Agility – What’s this fuss all about?

Agility – What’s this fuss all about?

Back in my college days in the late ’80s, I was associated with rowing as a sport. In competitive rowing, I used to be a coxswain (cox for short). In a specific type of boat, the cox is the member of the crew who sits in the stern facing the bow. He is responsible for steering and coordinating the power and rhythm of the rowers. I don’t recall why our coach felt I would do better as a cox than at pulling oars. But as it turned out, I was reasonably good at the job. And those hours on the water, rowing with four crew members, taught me some great lessons. These came handy later on, navigating my teams to reach their goals better and faster.


Fast forward to 2008. I experienced white water rafting for the first time. Both sports appeared to be the same — a group of people with oars in hand paddling through the water to reach a destination. But clearly, rafting was a very different game compared to rowing.


Competitive rowing was serious business. Each member of the team had a clear role from start to finish. A clear strategy based on the assessment of opponents, planning based on the track’s nuances, and executing to plan was vital in winning a rowing event. All oarsmen would focus on execution efficiency, leaving navigation and pacing to the cox. How efficiently oarsmen converted their power into a forward movement of the boat separated winners from the rest.


The rafting was a very different experience. The water was very turbulent. The tracks sprinkled with rocks, and sudden drops in height meant that each obstacle had to be negotiated uniquely. The paths weren’t straight and marked, and the endpoint not necessarily visible. One could do as much planning or strategizing, till the next gush of water, flowing freely and fiercely, turned your plan, and with that, your boat upside down. None in the boat could stick to their uniquely defined role. But they all shared one single objective – to keep the boat afloat and reach the destination. Sometimes, going forward meant paddling backward to circumvent the obstacle.


Lessons learned and skills acquired as a cox back in the late ’80s were critical during the first couple of decades of my professional life. It was the industrial era where the world was moving at a manageable pace. The focus was on execution excellence. Just like an oarsman, mastering your role, excelling in your defined craft, leaving the navigation, and rest to your leader, cox was enough to win laurels.


However, the information era that we are navigating through now has its own set of challenges. Disruption has become a new normal. The world is turbulent, like white water. Strategy, planning, and execution are still crucial in business, but only till the next wave of disruption hits you. Today’s workforce needs a mindset of white water rafter than of oarsman in a rowing boat. They need a broader understanding of the goal than a well-defined road-map. They need to think on their feet to deal with the unexpected and adapt to the situation. Agility in strategy, planning, and execution is more critical than stability. And, most important is the agility of the mind. Unless, of course, you are in calm waters with defined tracks and a visible destination. And if you are, connect with me. Remember, I was competent as a cox. I wouldn’t mind a trip down the memory lane before I take you back to the future!

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Cross generational workforce – challenge or opportunity ?

Cross generational workforce – challenge or opportunity ?

Managing millennials and managing cross-generational workforce are top trending challenges for Corporates. 


Before millennials joined the workforce, the world was changing at a much slower pace. Industries and jobs, both were defined more granularly. More importantly, acquiring new skills wasn’t critical to surviving. Over the last decade, things have been quite different. Technology is disrupting everything. It is threatening to take over most manual, repeatable, predictable jobs, which the prior generation had mastered as part of the industrial revolution. Its impact is cutting across the professions. Whether you are an accountant, engineer, doctor or lawyer, the technology disruption is redefining how work gets done. It’s breaking down walls across industries, creating new industries, and merging few. The rate of technology obsolescence has multiplied. For the non-millennial workforce, dealing with this level of disruption is a big challenge. When organizations introspect on lack of innovation or speed or both, they get bulk of the blame and it is only widening the gap between generations within an organization. 


As we enter the next decade, it’s clear that innovation and speed are critical, not just for growth but also for vitality or even survival of an organization. Gone are the days, when innovation was a prerogative of a certain department or role. Innovation is not just about technology. It’s about processes, models, etc. touching every aspect of the business. Today, everyone who is part of an organization has to have an innovation mindset and belief that they can. There may be no master key for innovation that would work across industries but one key element across all will be – an appetite for experimentation. 


Experiment and experience often seem to cross swords. Experience tends to deliver quick, ready-to-execute advice and that often kills any chance to experiment with something new, thus killing any chance of finding something new. The experiment takes time to provide an outcome, if at all. And organizations that drive KPIs for innovation don’t have much time to waste. It appears like speed and innovation are mutually exclusive. Organizations continue to walk the tightrope trying to achieve both.


Another key dimension is speed, often seen as a function of size. But like innovation, it’s a mindset. History has shown that elephants can dance if the organization keeps the bureaucracy out, controls low and psychological safety high. In turn, it also helps them drive experimentation improving chances of innovation. 


For all that they don’t have, pre-millennials have wisdom in plenty to help any business stay on course.  Wisdom is nothing but the sum of all experiences – positive and negative, accumulated over time and distilled into knowledge. Ironically, while the technology of the future –  AI/ML, extensively learns from the past to prepare for tomorrow, the future leaders seem to undermine the power of such wisdom. In many cases, what separates a successful and not-so-successful tech venture, keeping all things the same, is the involvement of a seasoned person as a guide, mentor, coach, etc. 


The future of work is not single dimensional, meaning mastery or knowledge of one craft may not be enough to be successful. The future workforce is not pockets of super-heroes. Diversity of thoughts, experiences, backgrounds, and passions is extremely important in this era when organizations are expected to innovate and operate – and excel in both, at the same time. For businesses to succeed, leaders need to create an environment where both millennials and the pre-millennial workforce co-exist, collaborate, complement, and not compete. This way, they can draw the best of both worlds – technical acumen from millennials and business acumen from the rest. However, neither technical expertise nor wisdom is an exclusive function of age. So, they both need to learn to respect competence and wisdom irrespective of the age. 


It’s easier said than done, but there is help available for those who seek.  The question you need to answer is are you seeking.

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