Legacy, lethargy, and the need to be #agile

Only agile organisations will thrive in the Social Age, but the barriers to agility are multifold. Some attitudinal, some technical, some about capability and competence. Innovation and creativity are strangled by legacy and lethargy. But we don’t have to live in the same space we settled in: we can make improvements, we can change.

Legacy, lethargy and agility

We need to be agile, but agility is dragged down by legacy and lethargy. People, processes, technology and politics can all play a part in this. It’s about mindset.

One of the businesses i work with is ditching their Exchange server and switching to Gmail. Why? Because it just works. There are a hundred reasons not to do it, but the bottom line is that they’re all driven by people, politics and process: in our social lives, gmail does the job, so why not see if it works at work too?

Our environment is fluid: technology changes around us, the market evolves, attitudes shift, but we don’t always keep up. As the consequences of the Social Age come ever clearer (a shifting relationship between organisations and employees, an increasing reliance on personal networks, the need for constant curation of our reputation and social spaces) organisational thinking can struggle to keep up.

In a world where ‘command and control‘ is no longer effective, we still seem to devote an awful lot of time to ensuring the status quo. In a world where your reputation and authority will be based increasingly on your ability to share and support, we still attach a lot of meaning to hierarchy. In a world where social spaces are where your reputation is forged, we still attach a great deal of status to physical offices.

The privacy jigsawTo be agile, we need to look at our people, at our processes, at our technology and at the politics. And we need to be willing to change those things that face inwards, those traits that are anchored in the old age. We need to be ready to change.

We need to determine if our mindset is about agility or if it’s focussed somewhere else. Manifestations like a lethargy around technology are just by products of an outdated mindset. If you have to think whether a ‘Bring Your Own Device‘ approach is right, you’re two steps behind the curve.

The Social Age will be won by organisations that exhibit different trends: they are excellent at piloting new ideas, creating spaces for experimentation, being willing to make mistakes and effective at narrating their successes. They will recognise the power of community and be engaged within it, on the terms of the community. Their brand will be all the stronger because of that. They will nurture and attract social leaders, because social leaders exhibit agile traits: they share, they curate, they filter, they are humble, they are technically savvy, they are curious, they deliver return on investment and return on expectation.

Innovation and creativity do not just happen: they need to break free from the constraints of lethargy and a legacy of command and control.

My example around email is not fair: young, small organisations can easily be agile, they simply haven’t yet codified their thinking into process, they haven’t had time for hierarchies to emerge or politics to come into play. But we can still learn from them. There is a tipping point: when every change is burdened by a legacy, when every decision is contested, but not debated and made, that’s when your ability to be agile is being swamped by politics, by people, technology and process. That’s when you have to start fighting, to change your perspective.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
This entry was posted in Adaptability, Agile, Authority, Challenge, Change, Collaboration, Communication, Community, Control, Creative, Culture, Hierarchy, Innovation, Leadership, Mistakes, Narrative, Personal Brand and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

50 Responses to Legacy, lethargy, and the need to be #agile

  1. Very true… Can you elaborate a bit on “organizations… [be] effective at narrating their successes”?

    • julianstodd says:

      Hey David, sure, i am very keen on using individual and group narratives to capture/benchmark learning.

      Individual narratives may be through a diary, a blog, Twitter etc, whilst within Social Learning, they may be created by the group. If this is the case, a role of the moderator is to help draw this together (in this model, it’s the third stage)

      The group narratives created in social learning spaces are co-created, a theme i’m expanding in my next book on ‘music in learning – the co-creation of meaning’ (i can email you draft copy if interested – i’d welcome your feedback).

      So narrating success is about individuals charting individual development (how have you changed in the last year) and about organisations facilitating the co-creation of meaning).

  2. tanyalau says:

    Hi Julian, great post – and really extremely relevant to me at the moment. I’m pretty much in the organisation you describe in your last paragraph: a government org with a deeply embedded comand & control culture, where the hierarchy rules, where “every change is burdened by a legacy…every decision is contested, but not debated and made…your ability to be agile is being swamped by politics, by people, technology and process.” (really couldn’t have said it better myself!). Rather, I should say “WAS”: the organisation has just undergone a massive restructure and there is talk of change and wanting to drive innovation, cut beaurocracy, streamline processes, and to do things better. I don’t know that the command and control culture will disappear, but it’s an interesting time.

    It will be interesting to see whether the promise of change translates to reality. I suspect that there we will still need to fight to enact change, but perhaps not quite as hard as before: that would be some progress, at least. Time will tell!

    • benoitdavid says:

      What your describing seems to be a recurrence in business, especially in the last little while, with the major changes that are occurring, largely brought about by the mass exodus of retirees and new entry of “fresh, younger blood”, as well as the increased competitiveness of globalization…
      If possible, It’d be great if you could keep us abreast of the evolution of your “environment”… 🙂

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