Recently Business Insider Australia has been covering the trends in digitisation and how Australian businesses can get it right, we've covered the factors driving innovation in Australian businesses as well as the skills innovative companies are looking for in employees and that employees themselves feel they have more to give.
Yet what is clear in the studies, the research and in global best practice is that in order to be truly innovative, companies and their leadership teams need to change the way they they do things — how they are structured and how they operate.
They need to become "agile" like the tech titans of Silicon Valley in their approach to business. What makes innovative tech companies agile is a mindset, a way of approaching business and any manager or executive in any business can learn the lessons of agility to become a better leader and achieve better outcomes for the business.
That is the clear message from a team of Boston Consulting Group operatives — Marijke Brunklaus, Lindsay Chim, Deborah Lovich, and Benjamin Rehberg — in their publication, Do You Have The Courage To Be An Agile Leader?.
The authors say the move to an agile environment is based on the "principles of teamwork, autonomy, and alignment".
Autonomous teams lead to ownership and creativity which enables quick decision-making and fast-paced movement. Via a virtuous circle, that then drives even faster development of talent and teams, which feeds even faster and more effective decision-making.
However, leaders can get in the way here — something the BCG publication says they need to avoid in order to be successful.
Once leaders have established alignment with the firm's overall "purpose, strategy, and priorities", leaders then need to let go and release their teams to "figure out how to address their assigned challenges".
But for business owners and managers who have built their careers on the old 'command and control' structure, letting go is easier said than done.
So the BCG authors have highlighted 6 areas they believe will allow leaders to start letting go.
The steering committee
Senior leadership's job is to set the direction and boundaries which then drives alignment in the teams. But if the traditional steering committee structures are followed then, "the benefits of agile are lost when the results of teamwork — a product innovation, for example, or a faster internal process — run hard into traditional processes and deliberate, drawn-out management approvals", they say.
That's not to say teams should be left completely to themselves. The quid pro quo for autonomy is visibility and transparency so that management and business leaders can monitor what the teams are doing. This, along with strengthened governance mechanisms can reinforce alignment.
Non-essentials on the Leadership Agenda
'Get out of the way' seems to be the message the BCG authors, who say: "senior leadership is there to support the teams so that they can do their work; leaders should keep this basic principle in mind when drafting the agenda for the senior-leadership team meeting".
The old adage of perfection being the enemy of the good rings true, the authors, say with agile companies using the "basic principle of testing and learning" as they build minimum viable products and work with customers rather than trying to deliver fully-formed products and services.
This is important, BCG says, because: "when senior management shows that it is willing to test and learn as well, that makes it easier — and more easily accepted — for their staff to take chances and learn from experience, imperfection, and mistakes".
Behaviour has equivalence with skills, BCG says, with the highest value behaviours being "collaboration, curiosity, flexibility, teamwork, and a willingness to take chances and to learn".
The publication explains that some companies "realise that while expertise and knowledge are critical, they can add value only if the person with the skills also fits into the new culture".
Talent that can't or won't change
The transition to becoming agile is not an easy one and it's also a transition that some employees can't make. That means that it might be necessary to let go of some "loyal executives".
This is necessary, BCG says, "so that old managers don’t act as an anchor and new team members can step up and assume their roles".
This is also important as a cultural signal because "appointing the right people at the senior level sets an example and acts as a catalyst in the transformation process", the publication states.
Old ways of managing
Companies need to establish momentum and they can do this via "lighthouse projects", BCG says. But the transformation needs more than that and "visible change, even if it is symbolic, demonstrates commitment".
Get out of the corner office, walk the floors, stores and workshops and hold regular updates and briefings with staff to aid transparency and reinforce the agile approach, the authors suggest.
In order to aid agility, fundamental shifts are required in the established command and control approach and business management structure. Research shows that when companies get agility right, significant benefits accrue. So it's worth the effort.