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Agile Culture: Leaders Must Shift to Post-Heroic Approach Now

Published at

Wednesday, 3 July 2024

by Indre Graudinaite

Agile culture can change our business. Meanwhile, the latest "State of Agile Culture" report can change our perception of what it takes to see the change. A comprehensive work unveils how leadership styles influence agile culture, business agility, organizational resilience, and performance, especially in challenging economic times. It underscores the undeniable importance of adopting an agile philosophy and post-heroic leadership for ambitious businesses.


Yet the most intriguing part of this report is this perfect vision and reality contrasts: only 10% of leaders demonstrate post-heroic leadership qualities, and misalignment between C-level managers and delivery teams is frighteningly real. How can we enhance the growth that the agile culture provides if we can't agree amongst ourselves? Well, the report suggests a few solutions. Also, discover our take on modern agile culture in CENTRIC IT teams and products.


The Agile Transformation: A Move Beyond Debate?

A strong agile culture can increase commercial performance by 277%. It might be the most impressive number from the third annual "State of Agile Culture" report by JCURV, Truthsayers, and the Agile Business Consortium.


That’s just one of many documents proving that agile culture is about making various business teams and individuals more:


  • Productive

  • Adaptive

  • Flexible

  • Innovative

  • Resilient 


These and other qualities make businesses grow and earn more respect (and, of course, profit).


But now, in these times, dealing with complexity, uncertainty and sudden changes, it seems that agile culture has become an unquestionable condition for businesses to keep up with the pace.


Just think how many businesses made layoffs or cutbacks due to a challenging economy—this naturally raises a focus on how to adapt, change, and build resiliency when dealing with uncertainty in the market. The constantly changing economy clearly shows that business reaction and agility should reach the highest levels.


That's why we should look into this report and take its numbers seriously. Yes, we know an agile culture is about efficiency. But why does it simply not work or could work better in some cases?


A Snapshot of the third "State of Agile Culture Report" – Engaging Numbers to Kick Off

A bespoke survey centered on agile culture uses an interesting way of capturing feedback with IRT (implicit reaction times). With a neuroscience-based survey tool, organizers could avoid respondents' conscious bias. There were 1051 respondents from various fields (10% from the technology field).


The survey ran from 02/2023 to 06/2023. During those months, it explored what respondents instinctively think and feel rather than only gathering tick-box responses, and some intriguing numbers were found.


The main highlights:


  • Post-heroic leadership is highly correlated with a strong agile culture.

  • Post-heroic leaders are closely associated with organizations that can respond more quickly and effectively to market challenges and opportunities.

  • Only 10% of leaders demonstrate post-heroic leadership qualities.

  • 71% of employees do not believe their leaders are capable of responding to market changes.

  • 97% of C-suite members believe they role model agile behaviors, but only 2% of delivery team members agree.


Now, you, like us, probably have more questions than answers. 


No matter how confusing these results might seem, raising questions is already a good start. The main question is how to make the agile culture work at all company levels.


That's where we should look into the post-heroic leadership concept honestly and address actual differences between C-suite members' awareness and understanding of agile behaviors.


Post-Heroic Leadership – A Foundational Concept to Explore

An agile working culture is known to be shaped by a company's structure, leadership, and people, although how this works is not always readily understood. We usually talk about a team's agility and how the team can adapt to changes, react quickly, adopt new technologies, or solve technical (or business) problems. However, we usually remain quite silent on the actual impact of the highest leadership.

 

This report clearly shows that post-heroic leaders, if not yet, should become a new trend in every business during these uncertain times. By uncertain, we mean constantly changing and heavily depending on global events. 


The concept of post-heroic leadership first appeared in the book "Managing for Excellence" (written by David Bradford and Allan Cohen) as a counterweight to the shortcomings of traditional leadership. Primarily, unlike in many heroic leadership cases, post-heroic leaders celebrate:


  1. Collaborative Decision-Making: A collective input and shared decision-making, fostering a sense of ownership and empowerment among team members.

  2. Adaptability and Flexibility: Being more adaptable and responsive to change, encouraging innovation and agility (traditional heroic leadership can be rigid and resistant to new approaches).

  3. Focus on Team Development: Prioritizing mentoring and developing teams, creating a more sustainable and resilient organizational culture compared to the top-down, directive approach.

 

Involving and helping all levels of management master or at least enter post-heroic leadership behaviors would affect the entire spectrum of any organization.


The main problem here is a common misconception that everything is already known, tried, etc., and that people with extraordinary experience already show this behavior. In fact, as per survey results, only 10% of leaders demonstrate post-heroic leadership qualities.


So, how do we start a meaningful change?

 

Bridging the Gap Between C-Suite and Delivery Teams: Action Plan & Reverse Mentoring Idea

The "State of Agile Culture Report" survey shows real misalignment between C-level managers' self-awareness about their leadership and delivery team members. It also offers a solution to it.


Mind the Gap: Key Findings Highlight the Disconnect Between Executives and Teams

For example, while 97% of C-suite respondents believe they role model agile behaviors, just 2% of delivery team members agree. Yet there are more findings to consider:


  • 80% of C-suite members feel that leaders in their organization can adapt and pivot, while just 15% of senior leaders agree. 

  • 91% of C-suite members feel experimentation is encouraged, compared with 35% of delivery team members. 


When we have such misalignment, how can we expect our team members to buy into the ideas/focus of our C-level professionals? Not even to mention how we can achieve the best results if we are on different poles.


Do we think a heroic leadership approach of 'command and control' approach will help in these uncertain times? Survey data clearly says – no, this isn’t the way. 


On the other hand, post-heroic leaders, who foster working environments in which team members feel empowered and engaged and where they retain the accountability required of their role without inhibiting their team's potential, can respond more quickly and effectively to market challenges and opportunities. 


If we take this as the state we believe is necessary for successful agile culture implementation and then see the actual differences between C-suite members' awareness and understanding of agile behaviors, we will naturally have more questions than answers.

 

Addressing the Divide: Is Reverse Mentoring the Answer?

Seeing this survey numbers on a gap between C-suite and delivery teams, we should ask ourselves: 


Do we really believe we can thrive if we have significant gaps between C-suite level members and delivery teams? 


If not: 


What could we do or even experiment with within the organization? How much time, effort and investment will this require?


It requires self-awareness, and it would be better if it could be followed up with real data. It also requires a willingness to try new ways.


In the third annual "State of Agile Culture Report", they suggest an experiment for leaders. A 6-step experiment in a nutshell:


  1. Define your performance goal

  2. Identify a negative behavior and plan to change it

  3. Create a safe 30-day trial for the new behavior

  4. Review the results and reflect

  5. Decide on the next behavior to improve

  6. Consistently repeat the process for ongoing improvement


Despite this experiment, which suggests an agile culture mentality in problem-solving, maybe we should all start thinking about reverse mentoring as a must in companies.


Could there be a better post-heroic leadership gesture than celebrating the concept of younger or less experienced employees mentoring senior or more experienced executives?


  1. Seniors gain fresh perspectives on new technologies, trends, and workplace dynamics.

  2. Younger employees develop leadership skills and feel valued. 


It's a mutually beneficial approach that helps bridge gaps and fosters a more inclusive and innovative work environment.


These are just a few thoughts. This report, particularly the survey results, raises more questions than answers, but it definitely requires our attention.


The only way to celebrate agile culture perks is to build a safe environment for all levels of employees, providing everyone with the ability to experiment and think outside the box. Not to mention, everyone should have the same goal and intention to make the change a reality.


What about the agile culture at CENTRIC IT, you ask?


As a software development community, we advocate agile as a powerful productivity and organizational framework. We incorporate agile practices into our daily teamwork, custom software solutions, and other products our teams develop.


That's why we're always eager to question, improve, and delve deeper into the ever-evolving agile culture that brings progress and progresses alongside innovative businesses.


So, this time, instead of saying "to wrap up," we prefer "to be continued."


Let's return to this topic and discuss new reports and surveys shortly (hopefully reflecting conclusions drawn and more gaps bridged).


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