The key to an agile culture is in becoming a disruptive one

The Disruptor. We have heard and read a lot about them. But are they hero or villain?

The key to an agile culture is in becoming a disruptive one

The Disruptor. We have heard and read a lot about them. But are they hero or villain? Once a term linked to the naughty kids who sat at the back of the classroom giving the teacher backchat or pulling pig tails, today, in this rapidly changing business environment, it is considered the key to success. 

Being a disruptor is about creating something – a product, a service, or a way of doing something – that turns the market on its head and puts you at the forefront. Think of all the technological innovations, disruptive innovations if you like, that we take for granted, Wikipedia, email, Google Maps, Spotify, all displacing previous ways of doing things. Netflix, Facebook, Airbnb, all disruptors which began small yet experienced a relentless growth to the top superseding what was previously there.

Simply because your organization is at the top, what got you there, will not keep you there. Innovation, curiosity, and agility will. The age of business disruptors is upon us, an age of innovation, agility, and resilience, an age where businesses need to be able to turn on a sixpence. 

Innovate, Innovate, Innovate 

That is what has been drummed into us. A positive, business-critical characteristic for business success in the future. Yet innovation does not necessarily mean disruption. 

Innovation is good. Great even. It typically means that you can do something more efficiently, faster, better, cheaper. It means that you survive, grow a little and ride the rollercoaster until the next innovation and so on. It could be because of embracing modern technologies or implementing new processes that keep you at the forefront of your market.

Disruptive innovation, however, goes beyond this thinking and makes the advances obsolete because there is simply a new, better way of doing it that meets the needs and wants of customers. And this is the key takeaway.

Be the proactive one

Do not concentrate all your efforts on the competition and lose sight of who you are, your purpose. And do not get so absorbed in modern technology for the sake of it. Take a good long look in the mirror and you will discover what is really disrupting your organization. 

A good place to start is with your customers. I have not been able to find one piece of literature that does not reference the importance of understanding your customers’ needs and wants in the quest to become more agile. It’s not just about understanding them though, it is about doing something about it, adjusting your business model to suit. I have mentioned Netflix before, but CEO Reed Hastings has by my last count, changed the business model three times, from DVD mail order to streaming to production and continues to disrupt.

It is about building an organization that is customer-centric, every decision, every action focusing on creating the best experience for the customer. They are at the centre of everything, the Venn diagram of operations, culture, concepts. 

Disruptive cultures are passionate about their customers

They empower their people to be creative, innovative and to make decisions that delight the customers. They create an environment where agile leadership is nurtured at all levels, where people are valued, collaboration is the norm and where people can learn from each other and from customers and then turn this learning in to action. It is a culture of continuous learning, and it is driven by values and the customer.

In creating a disruptive culture, or at least beginning the journey to one, it is essential to bring the organization’s purpose and values to life, ensuring that everyone understands them and feels connected to them. Establish clear boundaries, define comprehensive links between values and the customer and communicate, communicate, communicate. Not just from the top but from every manager, engaging and aligning everyone with the values. 

Organizations that are powered by a disruptive culture place the values and needs of the customer at the centre of all that they do, they also use the same parameters to measure success. It is less about outputs and more about outcomes. It is about nurturing a safe environment where people are connected to customers, where teams can collaborate with a shared sense of purpose, where they can learn and react readily to the market. An agile culture fosters a disruptive one, and agility is the key to sustained business success of the future.

Joanna Swash
Joanna Swash

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