Being Agile to Achieve Success in a Crisis

Mike Tyson famously said that “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”.

COVID-19 is tearing up plans all over the world and re-framing the future in ways that we can’t even imagine yet. It’s fair to say that we’ve all had a collective “punch in the mouth”, and many plans that looked pretty good a few weeks ago are completely rubbish now.

Like many people, I’ve spent a huge amount of time putting plans in place, following plans, updating plans, re-planning, re-estimating and generally getting punched in the face a lot (metaphorically speaking).

Agile Business in a Crisis

One of the things that we’ve learned in the software industry is that “no plan survives contact with the enemy”. There has been a huge movement over the last 20 years to make IT organisations much more “agile”.

Agility means different things to different people. You’ll hear words like “Scrum”, “Kanban”, “Sprint Planning” and “Retrospective” in relation to IT and most people tend to think that these phrases and ways of working don’t apply to them.

If they are aware of them as tools, they often see them as things that the IT team do and are thought of as somehow “technical” or related to software development.

Well, there is a lot that business leaders can learn from the agile approach. This will be even more important while we’re reeling from a coronavirus uppercut the likes of which we haven’t seen in our lifetimes.

Treating People as People

One of the other areas I have a huge passion for, and that has been disrupted in a similar way over the same period, is economics.

Since the 2008 financial crash, a new wave of “Behavioural” Economists are turning traditional economic theories upside down and re-framing them to take account of the fact that people don’t behave in the “rational” ways that we used to plan for.

People make mistakes, they take short cuts, they can be manipulated, and we don’t know all of the information all of the time.

Governments all over the world are waking up to what marketers have known instinctively for decades. That making things you want people to do easy for them and making things you don’t want people to do hard can have a big impact.

As we try and predict the behaviour of our customers, colleagues, regulators, competitors, investors and everyone else on our business to formulate a planned response, there is a lot to be learned from simply thinking of people as people.

They are just like us – stressed, tired, happy, bored, lazy, worried, excited and unsure.

If we can bring that into our thinking as a business, by asking the question “how can we help our customers achieve what they want to achieve”, we stand to make ourselves more agile, productive and successful.

Embracing the Power of Agility

So, can these two great movements, in very different fields, over a similar timeframe help us prepare for & respond to the current crisis? I would argue emphatically that they can.

There is a huge amount to be learned from the IT industries successes over the last 20 years, the economist’s turnaround from utter failure in the 2008 financial crisis and their observations of real human behaviour in more recent years.

These two movements have one key thing in common – human-centricity. Not super clever, ridiculously hard-working humans with 20:20 foresight and an infinite capacity for “just getting on with it”.

But real people, like my mate Dave, and Auntie Mary, who are generally well-intentioned, but often take the easy path. People who drop things and consistently fail to laugh at my jokes.

What can we learn from these two movements that will help us respond in a more human way to the challenges and opportunities in front of us? How can we use techniques from these two niche fields to drive business in new directions, continually improve customer satisfaction and thrive in the long term?

Cpl’s Future of Work Institute invites you to join a complimentary Webinar Series “Leading Through Times of Change” which addresses these questions and more.

Click here to register for our next webinar ‘The Agile Leader: Preparing your organisation for people-centric success, whatever the future holds’ facilitated by James Louttit, Cpl Chief Information Officer.