Not long ago I posted a series of myths and realities about Agile on my LinkedIn account. While many in the business world talk about Agile ways of working, how accurate is the information we think we know? Are you confusing an Agile myth with reality? In June, I shared an article on the Agile Mindset and what a person needs to truly be agile. I would like to follow up by sharing my top 6 Agile myths:
agile myths debunked
 

MYTH #1: AGILE IS A SET OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT FRAMEWORKS

REALITY: Agile is primarily a culture, a way of thinking and acting.

  • The biggest and most common mistake and the reason that many fail at implementing Agile in organizations comes from focusing on the DOING Agile without working on the BEING Agile.
  • Implementing Scrum, Design Thinking, Hackathons, Lean, Kanban and other Agile frameworks will not be sufficient to be Agile.

 

MYTH #2: LEADERS ARE NOT NEEDED IN AGILE

REALITY: True…and false.

  • Agile needs leaders, but not where they might usually spend their time and energy.
  • Their role is to drive and foster the appropriate ecosystem and culture. They must genuinely inspire themselves first and then their people with a compelling Purpose, Vision, and Strategy that can guide decisions and actions. This is not a minor role. An Agile organization could not exist without these leaders.
  • In Agile, coaching leaders to empower their people by decentralizing decisions, control, and accountability to the point closest to action.
  • To put it in other terms, leaders move from the pilot seat to the co-pilot one.
  • Top management is often unconsciously the main barrier or intentionally the key enabler of BEING Agile more than being directly involved in Agile projects.

 

Myth #3: AGILE IS BETTER AND FASTER. Its role is to increase the speed of decisions and actions.

REALITY: Speed of decision and action is part of a predefined daily and weekly planning but is not a goal. Value delivery to customers comes before timing.
 

Myth #4: AGILE IS ABOUT PRODUCING MORE, QUICKER, AND CHEAPER

REALITY: Big mistake. Agile optimizes value delivery and customer satisfaction first, not just productivity and efficiency.
 

Myth #5: AGILE IS PERMANENT INSTABILITY MANAGEMENT

REALITY: Agile’s pre-defined cadence and framework are highly predictable. You know in real-time how the team is tracking against objectives with daily baby steps, one at a time, with clear objectives. This approach makes manageable permanent changes and instability with iterative adaptations, learning and improving from mistakes/successes with clear metrics from customer feedback.
 

Myth #6:  WE DON’T NEED AGILE COACHES. Agile Coach = Scrum Master

REALITY: Agile is about people before processes and the Agile Coach is here to help the team adopt effective mindsets and behaviors individually and as a team: Agile is a way of thinking, acting, and interacting.

  • The functions of a Scrum Master are to carry out all those projects that use a Scrum methodology from the elaboration of the product backlog, sprint backlog, the sprint itself, and the burndown of the tasks carried out and everything that remains pending.

 

Conclusion

Agile does not have to be a buzzword. It is what you need it to be. don’t copy/paste what others do. Find what works in your organization. BE the agility you want to see in your organization: Agile is not a destination it is a mindset and a way of working together.

The first 100 days of any CEO are usually a watershed moment for the new incumbent, the leadership team, and the company. In this article, first in a series of three, we lay out what we believe makes a clear roadmap to success. We have accompanied numerous executive committees through this new leadership team journey. Their powerful testimonials about its contribution to achieving extraordinary business results, improving team cohesiveness, and growing as individual leaders, inspired us to share the approach more broadly for others who may benefit from the lessons learned.
This unique journey is like a climbing voyage, with all eyes on the summit. However, the climb starts at base camp, that meeting place where we begin the expedition and prepare for a daring feat. Here is where we encourage them to discuss crucial questions in a metaphorical fireside chat:
▶️ To whom are we roped? new leadership team journey
▶️ What are we climbing for?
▶️ What unnecessary weight can we leave at the foot of the mountain?
▶️ What will we hang on to when things go awry?
The answers to these questions set up the expedition for success. But before they start, the team needs to carefully choose what they will take in their backpacks and what to leave behind. So load doesn’t turn to burden, each member of the team needs to ask themselves the following:
▶️ What skill sets can I contribute to this expedition?
▶️ Which abilities should I acquire or enhance?
▶️ What baggage am I carrying that can become a liability?
▶️ Which frameworks, experiences, and techniques can be helpful?
Once the leader’s backpack is ready, it is vital to help the team get their own ready as well. This may be the moment to consider finding trustworthy guides to lighten the load and get well equipped for the climb. At Axialent, you will find seasoned ‘Sherpas’ for journeys like this, who ascend alongside each individual participant and equip them with the necessary tools that will help them identify their own assets and liabilities as climbers.
 

Then they are ready to climb!

At Axialent, we’ve increasingly set out to reach the leadership team summit in five stages, inspired by the work of Patrick Lencioni on cohesive teams:

  1. We always begin with trust. Without it, the way forward will be overly cumbersome. Building trust will help us every step of the way.
  2. When there is trust, we can deal with conflict constructively. We see conflict on a spectrum, where both extremes (denying conflict out of avoidance, to downright explosion) are unhealthy.
  3. A team that manages conflict constructively can truly commit. Authentic commitments require a clear request, an equally explicit acceptance of the request, and all team members’ buy-in.
  4. Practicing accountability is the next stage. The team embraces it to ensure their commitments are honored, even (or especially) when they cannot fulfill them.
  5. The expedition reaches the peak when it can focus on its collective results rather than the individual goals of its members.

 

Two tracks across the five stages of the leadership team journey

We like to say that we climb these stages with the CEO and their team following two distinct, yet interwoven paths: the individual and the collective tracks. Each leader works individually with a personal coach (who we called Sherpa above) on their development goals. In the collective track, the leadership group participates in team coaching to work on their dynamics and interactions as a group. These collective sessions are often co-facilitated by the different Sherpas assigned to the various members of the team to allow for diverse vantage points for richer observation and broader context.
We approach each of the five stages based on the following premise: as experts, we reserve the professional judgment to draw on the frameworks, distinctions, and techniques that will build the skills and capability that each team requires at a given point in time. How do we know? By running individual and group diagnostics upfront and at the end of each journey. This provides rich context to draw on, thus shaping the content to fit this particular team like no other.
At Axialent, one of our deeply held principles is believing in context before content. We go one step further. We also believe in connection before context. Therefore, when we accompany a leadership team in their first 100 days to the summit, we make it a point to start with a virtual coffee where each expedition member meets and greets the Sherpa who will be ‘climbing’ with them.
In the next couple of weeks, we will share the next article of this series, where we explain what happens at the peak and how the new CEO can tackle the leadership team’s safe descent back to base camp. Stay tuned for the Next 100 Days of a new CEO!

Making the decision to become Agile is not an easy one. It requires getting your people out of their comfort zones. You have to ask yourself if you REALLY want to work on it. To do things that differently? To get your people and organization out of their comfort and stable zones while already dealing with so many other challenges? If the answer is yes, one of the key things you will need moving forward is to adopt the Agile mindset.
There are two notions of Agile: The Organization/Team and the personal/individual. In each, there are two dimensions: DOING Agile (use of tools/framework) and BEING Agile (mindsets & behaviors). They are all closely embedded, but first, it’s important to embrace an Agile mindset and way of thinking.
 

What is an Agile mindset?

  • The Agile MindsetIt is about PROACTIVELY CREATING change in uncertain and disruptive environments. Different from resilience, it is about REACTIVELY RESPONDING to change in a constructive way.
  • It is about analyzing how to understand what’s going on, identifying what uncertainty you are or will be facing, and figuring out how to create new opportunities as you go along.
  • Rather than merely responding to change, Agile employees anticipate the future and proactively create change.
  • Organizational agility is the capacity to spot and exploit opportunities in fast-changing environments.
  • Research shows that employees who create change are 43% more effective than employees who merely respond to change. They also have greater career satisfaction and an enhanced sense of personal power and influence.

So, how do you adopt an Agile mindset? Here are some concrete examples of how to become an Agile thinker every day:

  • Become aware of your thinking patterns.
  • Choose to shift your thinking patterns…yes, this is possible!
  • Regularly take the time to just stop doing and think.
  • Adopt the Victim vs Player and the Knower vs Learner
  • Essentialism: Cut through unnecessary thinking/work and focus on essential things (don’t waste what you learned from the current crisis about focus).
  • Remain calm under stress and pressure…Easier said than done? The more you practice this, the easier it will be.
  • Move away from any tendency to use a Command & Control leadership style and adopt the Coaching Leadership strategy. Delegate decisions and control to the closest point of action. Foster collective intelligence and empowerment with accountability and purpose. Make impeccable requests, which demand impeccable commitments.
  • Practice authentic communication skills and techniques. Speak your truth and allow your people to do so as well by creating a psychologically safe environment.
  • Accepting change is not comfortable but it is safe.
  • Think customer and outcome.

 

Being Agile

There are many reasons why a company might want to invest in Agile. They may want to be a more efficient learning organization that quickly and effectively adapts to change, as well as generates new opportunities in a VUCA World. It may stem from a need to support “Customer Centricity” as a part of the core business strategy or culture. Or perhaps they want to make their people stronger and more comfortable with change and uncertainty with minimum stress and maximum efficiency for their mental and physical energy/health.
Whatever the reason, adopting an Agile mindset is a key part of setting out on the Agile journey. BE the agility you want to see in your organization. Agile is not a destination, it is a mindset and a way of working together.

“Decision making is an art only until the person understands the science.”
―Pearl Zhu, Decision Master: The Art and Science of Decision Making

The average adult makes about 35,000 conscious decisions daily (Sahakian & LaBuzetta, 2013). Considering the amount of time we spend on this, have you ever stopped to think how you could be more effective at making conscious decisions? Even the time of day we make a decision can affect the outcome. So, what is the best time and moment to make important decisions?
Let’s consider an excerpt from a study published in 2011, on how the time of day influences our decision-making ability.
 

Decision Making and Time of Day

 

“Three men doing time in Israeli prisons recently appeared before a parole board consisting of a judge, a criminologist and a social worker. The three prisoners had completed at least two-thirds of their sentences, but the parole board granted freedom to only one of them. Guess which one:

    • Case 1 (heard at 8:50 a.m.): An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud.
    • Case 2 (heard at 3:10 p.m.): A Jewish Israeli serving a 16-month sentence for assault.
    • Case 3 (heard at 4:25 p.m.): An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud.

There was a pattern to the parole board’s decisions, but it wasn’t related to the men’s ethnic backgrounds, crimes or sentences. It was all about timing, as researchers discovered by analyzing more than 1,100 decisions over the course of a year. Judges, who would hear the prisoners’ appeals and then get advice from the other members of the board, approved parole in about a third of the cases, but the probability of being paroled fluctuated wildly throughout the day. Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70 percent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10 percent of the time.

The odds favored the prisoner who appeared at 8:50 a.m. — and he did in fact receive parole. But even though the other Arab Israeli prisoner was serving the same sentence for the same crime — fraud — the odds were against him when he appeared (on a different day) at 4:25 in the afternoon. He was denied parole, as was the Jewish Israeli prisoner at 3:10 p.m, whose sentence was shorter than that of the man who was released. They were just asking for parole at the wrong time of day.”

 

Making Effective Conscious Decisions

 
Our decisions are influenced by external circumstances and the effect these have on us personally.
Making Effective Conscious Decisions
The time of the day is a big one! How rested or tired, how hungry, stressed and/or rushed we are at that time, among other things, are crucial conditions to keep in mind when wanting to make more effective decisions.
Here are my main takeaways about making effective conscious decisions based on different cases, studies, and science:

  • The mental work we do over the course of a day wears down people’s decision-making capacity.
  • As our energy is depleted, the brain will look for shortcuts. One shortcut is to make more impulsive decisions, the other is to postpone decisions. Which do you think is the more effective route?
  • These experiments demonstrated that there is a finite store of mental energy for exerting self-control. That’s why it’s harder to resist temptations at the end of the day.
  • Part of the resistance against making decisions comes from our fear of giving up options. The word “decide” shares an etymological root with “homicide,” the Latin word “caedere,” meaning “to cut down” or “to kill,” and that loss looms especially large when decision fatigue sets in.
  • Once you’re mentally depleted, you become reluctant to make trade-offs, which involve a particularly advanced and taxing form of decision-making.
  • Glucose level influences decision-making. Do not make decisions on an empty stomach.

So, what does this all mean for making effective conscious decisions? We may not always be able to control the external factors influencing us, but by being aware of them, we can choose to postpone important decisions or take care of ourselves in a better way to make them more effective.
 

If you would like to know more about effective decision making, meetings, and commitments, check out my webinar, Making things happen: improving the way we make decisions.

 
Sources used in this article: Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? and “Extraneous factors in judicial decisions” by Shai Danziger, Jonathan Levav, and Liora Avnaim-Pesso

Based on our experience at Axialent, culture is the greatest lever to achieve sustainable business results. Undoubtedly, the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has had most companies in “survival” mode. As we navigate into the new normal, knowing how to “maintain” or manage culture amidst workplace disruption is one of the top issues on business agendas (and in leaders’ minds). However, this is not a new concern; many of our clients have approached us at different turning points, seeking a partnership to preserve the leadership qualities that made them unique or to reconnect with cultural traits that were key to their business success.
Understanding how culture can be leveraged to boost organizational performance is the single and most important reason to manage culture. For many of those companies who have been successful in doing so until now, the current virtual context is a game changer.
To help companies and leaders address these concerns, we first need to clarify what culture is and how it can (and we strongly suggest must!) be consciously managed… before it manages you!
 
Conscious Culture Amidst Workplace Disruption - image representing company DNA

Culture Is Like DNA

 
A company’s culture is like its DNA. Culture can be better positioned (or not) to successfully execute the business strategy, achieve its goals and fulfill its mission.
At Axialent, we describe culture as the set of expectations people hold about “the way we do things around here”. A collective mindset. The unwritten code of what it takes for “one” to become “one of us”. This develops from the verbal and non-verbal messages that members receive about what is valued and how they are expected to behave. Leadership behaviors and decisions most vividly role model these messages.
 

Conscious Culture 101

The first step in consciously managing culture is to understand your culture. In our experience, an in-depth culture diagnostic combining qualitative and quantitative tools is most precise. The second step is then to gain clarity on what you want it to be. It would be easy to say that consciously managing culture equals consciously managing the messages that create these expectations. This is only partly true. Changing (or maintaining) culture is like changing your DNA and it must occur from the inside out. No external factor will drive sustainable change. To change culture, you need to address the values, mindsets and beliefs that people hold, as well as the messaging.
This is why the focus of our work on culture is on short impactful interventions with a strong long-term backbone. We highlight the direct link to mindsets and how these impact behavior and collective assumptions. We work team by team to establish widespread high-performance habits across the organization. The image below illustrates our approach:
Conscious Culture amidst Workplace Disruption - illustration of Axialent's approach to organizational culture transformation
 

Remote Culture Leadership & Beyond

Remote environments require a different approach to culture design. Many culture defining messages have some sort of material correlation in the physical world such as in-person strategic planning and goal setting meetings; visual symbols such as office layout or parking space or informal, water-cooler type conversations with leaders. A far more conscious approach is needed to nurture culture when there is a lack of in-person connection, and this is even more critical amidst workplace disruption.
Leaders and organizations must find new ways of making culture evident to their employees. Intentional efforts to connect with people and to really understand their needs and concerns must be made. Practicing compassion with people and taking it to the next level is of utmost importance. Embracing vulnerability in each person and being humble enough to let yours emerge too. This is where true connection resides.
 

What is the Role of Purpose? Conscious Culture amidst workplace disruption

A company’s purpose is the reason for its existence; the dream and the “why” that offers meaning to its endeavors. Maintaining your company culture as we navigate into the new normal requires companies to help people remember the reasons for which they exist.
Let’s explore a few examples. If you live in Latin America you probably know Mercado Libre; it is the most valuable company in the region (Forbes Magazine, August 2020). Its purpose is to “democratize commerce and money in LATAM”. Some of the actions they have initiated during the pandemic to support the communities in which they operate are: changing their logo (from a hand-shake to an elbow-bump) to raise awareness of the importance of social distancing; they stopped charging commissions on sales of essential goods such as diapers, cleaning supplies and non-perishable food; they postponed the dates for interest and repayments of over two million loans and finally, they took over those employees facing redundancy from food industry organisations such as McDonald’s, Starbucks and Burger King.
In another example, the global logistics firm UPS is working to strengthen supply chains, so life-saving vaccines reach isolated communities around the world. The company has ramped up work with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance by committing $3 million in new funding over two years. UPS’s mission statement is “Grow our global business by serving the logistics needs of customers, offering excellence and value in all that we do. (…) Lead by example as a responsible, caring, and sustainable company making a difference in the communities we serve”. Similarly, the major global port operator in the UAE, Gulftainer, has launched a fast-track service to speed up the delivery of medical equipment. Its vision is to “consistently achieve best-in-class performance in all our port operations and third-party logistics activities worldwide”.
 

Conscious Culture Amidst Workplace Disruption

Re-engaging people with the purpose and the values your company holds is one of the most important responsibilities in leadership and it’s not an easy one, or one every leader can meet.
I love Fred Kofman’s definition of leadership. In his book The Meaning Revolution, Fred says “leadership is about getting what can’t be taken and deserving what is freely given. The followers’ internal commitment cannot be extracted by rewards or punishments. It can be inspired only through a belief that giving their best to the enterprise will enhance their lives”.  If you hope to be an inspiring leader who is able to sustain and reinforce your company culture, the first thing you must understand is that “hearts and minds cannot be bought or forced; they can only be deserved and earned. They are given only to worthy missions and trustworthy leaders. This applies not only to organizations but also to many other domains of human activity”.
Here are a some top tips to managing culture effectively:

  1. Communicate actively and visibly your company purpose (your “why”).
  2. Seize opportunities to model your company values.
  3. Prioritize health (physical and mental) and wellness and help employees do the same.
  4. Connect daily with employees and promote virtual interactions, making sure communication is a two-way process.
  5. Continue to develop leaders through coaching and make sure they are modeling empathy to employees.
  6. Publicly recognize those who model your desired culture and continue to hold people to account for performance.
  7. Harness organizational and leadership adaptability (the ability to innovate, experiment, and quickly take advantage of new opportunities) and remain open to the unknown.

 
Click here to schedule a 30 minute call with one of our experts to learn more about this topic.

Culture in service of business strategy. Image showing a fish swimming in water, the water representing the culture of an organization (when you are in it you don't see it)

 

Goals and Purpose

“Become the number one or number two player in our industry.” “Grow more than our competitor in the next 12 months.” These are both valid statements of a goal for an organization and what comes next is identifying the “how” or the strategies that you believe will take you there. What could be wrong with this process? Let me elaborate.
Throughout my years of helping leaders around the world, I have found very different reasons as to why entrepreneurs start companies. For example, Disney was founded “To use our imagination to bring happiness to millions”. Google aims “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. LinkedIn aspires “To create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce”. Mercado Libre, “To democratize commerce and money in Latin America.”
These statements are the original dreams of the founders of these organizations, dreams that these successful companies were able to actualize. They set out to change the world, to transform  it into a better place. This served, and continues to serve, as an aspiration and inspiration for others to follow and to give their vital energy to the enterprise.
 

Strategy and Execution

Fred Kofman writes in The Meaning Revolution that being part of a venture that is bigger than ourselves, will transcend us and can become our “immortality project.” Fred says “I believe the most deep-seated, unspoken, and universal anxiety in all of us is the fear that our life is being wasted. That death will surprise us when our song is still unsung. We worry not just about our physical death, but also, perhaps more significantly, our symbolic one. We are afraid that our lives won’t matter, that we won’t have made a difference, that we will leave no trace in this world after we are gone.”
This is critically important. However, it is also paramount to identify the strategies that will help you achieve your goals and to actualize your purpose. This is the “how” of the enterprise. Once we know where we want to go, deciding the way to take us there will provide the blueprint for a successful journey. What will actually change the state of things is effective execution. It is here that many strategies falter. People perhaps won’t accept accountability or do what they promised to do. They may not collaborate with their colleagues or will engage in ego driven turf wars to prove “I am right, and you are wrong.” Strategies often fail not because they are poorly designed, but because they are poorly executed.
 

Culture In Service Of Business Strategy

I have discovered throughout my years as a consultant that culture is the binding element that connects all these aspects; purpose, goals, strategy and successful execution. The right culture can be an incredible asset for actualizing purpose, while the wrong culture can become an insurmountable obstacle.
I believe that these fundamental elements, actioned at the service of the purpose and done repeatedly, will change the world. They will transform it into a more conscious, loving, compassionate and wiser world; a place where people can pursue their dreams of helping themselves, others and the planet.
Axialent has been helping companies globally for 17 years to build cultures that support business strategy execution. In this live webinar, I interviewed Pedro Arnt, CFO, on how Mercado Libre (MELI) has built and leveraged an effective culture to achieve the incredible growth and success of the organization.
 
Click here to schedule a 30 minute call with one of our experts to learn more about this topic.

Our world is changing faster than ever and with those changes, we need to learn to adapt quickly and intelligently.  Scenario planning 2.0, as my colleague Fran Cherny describes it in his recent webinar, is all about how fast we can read, listen, and integrate new information and adjust our plans quickly. But what exactly is the role of scenario planning 2.0 in execution excellence?

The role of scenario planning 2.0 in execution excellence

 
The Role of Scenario Planning 2.0 in Execution Excellence: Two people planning for the future
Ongoing reviews and adjustments are an essential part of execution and that’s where applying scenario planning 2.0 is most effective. To do so, we must first slow down enough to be able to smoothly read, listen, and integrate new information. Only then will we able to rapidly respond and adjust execution moving forward.
Traditional scenario planning is a crucial part of strategy and business planning. It helps us consider different options and possibilities, depending on the marketplace’s current situation. Traditional scenario planning is part of good business planning; key to a company’s plan to operationalize its strategy. However, scenario planning 2.0 is different. Learning how to implement it is an important skill that any great leader needs to practice in the pursuit of execution excellence during times of fast change and uncertainly.
Axialent’s approach to execution includes developing an execution infrastructure, as well as managing the ongoing implementation of work. Part five of the model below shows how execution is managed in an organization. It is during these implementation cycles that scenario planning 2.0 will have the greatest impact. Organizations must have meetings to discuss how to manage new information and make decisions with regards to what processes, mindsets, and behaviors need to change. Once these decisions have been made, leaders can adjust the areas of their execution plan that require attention and continue to review and improve them throughout the cycles. Here is a model that illustrates our approach:
The Role of Scenario Planning 2.0 in Execution Excellence: execution excellence model
 
 

The impact of new information

Reading, listening, and integrating new information as it arises can impact aspects of a business’s execution infrastructure. Most importantly, integrating new information can change in people’s mindsets and behaviors, and the processes that support collaboration. The two essential aspects of execution infrastructure that are most affected by these changes are people and process (seen in the model above). Making adjustments in response to these changes does not require stopping execution implementation. Instead, it highlights the areas that will most be impacted by new information, (i.e. people, process, and direction).
 

CONCLUSION

The role of scenario planning 2.0 in execution excellence is an important one. Although traditional scenario planning has been a core part of strategy and business planning, in the current conditions, scenario planning 2.0 is core to execution. By leveraging this practice and the components of execution infrastructure, we can quickly make adjustments to processes, mindsets, and behaviors. This, in turn, builds capability as business moves forward and makes directional changes.
 
To learn more about scenario planning 2.0 and how to run this powerful exercise with your team, watch the recording of Axialent’s live webinar or click here to speak with one of our representatives to learn more about our Execution Excellence offering.

In recent months, we have been dealing with a lot of uncertainty and a fast-changing world. As my colleague, Thierry, and I discussed in the article Survivor Syndrome: Overcoming Organizational Trauma in Times of Crisis, even though people are still struggling with how to adjust to these changes, we need to find a way to reconnect with our future, vision, and possibilities. In addition, people are dealing with guilt about colleagues who have been laid off, and pressure to do additional work to keep the organization alive and hopefully, thriving. Planning for the future in crisis has never been so challenging, or so important.
planning for the future in crisis - image of documents on a table with people discussing them
 

Planning for the Future in Crisis

 
How can we create a future together when there is still so much uncertainty? Can we plan and create a vision if we don’t yet know how to adapt to the recent changes? How can we help our team members feel less anxious and find a way forward that adds value for everyone?
There is a way. It needs to address business planning, but also build trust within the team and inspire and energize team members. It requires learning a new skill and putting a new process in place that many leaders are not familiar with… yet. It all can be learned through practice.
We’ll call this process: “Back to the Future: the art of scenario planning 2.0”. You may remember the movie “Back to the Future 2,”  where Doc Brown taught us that the present and future as we know it could change in many different directions with new events we didn’t plan for. (If you haven’t seen the movie, you now have a plan for the weekend!) This has always happened to some degree, but the speed of change has never been as fast and disruptive as it is right now.
Many of you might be familiar with traditional scenario planning. The intention and process we need to apply in the current situation are very different. The issue now is not how many scenarios we can build based on assumptions and premises, but how fast we can read, listen, and integrate new information and adjust our plans quickly.
Doing this simple 3 part exercise with our teams will help.
 

1. Understand and align common assumptions

  • Check people’s assumptions to understand why they are doing what they are doing. Do you think people will act the same if one thinks the vaccine for Covid-19 will be ready in 6 months and the other in 18 months? What happens when half of your team thinks that people will not travel again and will be spending more time at home and the other half thinks things will go back to normal sooner or later?

Survivor Syndrome: Planning for the Future in Crisis: Women and men having a meeting to align on assumptions

  • All of these different opinions lead people to make decisions that affect how you run the business and their level of engagement and commitment.
  • Creating the conversation and allowing the team to discuss common assumptions will put them to work in the same direction.
  • The question to ask your team is: What do you think will happen in the world in the next 3 months that will affect our business?

 

2. Cascading common assumptions into execution teams:

  • Once we align the common assumptions, we need to analyze how this will impact the work of each team.
  • For example, if we believe that people won’t be able to travel for at least 6 more months, how that will affect consumption based on the industry I’m in?
  • Then, the next question to ask is: What does my team need to do differently, based on the assumptions agreed upon, and how this will affect our business? Each leader needs to identify 2 or 3 critical things that the team needs to start approaching differently.

 

3. Cascading our team needs to our leadership focus:

  • If the team needs to do some things differently, we need to think quickly about what we need to do to make it happen.
  • When we are in such fast-changing environments, the speed of change is a competitive advantage or a liability.
  • The key question is: What do I need to do differently in the next 2 weeks to support my team and make changes with speed and agility?
  • Remember, you are the main lever for your team to adapt quickly.

By doing this simple exercise with your team, you will provide direction, a sense of alignment, and also, something that contributes to the common strategy. You will move from uncertainty to action and help everyone feel like part of the solution.
 

Conclusion

Planning for the future in crisis is always a challenge, but connecting with your team using the process outlined above provides a roadmap of how it can be done. This is not meant to be a one-time exercise. While you are reading this article, many assumptions I have right now might be different from when I originally wrote this, even if it’s only a week later. The faster things are changing, the more often you should run this exercise. As a leader of an organization, I would run it at least every 6 weeks under the current circumstances. Find the frequency that works for you. As you do this, you will be strengthening the muscle of agility, adaptability, and innovation. What else you can ask for?
“In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” – Eric Hoffer
 
To contact Axialent about facilitating this powerful exercise with your team, click here.

Traditional scenario planning helps to prepare an organization for the future. The method asks leaders to consider possible future scenarios and how they could affect the business’s strategy in order to formulate the best plans to tackle any given outcome. But what happens when the future suddenly seems more uncertain than ever? The wheel is moving really fast these days. What we thought was true yesterday, might not be true tomorrow. We are facing fast changing environments in which people and organizations are struggling with how to adjust to it all. Some of the more common words I have heard when working with teams in the last 90 days are uncertainty, anxiety and feeling “stuck”.
Scenario Planning 2.0 - Hands holding jigsaw puzzle pieces, Business partnership concept.

Preparing ourselves

We cannot control what others decide, what consumers want, and what governments will do. We can only prepare ourselves to see the possibilities in advance and be at our best to quickly adapt our plans. The traditional way of planning no longer works and applying the scenario planning method won’t be enough under the current conditions. The issue now is not how many scenarios we can build based on assumptions and premises, but how fast we can read, listen, and integrate new information. The world is changing too quickly to be able to make predictions as we did in the past. There are new variables and a lot of unknowns.
We need to find a new way forward, which honors the need for long term plans, while learning how to adjust with agility and effectiveness. Just think, even the definition of what “long-term” means has been upended. Even yearly plans could be considered long-term now!

Scenario Planning 2.0

Now the question is, how do we find the way forward? How can we plan and create a vision if we are still reeling from the recent changes and figuring out how best to adapt? How can we support our team members and help them feel less anxious as we forge ahead together?
The way we do this needs to address not only the business planning and strategy, but also how we can build trust within the team and inspire and energize them. It requires learning a new way of applying an updated version of scenario planning; one where the current situation changes day to day, or even hour to hour. The updated version of scenario planning means having frequent and regular conversations with your team to discuss assumptions, impact, and action plans. This is not a one-time event, but a regular exercise that will align your people and help to inspire confidence in an uncertain time. Scenario Planning 2.0 will help you and your team find a way forward. A way that is aligned despite the different perspectives about the future, and that provides the mindset and practices that can help you adjust based on new information.

Learn more

I gave a webinar masterclass to explore this methodology further through a simple, yet powerful exercise that many leaders are already benefiting from. To watch the webinar recording and learn how to run this beneficial exercise with your team, click here.

In recent weeks we have found ourselves in situations unlike anything we have ever experienced. It’s difficult to know what to do, how to act, or what advice to follow, but one thing is clear, our world has changed and continues to change on a daily, if not hourly, basis. For that, we crave some kind of stability and a way to understand this new world we find ourselves in. I would like to share some of the best ways I have found to deal with our new reality and make the best of it.

1. Choose how to respond!

Many of us feel like we are stuck at home. Events are being postponed, people are being asked to work from home, and there is a need to change consumption habits and more.
Now the question is, how will each of us respond to this situation? How fast can we adapt and learn new ways of engaging? How can we adjust to working from home? And what if our families are also requested to stay at home? How do we deal with that complexity? How can we still deliver the content needed for people who were attending an event that has been postponed or cancelled?
Small but important adjustments in our ways of thinking and acting can create a huge impact.

2. Acceptance and next steps…

Let’s make a bold and smart move: accept that this is happening.
Once we have accepted our new reality, we are able to assess whether we need to change anything or ask for support to be as productive as possible in this new situation.
Last week when I realized I would be working from home, I took the opportunity to reorganize my home office.
Do you have everything you need to create an “office at home”? What can you do to make it work best for you? Can you ask your company for anything that would make it easier for you to be productive?

3. Home office: Setting boundaries: speak up and share

Many issues can and will arise with this new situation; and these are things that we all need to learn how to respond to.
Kids at home? Sharing a room to work in? Are there people around who are not clear about your availability? Colleagues who don’t know your situation?
Here are some ideas on how to deal with this and still be productive.

4. Generate connection while working virtually

What can you do to stay connected to your colleagues and clients, and increase effectiveness while working in a virtual environment?

  • For meetings, having your camera on, and asking others to do so too, can help everyone feel more connected and present.
  • “Checking-in” at the start of meetings with how we are doing and what we are expecting from the meeting not only makes sure there is alignment on the intention, but can also be used to open up a space for a quick personal connection.
  • How about instituting a once a week sharing of “best practices” with your team about this topic? This can help you connect as a team while at the same time increase your effectiveness and productivity.

5. Get moving!

Considering the limitations of our new situation, I think it’s important to do all we can to stay fit and healthy, both physically and mentally. The way to do it might vary for each of us based on what we like and the restrictions we have, but the need to do something to take care of ourselves remains.
The other day I went for a run outside and realized how much I needed it. There are alternative ways to stay active (and avoid the gym or crowded public places). Here I’m sharing some links to activities that I enjoy and find boost my productivity (and can be done from home!).
Quick yoga to give you a boost:

Stretching at your desk:

6. Take time to calm your mind and release tension


What is happening, is happening. Let’s just accept it. Even unconsciously, the constant stream of news and messages are increasing and generating fear and paranoia which blocks our ability to be rational and effective.
How can we connect to our best selves under the current circumstances, lower our anxiety and connect to great positive energy?
Perhaps you could stop looking at your cell phone and news so frequently? Why not put all our attention on reading a book? Or a movie we can debate afterwards? Fixing that thing at home that has been broken for a while now? Practice meditation and breathing to free up our minds? And what about seeing what you can cook with what you have available?
What we focus on expands and can completely change our mood and energy.
Let´s try to connect 100% with things that help us stay grounded, a few times every day!

7. Let’s focus on the opportunities

How can we make the most of these times where many of us are working from home? One thing that we gain is no commuting time!
This could mean more time to sleep or starting work earlier. Or this could be an opportunity to leverage the time to be with your family, meditate or do some exercise. Whatever you choose, is up to you, but the most important thing is to realize that we do have a choice.
What are you going to choose to do this week during your “commute”? What can you choose to do that takes care of your physical or mental health, and helps you to say grounded?