We keep reading about or listening to how uncertain the economies are (global and Indian), how the customer needs are evolving and how technology is progressing in leaps and bounds.
Is it so very surprising? Not really. Change is the only constant, if I may use the cliche, and things have undergone change all the time. The pace of change may have speeded up and that is the essence of it all. We need to keep up with the change, keep up with the changing expectations, keep learning and adapting, and so on.
We need to hence focus on building and sustaining organisational culture that drives speed, adaptability and results in the VUCA world today. (VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.)
Agility in this context refers to the speed with which an organisation can respond to changes in external and internal environment without losing on the strategic vision. It comprises designing and implementing processes, products and people practices that allows scalability, is attuned to the digital world and aligns with the ever-evolving needs of the customer.
Agile organisations are the ones that are progressive, not resting on past glories, and raring to set new benchmarks. Insurance as a sector has faced disruptions in the last decade as well. The customer were sold life insurance as a tax-saving product from their trusted friend or relative just some years ago, and now the customer prefers her own research, comparing products and understanding features to make an informed decision.
Life insurance is being bought now, instead of being sold as an obligation. What is expected from organisations is to not only cater to the current needs, but also anticipate the needs.
Agile is not simply a technology, but the way you work-if we contextualise it with the two project management techniques, we get more than a fair idea of what kind of culture we need to build to bring in agility. The waterfall or the traditional model of managing projects is what suggests that only when your entire project has followed its entire cycle of planning (analysis, design, testing), is when you can go ahead with deployment. The contemporary agile method, on the other hand, talks about working on all these aspects in parallel-as a continuous activity and not one exclusive of the other.
The same concept works when we talk of building a culture of agility. No organisation today can afford to work in a linear manner-an agile method helps you continually gather feedback, test the waters, adapt and improve as you move ahead in your project.
The quality improves on the go; we can see feedback getting incorporated as we build on to an idea and the project turns around way faster.
When we are agile, we evolve and experiment … and we don’t fear failure. What we do is understand when to fail fast and when to persevere for results. A culture of agility can be built by focusing on ability to move quickly, decisively and efficiently sensing the change in business environment.
- Encouraging experimentation as leaders, through processes, technology and sustaining innovation as a culture.
- Rewarding achievement of milestones and well-intentioned failures as well, so that we learn from them.
- Ensuring open and transparent communication across hierarchies of the organisation.
- Building feedback mechanism to involve employees in decisions of impact.
- Defining the right behaviours clearly and unambiguously to stimulate creativity, high-performance and ability to think futuristically. Encouraging focus on variety as opposed to complacency and comfort with routine.
- Creating opportunities to bring diverse groups of employees, customers and stakeholders closer so that approach is solution-oriented, and the thinking is outside-in.
We must ask ourselves just one question to know whether we are a disruptor or going to be disrupted in the changing world today. And that question is: Are we responding to the change as quick as possible or are we making the change happen and forcing the paradigms to shift with us? Only if we are a part of the latter, have we succeeded in building an agile organisation.
The author is chief people officer, Aegon Life Insurance