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Future of work: Is it time for a Chief Agility Officer? Part 2 - Strategy

Updated: Sep 7, 2023




Today we’re faced with a plethora of societal challenges that our businesses and organizations are attempting to navigate. The storm that COVID 19 brought, requiring organizations to re-invent the way they do work overnight made it clear that the future of work can change in an instant. If there’s one thing we can count on moving forward, it’s that there will continue to be changes coming our way. We might not know exactly what they are, but we can start incorporating an adaptive, nimble agility-focused mindset into our organizational values and our strategies.


The first step is to incorporate our internal operations into our strategic thinking.


In 1996, Michael Porter described one of his core components of strategy as “customer needs,” encouraging business strategists to pay close attention to what customers were actually wanting, even when they were talking about something else. It’s become common to think about what our customers want from our products or services, but are we also noticing how customer trends will also impact our employee value proposition?


For instance, if we notice that our customers display an increased desire for collaboration, they want pragmatic solutions, they value self-care, they’re aware of and concerned for others well-being and tend towards a self-reliant mentality, we might start creating our services or products with this in mind. The responsive and agile internal organizational mindset comes into play when we realize our customer data is likely also relevant to our employees. How can this data inform our practices within the organization and would it have an impact on our employee’s sense of engagement, belonging, productivity, and buy-in?


In 2004, W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne describe “Blue Ocean Strategy” – innovating new opportunity instead of continually refining current offerings to get ahead of competition. To create a blue ocean, one must have a solid understanding not only on one’s current context, but on where things are going, what lies ahead in the future. We expect our organization’s product team to be aware of these things, but what might happen if we applied the same energy and effort into how our organization operated? Where are things going in terms of people’s expectations and desire for work? What might light ahead? Can we scenario plan not only innovative products, but also innovative work experiences?

Interestingly the customer behavior characteristics described earlier (collaborative, pragmatic, other-awareness, and self-reliance) are descriptions researcher Roberta Katz (De Witte, 2022) uses to depict Gen Z. While many long-term employees can remember a training an HR partner gave about generational differences, how often are we strategizing toward them?


As companies become more diverse and expand internationally there is more and more attention being paid to national cultural differences, albeit often again as an HR training in preparation for an oversees assignment or in consideration for local wages in new locations. How often are we strategizing our internal operations toward an agility for cultural differences? Perhaps instead of learning all one can about one or two national cultures the real pay-off comes in learning to recognize one’s own cultural influences, where and why they often appear and to increase capacity to dance among them.


For instance, Aperian’s GlobeSmart is an interactive database of learning modules and culture guides for just about any nation you could be curious about. While this is a truly fabulous reference and learning tool, perhaps one of the greatest values one could take is an understanding of the framework of culture. Take for instance Kluckhohn & Strodtbeck’s framework identifying six challenges each culture seeks to provide a response to. These problems include: relationship to nature, orientation to time, beliefs about human nature, nature of human activity, relationships among people, and conception of space (Thomas & Inkson, 2022). Knowing the basic tenants paves the way toward adopting a cultural humility - awareness of and appreciation for the variety in approaches used to establish the same basic norms culture provides universally. (As an example, across the globe cultures have an expectation around typical ways to communicate. Those ways are going to be different – some are more direct and others are more context based, but there is some expectation of what the norms for communication are.)


Awareness of these tenants and a culturally humble mindset allow us to act with agility because we are more likely to recognize that a potential conflict might be a cultural tenant difference even if we can’t specifically pinpoint exactly what that difference is. Further it can help us to be aware of our own cultural assumptions about the purpose of business. For instance, in 1995 Nsenga Warfield-Coppock described some of the differences of a Eurocentric worldview and business culture with an Afrocentric worldview and resulting business culture.


Some differences Warfield-Coppock highlighted were the profit and control focus of the Eurocentric worldview vs the focus on care and support for entire community since the people and organization are one in the Afrocentric worldview. Becoming aware that our assumptions of the purpose of business are not necessarily universal allows us to examine them objectively and determine if they are serving our needs as an organization and as a community. Identification of assumptions and objective examination are foundational steps in increasing one’s capacity for an agile mindset.


Strategizing about increasing organizational agility is useful not only in consideration of the people aspects of business, but also in potential future environmental challenges ranging from remote work resourcing to something as large climate driven migration making future company locations obsolete or overloaded.


The future of work will lean into and value the differences among us and succeed by planning for and leveraging how these differences impact both their product or service offering and their employee value proposition. Further, these differences will continue to evolve and adapt. While the first step is strategizing ways to incorporate an agile and nimble mindset, we must also strategize how the organization as a whole might structure itself with the nimbleness to respond to whatever situation it finds itself in. This is where a Chief Agility Officer and their department come in.



References:


Aperian Global. (n.d.). GlobeSmart. GlobeSmart Dashboard. Retrieved September 13, 2022, from https://globesmart.aperianglobal.com



Porter, M. (1996). What is strategy? Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/1996/11/what-is-strategy


Thomas, D., & Inkson, K. (2022). Cross-cultural management. SAGE Publications.


Warfield-Coppock, N. (1995). Toward a theory of Afrocentric organizations. Journal of Black Psychology, 21(1), 30–48.



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