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Be #Agile or Be at Risk

If online learning wasn’t a strategic imperative before Coronavirus, it has become one more or less overnight

12th May 2020, FE News

Avado CEO, Mark Creighton spoke with FE News on how Avado is remaining agile in such uncertain times.

Agility has always been an important mindset but we now find ourselves in the position where it is a matter of extreme urgency and relevance. For example, if online learning wasn’t seen as a strategic imperative before Coronavirus, it certainly has become one more or less overnight and is now a defining quality of companies adapting to survive.

What’s important to keep top of mind amidst all the chaos is that as an industry, we remain people focused, from tutors and product designers to the learners themselves. A people first mentality needs to be the centre of any changes to a business model right now.

Learning experiences can help people grow and develop to achieve goals that result in professional development and career progression. When thinking about business strategy this also applies. We need to think about how we can learn and adapt in this new environment, because if you stay on the current path and don’t change, then your risk falling behind or worse, losing relevance.

This means asking ourselves honestly what is and isn’t working. Making informed decisions, monitoring, and pivoting if necessary.

We recently held a webinar on this exact topic with Neil Perkin speaking as an agility expert and the key tips I took away and would urge others to consider are:

1. Practice clear ‘waterfall’ communications in a learn-fast environment

The current business climate is fluid and fast-changing. You only have to look at the new agenda – it’s different every day. The same change can happen as quick, if not quicker, in a business. What you thought was the right move yesterday may no longer be the best decision today.

This means building and practising ‘waterfall’ principles in a learn-fast environment to help you and your team adapt and maintain relevance. In a time of uncertainty, having clear top-down communication can create stability, structure, and purpose for the wider business.

2. Encourage multi-disciplinary teams

When faced with roadblocks and new challenges, a multi-disciplinary team can come up with ideas that otherwise would have taken time or external input to recognise.

Equally, encouraging teams to take this time now to identify areas of professional development that could help them thrive or succeed will give your teams an edge.

3. Invite questions and encourage curiosity

Good leadership is about inviting questions. Agility is often as much a question of culture as of leadership—if everyone feels empowered to make suggestions, new ideas are more likely to come to the surface, and a change of tack will not only be faster but easier too. Organisations that have an open culture of curiosity and empathy will generate more good ideas from all employees.

It’s equally important that employees at all levels feel they have the opportunity, and the right, to ask questions—think of it as a test; if you can get it past everyone on your team, or even in your organisation, and answer all of their questions, you’re less likely to discover a fatal flaw later on. On the flip side, every good leader should know and understand their teams’ concerns or challenges. Failure to ask or understand how other people are handling a situation will only create blind spots.

4. Ask for questions and encourage learning from mistakes

Empowerment can work wonders. A team who are enabled to work flexibly, and who know their needs and opinions are valued and that no idea is a bad idea, are more likely to speak up if they spot a problem or spot an opportunity. This means inviting everyone at all levels to be willing and open to learning from previous mistakes but also explore where they could have avoided the outcome.

It can often be a simple question of knowing about how a mistake occurred and empowering people to speak up and share. In other occurrences, it may mean taking a moment to assess and execute a plan immediately, so that you can pivot quickly.

5. Use data to drive decision making

For a company to be agile, it’s important to have the right technology in place first and foremost. In today’s day and age, this means having a data culture that sits at the heart of decision making. Having a data culture relies on identifying what data is accessible, effectively managing it, and empowering your teams to use it effectively. Only then can you use clean (or relevant) data to drive strategic choices.

Making fact-based decisions, however, requires knowing what good data looks like and which untrusted data reports to disregard. Don’t hesitate to use the time to develop and upskill your staff to learn how to distinguish what information is accurate in informing strategic decisions rather than relying solely on gut instinct.

An agile mindset can be a force for positive change, even in the most challenging circumstances. It’s not always easy but it is much easier than the alternative— which is to find yourself stuck doing things ‘the old way’ in a world which has forever changed.