We are often challenged to be more agile, but what does ‘agility’ mean, and can we take a strategic approach to agility?
“We need to be more agile.” How often have you heard that call to action?
For communications professionals, agility is an expected part of the job specification. We react quickly to changing situations, thinking on our feet to delicately balance competing demands yet remaining focused on delivering for our stakeholders.
But can you take a strategic approach and train agility? Can we identify and then consciously invest in the building blocks of an agile approach, or when we say ‘agile’ do we actually mean ‘able to manage the work of two people and not fall over’?
And for the record, in this context I mean agile defined as: able to react to a stimulus. I don’t mean the project management process known as Agile.
So, to think about agility as a strategic approach, we need to understand what the building blocks of agility are and whether there are specific actions we can take to build our capability and capacity to be agile.
Agility in decision making
1. Environmental scanning
You can’t respond to something if you can’t see or hear it coming! Being aware of incoming signals from your working environment is fundamental to agility. The Internal Communications team needs to have clear insight on developing issues, emerging opportunities, potential risks and the changing mood of people across the organisation.
Review your intelligence network and make sure you have the angles covered!
2. Pattern recognition
If experience teaches you anything, it’s the ability to spot a pattern of behaviour that is likely to result in a particular outcome. Making sense of your environmental data relies on your ability to process it and see the red flags. Humans are pattern recognition machines, but we are machines with flaws. Our biases can blind us to things we ought to be seeing. Sharing data with others and cross-checking can be hugely helpful. Asking the question ‘what do you make of this?’ can help us counteract our individual biases and get to an effective response faster.
Proper planning prevents (cough) poor performance. Work through scenarios and practise your response. Think about which communications challenges might arise and plan as a team how you would tackle this. Building a body of practice will help you respond more quickly when the moment demands it.
4. Knowledge of the situation
Seeing the issue, anticipating the problem or spotting the pattern emerging is one thing. Knowing how to react is another.
For those of us who have been in the industry for a long time, our knowledge is often built on painful experience. While the scars of past campaigns may look cool around the conference drinks reception, learning this way doesn’t necessarily make for agility.
Instead, spend time understanding how others have tackled issues. Keep abreast of case studies and examples you can draw upon to stay one step ahead. It’s important to understand the experience of your team, as well as that of agencies, professional bodies and others to help you react quickly to emerging situations.
Acting with agility
Once we’ve spotted the issues, we then need to turn thought into action, and that needs a different set of skills.
1. Clarity of direction and speed
‘Agile’ can become shorthand for ‘chaotic’. Strategically managed agility means rapidly focusing on a new direction and moving with speed, not just spinning around from thing to thing.
Yes, we can be hit with a multitude of issues, but being agile effectively means setting a clear direction and equipping ourselves and others to move quickly.
2. Systems and tools
Would that we were all blessed with perfect channels. But, we aren’t, so we have to be aware of what we can do with the tools we have. Being clear on what can and cannot be done with channels, tools and other systems helps us be more agile because we understand how far we can push something. If we know what capabilities we can bring to bear, we can respond far more quickly to fresh demands.
This is not the time to be learning the opportunities and limitations of your CMS. Find out what the capabilities are, or make sure you have a trusted advisor who can give you an honest picture.
3. Support and leadership agility
Agility is easier to achieve if you trust the team around you and are trusted by others. Doubt is a killer, and while we all have moments where we doubt our analysis or choices, being able to support your team confidently while receiving trust from leadership is vital.
This is where long-term stakeholder relationship building pays dividends. Being the trusted advisor allows the room to be more agile. Always having to earn the trust of others before you act undermines your ability to react and limits how agile you can truly be.
Or to put it another way, it’s easier to switch direction when you know you have the support of those around you. Heading off into a strange new land alone may be exhilarating for some, but it’s also risky and lonely.
So, take time to think about your approach to agility and whether you can honestly say you are acting with agility, or if you’re just spinning more plates than is really necessary.
If you would like to discuss in more detail how we can help you with internal networks, environmental scanning, building trust with stakeholders or improving systems and tools, why not drop us an email and we can share more.