"Agile is eating the world" is how Forbes journalist Steve Denning presents the advent of a radical change in business processes and a new approach to leadership. His article leaves no room for doubt: a different way of understanding organisations and their processes is emerging, and with it comes the rise of agile leadership. How can this abstract concept be defined in a few words, you ask? Adaptability, flexibility and an ability to dynamically shape a company based on market and consumer characteristics. "Agility" is not a static dogma, but rather a process, a brand-new attitude and a cultural shift. "[Agile Leadership] is beyond the capabilities of the lumbering industrial giants of the 20th century," Denning explains.
The era of rigid organisations is over: they are making way for leaner companies capable of responding more quickly to the stream of ever-changing market needs. This change calls into question the theoretical principles of traditional management, and particularly the stability of "old" processes and hierarchies.
Currently, there are two competing organisational doctrines: agile models and traditional models. Agility espouses strategies aimed at efficiency, effectiveness and speed by introducing changes that affect company structure, corporate governance systems and processes. This structure employs a network model, which enables fluid collaboration and effortless flow of information through all organisational levels.
The traditional model, however, is rigorous, stable, and hierarchical. This model is shaped like a pyramid, with decision making and power consolidated at the highest levels of top management. Here, communication flows vertically with very little in the way of dialogue or feedback. This structure is a far cry from the agile model, where coordination is vital, relationships take precedence over hierarchy, and interconnection is an asset.
The concept of agile leadership is an opportunity that presented itself gradually through the advances of digital collaboration tools. These tools and the opportunities they present are at the core of the agile business model, even concerning everyday business. For example, they offer the possibility of working remotely while sharing and managing documents and minutes efficiently. Despite having tools that facilitate a smart approach to collaboration and communication at hand, meetings remain a constant headache for leaders. It thus seems that we are failing to unleash the full potential of digitalisation. Why?
Despite the business world's gradual incorporation of collaborative tools, too many organisations still rely on an antiquated culture limited by traditional leadership. In other words, we have new tools, but our behaviour has not changed - a colossal waste of resources.
In Italy, for example, the delay in digital transformation is becoming a real emergency. According to a survey by Randstad Workmonitor, seven out of ten professionals perceive their company's digitalisation efforts as wholly inadequate. The Statistical Observatory of Labour Consultants confirms a low degree of digital adoption in Italian companies, even five years after the launch of the "Italian Digital Agenda", a government initiative for Italy to catch up with its European neighbours. In spite of having access to substantial funds for research, innovation and ICT, Italy remains at the bottom of the list of EU countries!
The willingness to invest in digital tools has been lacking, with only 12% of funds allocated to that end. On the other hand, the survey also reveals that 90% of professionals consider digital transformation a necessity - a beacon of hope for Italy? As digital transformation awareness increases, signs of a corporate culture shift are emerging. It is thus expected that Italian companies continue their adoption of agile solutions to improve business processes and governance.
Companies around the world have called for radical change after acknowledging that the traditional approach to business meetings is inefficient. As reported by The Guardian, the average UK corporate employee spends nearly 15 hours a week in meetings and meeting time for managers rose to 23 hours per week, at the cost of £191 billion a year. Forbes reports that, in Europe, the estimated yearly cost of unproductive meetings has reached 32 billion EUR. This phenomenon is known as "meeting madness", a term referred to by Sole 24 Ore, a prestigious Italian economic newspaper, that describes a situation consisting of too many time-consuming meetings with too many involved parties.
According to the Harvard Business Review, 83% of leaders perceive meeting management as a "time killer", mainly due to the aforementioned "meeting madness". Another source reveals that business leaders spend 70% of their time in meetings. However, a large part of this time is wasted on activities that do not add value, like moving from one meeting to another, thus compromising business productivity. This enormous waste is due to a cultural inability to stray from a conventional approach to meetings, we have updated our tools, and now we have to update our processes.
Given that time is our most valuable resource, leaders need to rethink their approach to meetings. An agile meeting framework, along with the right digital tools, streamlines processes. It enables participants to prepare and take decisions beforehand, which in turn reduces agenda items and fosters a quick, participatory process. A Capgemini and MIT study confirms that companies which connect technological innovation to smart leadership perform better than the ones who do not. In the end, agile leadership and digital transformation are a winning partnership that boosts organisational efficiency, starting with leadership meetings.