A webinar by HFMtalentindex discusses leadership agility

Being agile does not mean you don’t switch off, webinar participants heard.

In a webinar by HFMtalentindex, business leaders shared their perspectives on leadership agility and the impact of an agile culture.

HFMtalentindex director and senior psychologist Jaintheran Naidoo, HR and learning manager at Maersk Kurt de Bique, talent management manager at Pep, Pat Smith, and group CEO, Honoris United Universities Dr Jonathan Louw all came together to discuss the why and how of agility in their organisations.

Jaintheran started off by setting the context of exactly what it means to have an agile culture. He quoted Scott M. Graffius, saying an, “Agile culture is an environment inclusive of attitudes, values and practices that enable responsiveness to complexity, uncertainty and change.”

He said that building any culture – especially an agile culture – does not happen overnight: “Building an agile culture takes time and commitment, but you are going to see results at every step of that journey.”

He shared five components of an agile culture:

  • Clear purpose and results
  • Well-being and fulfilment
  • Trust and transparency
  • Adaptability to change
  • Innovation and learning

Jaintheran pointed out that in all of these things the culture of the organisation is mostly shaped by leaders. “Whether leaders do this consciously or unconsciously, you as the leader of the organisation are responsible for the culture of the organisation you are in,” he noted.

He explained that leaders need to be comfortable in creating a space that is safe for individuals to be innovative, take risks, experiment, make sure that leadership is diffused through the organisation and know when to appropriately delegate decision-making and authority to team members as well.

Impediments to changing an agile culture
He said the top three things standing in the way of organisations building an agile culture are:

1. Lack of leadership awareness, understanding and support.
2. Whether or not people know what it means to be agile and have what it takes to be agile.
3. Organisational structure: If an organisation has a very strict hierarchical structure and less collaboration, agility may be hampered.

Leadership and ambiguity
The way people think about leadership needs to change, said Jaintheran. “We need to think about it in a more holistic and organic way that leads to a systemic change and looking at the organisation as a whole instead of an individual.

“We can identify four different modes of leadership: technical, co-operative, collaborative and generative.”

He explained that the technical leader deals with ambiguity by denying it and by trying to create an autocratic approach. The co-operative leader deals with ambiguity by building teams to mitigate risks. The collaborative leader deals with ambiguity by examining it as with a team and generative leaders deal with ambiguity through opportunity-spotting and innovation.

Creating an agile culture and making sure everyone comes to the party

Pat said having an agile culture starts with the people you recruit. “At Pep, we are kind of obsessed about the people we bring on board. We are always talking about the Pep-fit. We have this collective sense of the kind of resourceful dynamos who have grit, resilience and a can-do-attitude- so it starts with getting the right people.

“Once you have the right people, what does the organisation have that enables them to be agile and feel the psychological safety where they can learn, make mistakes and have the support they need? The leaders we have at Pep hear, listen, communicate and make decisions quickly, knowing that they have the support around them.”

Balancing agility and setting healthy boundaries
Kurt explained that at Maersk they are a 24/7 business, the seas are always full of ships and that means there is always something moving from point A to point B and people are reliant on them as their trade partner to make sure everything goes well.

“That means sometimes things will happen at inconvenient times and that we need to be switched on at all times and be responsive.
“But this has shown us that we have to trust people,” he said. “We are not in the same location and we rely on people to have a sense of responsibility and adapt to situations.”

He added that what they do is try to avoid burnout and mental health issues as far as possible.

“We have small gestures that we do to show appreciation to our employees, such as no meeting days and leave management. Agility does not mean you are available all the time and you don’t switch off.

“As a business we need to manage our offering to our clients and make sure we have structures in place to look after our clients and employees and make sure they are healthy. We understand that you can’t deliver if you are not engaged, therefore it is in our interest to look at it from a people perspective.”

How WFH has impacted leadership agility
Jonathan said that it was important never to waste a good crisis. “One thing about a crisis is that sometimes it brings up the best in people and it is amazing how people collaborate.”

He shared that he put his entire executive and IT team in quarantine for two weeks in February 2020 when he was still at the South African National Blood Service (SANBS).

“And in that time, I was a little bit indisposed as I was quarantined for three months, but it was amazing how the leadership at SANBS stood up and started leading. Even people we thought would be in the background came to the forefront to help out with the Covid-19 protocols.”

Jonathan emphasised that whenever there is a crisis it is important to use it as a learning opportunity and put in place mechanisms to deal with it in the future.