Be agile and effective: overcome most common productivity killers

Be agile and effective: overcome most common productivity killers

The world is changing in huge strides, and if we believe that we already understand how it works, we will quickly stop understanding it. This will have a direct effect on our abilities and our intentions. Culture change, like all change, is a never-ending process. We are always trying to adjust to a new business strategy, a new challenge from our customers or competition or to something that the world brings us (pandemics, wars, commodities prices, fx, among others to come), which is a never-ending journey.

This does not mean that we are going to change the culture every six months — it means that from time to time we must find new ways to express the fundamental values we have. We need to learn new ways to express who we are. This can change according to context or situation. For example, in the pandemic which was a monumental surprise for everyone, the value of caring for people didn’t change for most companies, but the way to do this and express it skillfully, did need to change a lot.

4 things to improve in your organization to make it more competitive

Within organizations, we mostly do four things every day. We meet, we talk, we decide and we implement things. If we improve the quality of these four things, our ability to outperform our
competitors increases hugely.

At the center of this four resides a great obstacle to change and adapt effectively: the difficulty of having effective challenging conversations. This can be something as simple as telling the truth with honesty and respect and sharing ideas without fear of reprisals or of being written off as unrealistic, or too “soft”. In order to have productive conversations — where everyone is present in mind, body and spirit — we need to get to grips with a dynamic that changes everything.

Before beginning to deliver the content (topic), we must create the context (who, why, where), and —
before even that — we must be able to connect with what is true for us with the other people present. If we can openly speak about what is really going on, it will help us more quickly adjust to new situations and express our values, and what we think should be the new way of working or responding to a specific challenge.

How to adjust our culture to new situations?

When we talk about adjusting our culture to new situations, there are usually three ways in which
organizations respond to it:

  1. Seeing the changes too late (can still have a delayed reaction)
  2. Thinking and seeing ahead (scenario planning)
  3. Being fast enough to respond as soon as you see something


Having the capacity to react in either of the latter two ways is also an expression of the culture: Do you
have a culture in which you are always seeing ahead, even when things go well? Are you creating
potential scenarios and seeing culture as a never ending creative process — where this is a part of the exercise you do frequently?

The potential of cultures that challenge the status quo

Cultures that create habits that allow to challenge the status quo and systems and processes in place that can change over time, are less likely to miss the train and react too late.

However, currently, it is much more important to be agile than to do scenario planning. It was very hard to predict the pandemic for anyone, and our future is unfolding at rapid speed, so putting all of our energy into planning what the future will look like is likely not a wise bet. Becoming a fast and agile company that can see what’s happening and react to that quickly can be much more effective in the current times.

How to become an agile company

Becoming an agile company with a fast-reacting culture can be helped by some key tenets:

  • Don’t resist the hard facts: look at them as information, then decide quickly how to respond. Wasting time resisting hard facts or arguing over whatever is true right could be a key blocker.
  • Look for progression instead of perfection: Learn from experience and get better instead of
    trying to get everything perfect before you respond.
  • Cascade fast: Have a system in which you can communicate, share and implement the new way
    pretty fast. We don’t have years to make the changes happen, then let’s create a culture for fast
    culture change.

One of the common challenges in implementing an agile culture is the misunderstanding that agile
means fast.
Not knowing when to go fast and respond, and when to pause and think before cascading, is critical.

Agile doesn’t mean do everything fast. It means bring the agility needed for decisions, but also recognize it’s important to know when to pause, think, and have a longer process.

Fran Cherny

Agility is all about empowerment, and creating a culture where people have no or low fear to change or implementing new things, but have the freedom — even the responsibility — to try them out. In order to create any type of culture, there are three key components:

  • Leaders role modeling modeling
  • Aligned systems
  • Great symbols

How to avoid productivity killers?

To deepen the development of an agile culture, I invite you to read the articles I have written for Axialent:


A healthy culture is one that can re-shape your own culture pretty fast. Not the foundation and the values, but how you bring those alive, adjust and shift quickly to emerging realities. Culture change does
not “take long” as a rule, it is just that most organizations don’t have a culture that is agile and makes it
easy for people to adjust to new things. Even, your own culture.

Lead to transform: Why do we keep spinning around instead of moving forward?

Lead to transform: Why do we keep spinning around instead of moving forward?

“Every day we know more and understand less” – Albert Einstein

Organizations, as we know them today, the ones we are part of and interact with on a daily basis, were designed to respond to the concerns of a time when people worked in one place all their lives and took pride in that.

The world has changed, but we have ingrained values, practices and levels of awareness that are very different from what the new generations demand and, in many cases, even from what we say we want as a society for our common future. Even the wave of Silicon Valley companies and start-ups over ten years old may well be a step behind the speed at which new expectations are being generated.

The world changes at a rapid pace. If we think we understand how it works, we will quickly realize that feeling doesn’t last too long.

This directly influences our capabilities and our effectiveness, our purpose, and our intentions. Let’s take the recurring example of work/life balance, which features prominently in almost every internal corporate survey, without finding a fundamental solution.

Every year, organizations react to their internal surveys with the best intentions of providing solutions to specific problems. However, it is often the same as with the “hamster wheel”: everything keeps spinning without moving forward, with no real effect, because the underlying issue is hardly addressed.

More questions are needed, in this case: When did we start talking and behaving as if life and work were two separate spaces that need to compensate for each other? If we don’t like what we do in one of these areas, can the other compensate us? Is it even effective to think that there is a self that works and a self that takes over to start living when the other one finishes its working hours? Are we asking the right questions?

Powerful question to ask yourself:

What questions should we ask ourselves to really understand the present world, and thus genuinely respond to today’s challenges?

Make change happen:

Try this.

  • Think of a challenge you have ahead of you.
  • Write down a list of all the things you think you know about it, and without prior analysis, would influence your decision-making.
  • Make a list of questions to challenge those beliefs or others you think exist.
  • Meet with your team to question all of these underlying issues before you begin to make any decisions.

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Lead to transform: The power of example to multiply

Lead to transform: The power of example to multiply

Leaders are more powerful role models when they learn than when they teach.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter

We get blinded by our daily responsibilities and heavy burdens. So, we ask ourselves:

How can we look at the big picture and the future, focusing on doing those things that are priority to bring about sustainable change?

How do we invest time and energy in changing something that has worked so far and is so strongly rooted?

Why change something that will probably help us continue to survive in the short term, or with a little luck, to remain successful for a while longer?

Why take a risk in trying something new if we don’t know if it will work?

Firstly, because if we don’t do it in time, guided by our own values, beliefs and needs when we already see the opportunity, sooner or later -sooner rather than later, I should say- the world will do it for us, imposing its times and rules on us. The unprecedented year 2020 has been a clear proof that we don’t control everything – rather quite little – and that the world can exponentially accelerate its needs as much as it can create new habits by force.

Furthermore, if we don’t do it, instead of producing changes in the system, we start to create isolated heroes. Those people who do things out of the ordinary, who we celebrate from time to time and whose counter-cultural examples we rely on to create the illusion that we are bringing about profound change. But in reality, we call them heroes because they are willing to take unprecedented risks, in the attempt to do what is declared to be right and will be good for the whole. Marvel and DC remind us all the time of those beautiful stories of unsung heroes who are the exception to the rule, and who, therefore, can never abandon their role.

In a process of change we do not want isolated and exceptional heroes. We want good examples that serve to multiply. We want the new norm to be just that, to try new ways of bringing what we say is important to life, to everyday conversations and processes, and for everyone to know that they will not be in danger for doing so.

Powerful question to ask yourself:

What new thing am I going to try today to honor what I say is important?

Make change happen:

Try setting up this ritual:

  • Write your organization’s purpose on a post-it note and hang it in a visible place in your workspace.
  • Every morning, as you sit in your office, read the post-it and ask yourself the powerful question and come up with actions aligned with your organization’s purpose
  • Pick one action and do it!
  • Once you have integrated this new habit and experienced its benefits, share it with your team to inspire others to perform this or a similar ritual.

NEWSLETTER: LEAD TO TRANSFORM

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter, so you can successfully lead transformation processes: inspiration to engage, a question to reflect on, and an action to try. Make change happen!

Lead to transform: From words to action

Lead to transform: From words to action

“Action expresses priorities” – Mahatma Gandhi

One of the biggest obstacles to generating sustainable transformations is that they need to be credible. There need to be “signs” that give people confidence that we are all pulling together to the same side. This starts with those of us who lead these processes and here we link organizational and personal change. The system and the individual feed on each other in vicious or virtuous circles. We do not have to change and evolve because “we have to”, because it is “what is expected”, or because it is a trendy term. Slogans do not work here. They do not hold up over time. This is a common problem.

Many leaders express, privately and publicly, that they want to change and drive organizational change. They recognize, generally with good intentions and conviction, that it is a great idea to achieve an evolution of culture and, that each member of the organization should develop where he or she needs it the most. That they need to be supported because “Culture is key!”. That it’s a priority. That without it they will not be able to achieve the results they have set for the future. That they must change the way they work.

However, many times those good intentions are left unfulfilled, and these statements end up being nothing more than a very good declaration of intentions with an inspiring slogan. A story that may be attractive and effective in narrative terms but does not necessarily focus on producing sustainable results. Instead, it creates a new layer of immunity to change which turns into a double-edged sword that will make everything even more difficult for those who will come after us.

In a world of hyper-communication with constant new ideas and fashions, we are faced with the problem that many leaders fall in love with talking about concepts rather than falling in love with “doing”.

Powerful question to ask yourself:

What are you and your team going to do today that is aligned with your purpose?

Make change happen:

Try this!

  1. Find out the purpose that your organization promotes (Slogans, advertising…)
  2. Observe your own internal speech and analyze your and your team’s daily actions
  3. Make changes to your and your team’s speech and actions to better align with the organization’s purpose
  4. Implement 1-3 changes every week for the next few weeks
  5. What are you going to do in the next 24 hours to initiate that change?

NEWSLETTER: LEAD TO TRANSFORM

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter, so you can successfully lead transformation processes: inspiration to engage, a question to reflect on, and an action to try. Make change happen!

Lead to transform:  How do we create flawless commitments?

Lead to transform: How do we create flawless commitments?

“Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work. It´s hard to imagine an organization without semblance of trust operating somehow, somewhere. An organization without trust is more than an anomaly, it´s a misnomer, a dim creature of Kafka´s imagination. Trust implies accountability, predictability , reliability. It´s what sells products and keeps organizations humming. Trust is the glue that maintains organizational integrity.”

― Warren Bennis y Burt Nanus

In today’s world, we all need the cooperation of an unimaginable number of people, even for the most trivial things.

For example, think about the device from which you are reading this and the people who collaborated so you can have it right now in your hands: designers, assemblers, transporters, sellers…

All this has to be in the right place and done in a specific way, so that it is now in your hands. That’s the case with everything we buy or consume. If something is not where and when we expect it, we lose confidence.

Organizations are networks of commitments, and we are part of that network. The ability to know what we have to do, commit, and execute our part of the deal, is a process that happens every day through the requests and answers we give or that are given to us.

The following question and practical exercise can help you work towards that excellent performance!

Powerful question to ask yourself:

When I say yes to a request, do I have the will, capabilities, and resources to do it? Check on yourself.

Make change happen:

Try  this!

Every time you finish a meeting or conversation, ask and clarify:

  • What needs to be done?
  • Who will do it?
  • When does it need to be done by?
  • What is the quality expected?

At the same time, the next time you receive a request, give it the necessary attention to respond    based on:

  • Do you intend to meet the conditions requested? If the answer is no, you better say it and deal with the difficult conversation now.
  • Is there anything you didn’t understand that needs to be clarified? If yes, ask!
  • Is there anything about the request that doesn’t quite work? Express your opinion and renegotiate times,  standards  or whatever it takes!

In these conversations, you have the power to commit to what you can and want to accomplish. If not, you’ll be creating a bigger problem that will require a lot more energy to solve.

NEWSLETTER: LEAD TO TRANSFORM

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter, so you can successfully lead transformation processes: inspiration to engage, a question to reflect on, and an action to try. Make change happen!

Lead to Transform: From taboo to resilience

Lead to Transform: From taboo to resilience

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

― Rumi

According to a study published in the journal ‘The Lancet Psychiatry’, 1 in 5 patients who survive COVID-19 develop some form of mental disorder within 90 days. The most common disorders diagnosed among covid-19 survivors are anxiety, depression, or insomnia; but the researchers, led by Oxford University psychiatry professor Paul Harrison, have also detected significantly high levels of dementia and brain damage.

Jude Mary Cénat, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Ottawa and leader of the group of experts, also carried out a research on COVID-19 that was published in the scientific journal ‘Psychiatry Research’.  In that research, experts found the prevalence of symptoms of insomnia was present in 24% of the affected population, that post-traumatic stress disorder reached 22%, depression stood at 16%, and anxiety reached 15%. The article underlines that depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder were three, four, and five times, respectively, more frequent compared to what is usually reported by the World Health Organization (WHO).

And this reality that affects many people, has obviously also reached organizations. More and more leaders are experiencing it firsthand or through the people in their teams. And the biggest problem is not that this happens.  The problem comes when it’s presented as a taboo, something that cannot be said, and therefore it cannot be used to build more effective teams. Gaps or even nosedives can be an excellent starting point for strengthening the psychological environment of the organization and work teams. As Dr Paul Keedwell, an expert on mood disorders at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, states in his book How Sadness Survived: “depression is multifaceted: it can lead to great insights and achievements, as well as great tragedies”.

What can we do to help our teams work through these symptoms and resolve them?

Here is a powerful question and some ideas to take action on.

Powerful question to ask yourself:

What symptoms am I feeling that I can openly share with my team and lead by example?

Make change happen:

Try this!

If most of your teams are currently working remotely, resume the “hallway conversations”.

  • Create a weekly session where everyone simply shares how they’re feeling. Share:
  • Your stress level: we all have stress. The important thing to know is whether you are having eustress (positive stress) or distress (negative stress).
  • Physical symptoms that may be related to anxiety: I’m not hungry or I’m very hungry, sweaty palms, choking sensation…
  • Experiences in the past related to mental problems. Cases of people close to you in a positive tone.

Whenever you have the chance, ask:

  • How are you feeling?
  • How are things at home?
  • Do you need any help with…?

Observe: 

  • Behavioral changes: for example, an introverted person who becomes extroverted very abruptly.
  • Physical changes: weight loss/gain, lack of sleep, aches, and pains…
  • And before you leave the meeting
    • Can someone summarize their understanding?
    • Who needs to do what and by when?

NEWSLETTER: LEAD TO TRANSFORM

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter, so you can successfully lead transformation processes: inspiration to engage, a question to reflect on, and an action to try. Make change happen!

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