Fake Agile

Many attempts at achieving business agility are misguided and fake. But I consider the glass half full, not half empty. Fake Agile is a signal to do better.

I recently spoke at an internal event of an international bank. The bank managers want to be more agile, and so they gathered hundreds of leaders from several countries and many departments to discuss business agility. I was invited to offer the outsider’s perspective, and the bank’s CEO preceded me by offering a few words of encouragement and support.

Let me first tell you that I’m glad I don’t lead a traditional bank. Imagine the tremendous pressure that bank managers are under: Clients demanding faster services on their smartphones; hackers trying to get into secured banking systems; tech giants such as Google, Apple, and PayPal offering alternative payment systems; FinTech startups building easy solutions without the need to maintain old legacy systems; and now we have the blockchain and cryptocurrencies undermining the whole concept of trusted banking institutions! It’s no wonder that the call for action by the CEO sounded just a little bit desperate to me. Organizations must achieve business agility. It is either agile or death!

There was just one problem.

The speech of the CEO’s was a recorded video. They showed it to the audience on a giant video screen. And it was easy to see, from the movement of his eyes, that the CEO read his “empowering” message from a teleprompter. The call for agile was scripted.

At the end of the 10-minute recording, everyone applauded politely. I have no idea why, because the CEO wasn’t there to hear it. It seemed to me that he had something better to do than discussing the bank’s survival with the employees. I don’t think it was a good example of business agility.

It was fake agile.

I see similar behaviors in many places. Executives ask me how to innovate faster, while seated in private offices on carpeted floors, filled with modern art. Top managers tell employees to do more in less time while adorning themselves with suits, ties, and generous bonuses. And business leaders chat about the self-organization of Scrum teams, during carefully planned five-course dinners, with seat arrangements.

When employees are not led by example and don’t see agility in the behaviors of managers, is it any wonder that the organization is not changing faster?

We need a different approach.

There is a strong desire among top managers for more business agility. That’s great! It’s a start. The problem is that they don’t know how to lead by example. That’s bad. But it’s solvable. I know and understand those managers. They’re not bad people. On the contrary, I find most of them quite enjoyable to work with. They just apply non-agile thinking and practices in their attempts to be more agile. That doesn’t work, of course, but it’s a problem we can address. Fake agile is a treatable disorder.

I’m working on it. Check it out.

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