start a chain reaction of changes toward more agility

  • It can be set up in three weeks

  • It can produce effect in three months, be it in teams, projects, operations, or any area targeted by the hack


The four management hacks toward agility that served me well across a variety of clients are

  1. Time-boxed decision-making

  2. Emerging autonomy

  3. Storytelling

  4. Making time


Time-boxed decision-making


Speed of decision-making - whether it is in strategy, budgeting, portfolio or project management, or resource allocation - has a huge effect on agility.


This hack addresses the problem that decision-making takes both effort and time because managers want to understand everything before making a decision. There are two underlying reasons for this behavior. First, a manager might take a personal risk for making a quick decision that could create other problems. Managers are seldom blamed for postponing a decision in order to analyse the situation. Second, decision-makers overlook the cost of delaying a decision compared to the possible consequence of making a poor but quick decision. What is the cost of further analyzing? What is the cost of delaying value delivery or time to market? What is the cost of employees perceiving a lack of leadership? What is the cost of people being idle or moving to less important tasks? When considering the real consequences of delaying decisions, one might often feel that it is better to make a riskier decision soon than a great one later.


Try this

  • Frequent but short stand-up decision-making meetings, with fixed allotted time 1-to-3 minutes for each decision

  • Design a few guidelines to resolve now vs. analyze further – what are the questions to ask to assess cost of delaying a decision?

  • Make and communicate decision right away rather than setting a new item in your to-do list. Reserve a very short 15 minutes period right after stand-up decision-making meeting to take actions right away. Most actions will only require emailing or calling.

Chain reaction: enable teams autonomy by quickly removing obstacles, fluidity of workflow, react faster to changes at all levels, accelerate time to market


Emerging autonomy


It is counter intuitive, really. For example, how can you trust a team that has never delivered on time to do better without close supervision? Yet, remember when you were on holiday last year and when you came back everything was fine? Don’t underestimate people’s ability to step up when they feel safe to do so.


Try this

  • Select an “autonomy topic” together with you team.

  • Agree on a very broad but finite autonomy scope in terms of people, process, topics, and types of actions expected

  • Allow being involved only when team is absolutely blocked on something that is absolutely necessary for success (every word counts).

Chain reaction: reduce micro-management, create trust, empower people, self-organize teams


Storytelling


The natural interactions between people that make an organization agile depends on trust, which in turn relies on open communication and authenticity. In many ways this is what makes self-organization and effective, organic flow of information possible. Narrative is a key ingredient of authentic communication. Great leaders are excellent storytellers. They exemplify the interactive and seriously playful mode of communication that is crucial in generating and sustaining the high-performing teams.


Traditional management emphasizes analytical skills. Combining emotional and rational elements maximizes the impact of the message. People are emotional beings. The best communicators encapsulate their message in compelling narratives, often mixing and matching numbers and stories.


Try this

  • Incorporate storytelling in your presentations and workshop. See Strategic Storytelling: How to Create Persuasive Business Presentations, McKinsey, Dave

  • Every time you want to communicate something with the purpose of convincing or triggering interest, think about a story that people can relate to and that will help make your point. Embed the numbers, processes, roles & responsibilities and other content you already have in the narrative. Imagine you have to start with “once upon a time …,” continue with “and then …” and finish with “and finally...” It’s normal to feel a learning curve there. After some time the storytelling reflex will come more naturally and I promise it will be worth the little time investment. Also, it’s fun.

  • When hearing a rather dry presentation or discussion, kindly ask the speaker if she could think of a past situation where whatever topic she’s talking about occurred. Or a future situation where it would be useful. Subtly invite other participants to come up with scenarios on the topic. For example, “I believe it would be very useful to include business value in our portfolio KPIs. Do you have an example in mind where it would help making a better or faster decision?”

Chain reaction: authenticity, meaning of work, emotional intelligence, powerful conversations


Making time


Whatever we want to improve, it always comes down to the time available. Even the most humble change requires some up-front time investment. If everyone is busy 110% of their time, mostly on tasks that are perceived as critical and impossible to postpone, how can we get started? When I start a transformation project I always ask “what are you going to stop doing in the short term in order to get this transformation underway?” The perennial answer is to obtain “top-management support” which is another way of saying that we are authorized to transfer problems to others who are just as time-starved. What we need is not to shuffle work around but to question the importance of the various activities we are engaged in.


"If you can’t get 10 minutes for thinking, get 30 minutes."

Although it might look at first like classic time management, we are actually helping managers to reprioritize managers’ work in order to switch

  • From reactive to proactive

  • From operational to tactical/strategic

Try this

  • Set up time apart in your agenda to reflect on your and your team’s way of working and priorities. Consider this time just as important as any management meeting.

  • Don’t be afraid to move to an unusual place for such time, for example the coffee bar down the block or the nice view on the 20th floor. Physical environment conditions thinking and creativity.

  • As Eisenhower mentioned, “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” Draw the Eisenhower matrix of your activities and the activities of your team. Use this technique to quickly focus on activities that lead to achieve your goals and filter out those you should ignore. MindTools has a good explanation of Eisenhower matrix.


In my experience this kind of management hacks have generated surprising results, creating ripple effects both vertically and horizontally in the organization. The fact that they are bite-sized and do not require setting up formal training, projects or programs makes them easy to try. However, I strongly suggest using professional coaching and facilitating to make the most out of them.


Sources


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Bruno Collet helps organizations benefit from agility, mainly in the area of digital transformation. He develops the Metamorphose framework to accelerate transformation results. His career has led him to collaborate with organizations in Montreal, Belgium and elsewhere, including the Société de Transport de Montréal (STM), National Bank of Canada, Loto-Québec and Proximus (formerly Belgacom). Holder of MBA, MScIT, PMP and PMI-ACP degrees, Bruno Collet is also author of a blog on agile transformation, and speaker at PMI, Agile Tour Montréal and Agile China.

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