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Future of Work: Is it time for a Chief Agility Officer?

Part 1

The future of work will be more complex and nuanced than ever.

COVID 19 arrived more than 3 years ago, and the world is still reeling from its impact. US healthcare is overextended, burnt out and often unable to keep up with need for care. Supply chains are slowly recovering, we’re battling over where people should work (back in the office? At home?), what accountability should look like (should we be monitoring employee activity all day?), and how to work safely (should we be masking again?).

The global arena is closer and closer to home as live news plays out on our social media and large percentages of the population rely less and less on professional intermediaries like newscasters or politicians to tell us what is happening and why. Multiple narratives fill the “airwaves,” and more and more there is less and less overlap between them.

The public is also making themselves heard more and more. In past years people may have abided by the laws and social expectations handed down by their leadership (however grudgingly), and yet more and more often protests rise up with the public saying we will not accept the rules you are placing on us. Consider last year’s protests in Iran regarding the “morality police,” the conflict and responses to the legislation on abortion, and employees’ response to being required to return to office full time. How many companies have we seen back track their “return to work” mandate? (Amazon, Apple, Google, and DocuSign to name a few.) Power dynamics are shifting, and the “new power” could be more collaborative, participatory and inclusive (Heimans & Timms, 2014), if people can believe in a common good over their individual interests.

Our world continues to grow more and more complex. Are organizations keeping up?

Some probably are. And others are falling behind, attempting to navigate the future with the methodologies and strategies that have worked in the past.

Are we placing enough organizational emphasis on addressing the concerns and problems we’re experiencing? Or are we attempting to deny what’s happening in front of us, insisting our original plan is correct?

What would it look like to appreciate the data we have in front of us and use it to iterate on our current solution into something that better achieves our goals? And how do we do this at an organizational level? We must increase our adaptivity, responsiveness and agility structurally, through the entire organization.

One of the chief markers of successful leadership today is the ability to understand the complexity of a situation – the nuances contributing to it, and the potential impacts of decisions regarding it. Moreover, the way we frame a situation, or understand what's happening, heavily influences how we respond. If we frame a situation as threatening, we’ll hold a defensive position. If we frame it as one of potential, we’ll look for the possibilities it might hold. If we frame it as simple or straightforward, we’ll overlook outcome-effecting nuance.

Are organizations over relying on individual leaders for this? Should there perhaps be an entire department focused on understanding & distilling the implications of the increasingly complex environment we exist in? We have R&D teams that are focused on continuous iteration for product development - is it time to expend the same effort toward the potential systems level implication of the structural design of our organizations, the role of and of and expectations for employees, and our organizational role in our community?

I’d like to suggest it is time for organizations to include agility as a core value for organizational operations and a Chief Agility Officer on their leadership teams. This role will lead a team that is working to stay one step ahead of economic, political and social challenges we face. They will be tasked with keeping the organization relevant, nimble and in line with its own core values.

Over the next few posts we’ll look at various social or political challenges businesses are currently facing and discuss the role agility might play in it.

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