To put it mildly, the change organizations have been confronting over the past year has been massive, and it seems the imperatives to boost business agility only continue to intensify. One of the most appealing aspects of BizOps is its potential to help organizations contend with these unprecedented demands.
Looking to BizOps principles, I believe teams can improve their ability, not only to work in the right way, but to ensure they’re doing the right work. In this way, teams can better align their efforts on key objectives, ensure they stay focused on those objectives, and more rapidly respond as those objectives change. (For a nice introduction to getting started with BizOps, be sure to see Serge Lucio’s article, “Destination BizOps: A Road Map To Get Started” at the Forbes Tech Council site.)
Applying BizOps at the Team Level: Key Attributes of Successful Managers
Leaders in organizations need to become more effective in managing their investments and resources and in boosting business outcomes. Towards that goal, last year the BizOps Coalition published the BizOps Manifesto to help guide practitioners in employing these principles.
BizOps success ultimately relies on successful collaboration and execution at the team level. For leaders at every level of the organization, this requires a break from some of the approaches that managers tended to rely upon. Following are some keys to making this work.
One: Shifting from Delegating Tasks to Delegating Outcomes
To enable and empower their teams, leaders need to move from delegating tasks to delegating outcomes. Here’s an example that underscores the difference: A manager could request that a team member write three blog posts, and potentially provide a lot of additional details and requirements for each post. On the other hand, the manager could look at their team’s key imperatives, and delegate an associated outcome based on those objectives, such as increasing readership by 7%.
What’s wrong with delegating tasks? When a leader dictates every step that the team is supposed to take, they’re assuming they know the best way to achieve the desired results. This also means they’re not tapping into their teams’ creativity, experience, and expertise. Ultimately, rather than empowering teams, this approach may actually restrict teams from achieving their outcomes and full potential.
Two: Cultivating Trust
Fundamentally, delegation only works when there’s trust. And the requirement for trust goes both ways:
As a manager, you have to be willing to delegate (as per the prior key point).
As an employee, you have to be willing to take ownership for those efforts being delegated. To be trusted, employees have to continue to demonstrate they’re trustworthy. Part of this means that they have to show that they are capable of doing the right thing, and consistently demonstrate that they will do the right thing.
How do teams foster this trust? Principle number six of the BizOps manifesto puts it this way: “The way you build trust and respect is through transparency, communication, meaningful measurement, and shared objectives.”
Three: Establishing and Demonstrating Confidence
Managers need to be confident in their teams and they need to demonstrate that confidence. Without this confidence, managers will stifle innovation and agility. If managers lack confidence, and closely track their every step, employees will be scared to try new ideas.
Principle five of the BizOps Manifesto reveals, “People are most successful when motivated by a culture that instills trust and confidence. We can enable cultural agility by creating psychological safety to try new ideas.”
Four: Accepting Risk
Managers have to be able to accept some risk. Without risk, there’s no innovation.
If managers begin to delegate outcomes, they must be willing to accept that efforts may fail, or not go as they’d envisioned or planned. To innovate, employees need to try new ideas. Some ideas won’t work, and that has to be ok.
While there is potential for unexpected outcomes or failures, it’s important for managers to recognize that was always the reality. When managers try to delegate every step, it gives them the false sense of security that they’ll be able to predict and control the outcomes.
By delegating outcomes, managers begin moving to gradually provide teams with increased autonomy. This means they let go of having direct control, and in the process, they will enable and empower their teams. What’s key is that through this move, employees will establish ownership.
Five: Focusing on Outcomes and Guardrails
By focusing on outcomes, managers enable their teams to be creative. They free teams to take multiple paths to achieving the results desired. By trusting teams and enabling them to find new ways to achieve outcomes, managers can set the foundation. This is vital to establishing the agility that’s required in a world where it can be challenging to plan beyond the next few weeks.
This means that ultimately, within organizations, there needs to be a focus on outcomes. But outcomes alone are not enough. Guardrails also need to be put in place to ensure outcomes are achieved in the right way. Consider the case highlighted earlier, with the executive who wants an employee to achieve an outcome: boosting blog readership. There could be a wide range of legitimate ways for employees to pursue that objective, including developing new content, embarking on an online ad program, or executing search engine optimization. On the other hand, there would be a number of illegitimate ways to achieve the objective, whether constantly spamming the company’s email database, hiring nefarious traffic generation vendors, and so on.
Through establishing effective guardrails, managers can strike the balance between enabling creativity and autonomy, while safeguarding the organization against potential penalties and risks.
The Payoff of BizOps-Powered Teams: Reacting vs. Responding
Is your organization reacting or responding? While there may appear to be only subtle, nuanced distinctions, there are some fundamental and critical differences for organizations.
In the past, planning cycles would happen during a two or three month stretch, often near the end of the calendar year. The objective would be to chart the plans for the next year. When you think about all the planning cycles that were occurring in late 2019, how many played out as planned in 2020?
If the early days of the COVID pandemic showed us anything, it’s that fundamental realities for businesses can change on a daily basis. As organizations, leaders, and employees, we need to make decisions and adapt based on these realities. Fundamentally, there are two ways to approach this:
React. In the wake of change, leaders will assess new data points and make a decision.
Respond. Rules will change, leaders will assess new data points and make a decision. In addition, critically, they’ll build in a feedback loop for assessing the outcomes of that decision.
These feedback loops of the responding manager are vital. The next day, when realities change again, reacting organizations will treat each decision and change as separate from those of the day before. By contrast, responding organizations will be building learnings, tracking where they’ve been, learning from past results, assessing how decisions are made, and continuing to improve their decisions. Over time, those teams that apply these principles and learn how to change dynamically build a kind of muscle memory, so they continue to get better.
2020 starkly illustrated the difference between those organizations and teams that were ready to respond, and knew how to do so with agility, versus those that were simply reacting.
While the promise and potential of BizOps are enormous, gains will only be realized through proper execution at the team level. By delegating outcomes and establishing trust, managers will position their teams to harness their full potential and boost both productivity and business agility. Ultimately, these teams can move from reacting to responding, so they’re navigating our fast-changing world with the intelligence and speed required.
For More Information
The Business Agility Institute is a global network of companies, researchers, and practitioners. Our goal is to enable businesses to thrive in the midst of change and disruption. To learn more about the work we’re doing to help promote agility, be sure to visit the Business Agility Institute web site.