Creating a culture where creativity can thrive and innovation is rewarded is a great way to keep your people motivated, interested and engaged.
Businesses are getting ever cleverer in encouraging watercooler moments and strengthening team bonds, whether that’s investing in research to understand the psychology of office layouts, or intranet-based technology to make sure mobile workers never feel isolated, or upping the social events budget.
But giving people room to generate great ideas is just the beginning. How do already creative businesses make sure these ideas see the light of day?
The short answer is by adopting a working method that truly supports the execution.
Agile working is one such method. Popularised by tech companies developing software, agile is all about working fluidly and reacting to change as it comes – and sometimes anticipating it – rather than being stuck within the confines of a rigid, pre-agreed strategy to which people unquestioningly adhere.
Research by The Agile Future Forum, a not-for-profit alliance of UK businesses, found agile working practices are currently generating value equivalent to three per cent to 13 per cent of workforce cost.
It requires a significant cultural change, to one of autonomy and empowerment supported by teamwork, and enabled by flexible and virtual working practices.
There is structure. For example, at Claromentis we have periodical strategy meetings, but the emphasis of these meetings is to tweak or adapt the existing programme in response to external or internal demands, and to assign tasks. Those with an aversion to hot air will be happy to hear that talking ethereally is banned - these meetings are all about creating actions.
Millennials love agile
For businesses looking to win over millennials, agile translates well because it offers flexibility and responsibility, and signals that the employer trusts its staff. Everyone gets the freedom to help drive decisions, and the chance to shine, but that comes with the safety net of the combined experience and democracy of a team. No one’s the fall guy.
Deloitte’s Millennial Survey 2017 states that flexible working arrangements are “not simply nice to have” but are “strongly linked to improved performance and employee retention.” In short, it breeds loyalty.
The report states: “In highly flexible working environments, the difference between those who see themselves leaving within two years (35 per cent) is just two points above those anticipating to stay beyond five years (33 per cent) - among those in the least-flexible organisations, there is an 18 point gap (45 per cent versus 27 per cent).”
This corroborates with a 2017 survey of 3,000 UK adults by Timewise, which found that nine in 10 employees dislike the strict nine-to-five working day. It also revealed that 92 per cent of working 18-34 year olds wanted flexible hours, compared to 88 per cent of 35-54 year olds and 72 per cent of those aged 55+.
So what can go wrong?
Agile is part of a big picture. Making operations more flexible, virtual, autonomous, empowering and democratic will be popular with employees, but these are not simply employee benefits. This is a powerful business strategy that will benefit staff, customers and the bottom line.
As former chairman of Lloyds Banking Group, Sir Winfried Bischoff, writing for the Agile Future Forum, puts it: “Historically, workforce agility (or flexibility as it is more commonly known) has largely been positioned as an employee benefit, part of the employee value proposition, rather than a way for companies to meet their strategic business goals in a challenging business environment. That needs to change – this can be about benefits to businesses, as well as employees.”
Another common problem is that agile teams can easily end up prioritising the wrong things. Knowing when to react to change or demand, and when to leave it and carry on with the existing plan, can be tough to call.
The solution is to decide what to prioritise as collectively and democratically as possible, as well as how much work a team can take on.
The agile working method is already helping companies that have created environments that help people to think distinctly and creatively to act differently and empower them to create their own solutions.