Planning vs. agility: 5 ways leaders can find a balance

Agility in the face of a crisis proved essential to business survival last year. Here's how leaders can balance that lesson with the need for strategic planning to drive future growth
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Employees hanging notes on wall to represent agile methodologies

The global pandemic caused a fierce, sudden shift in just about every aspect of life, both at home and at work. For business leaders, it was the redirect of a lifetime as statistics and business forecasts gave way to corporate survival instinct.

Restaurant chains sold fresh groceries and paper goods along with takeout orders. National hotel conglomerates offered day rates for employees needing somewhere to work remotely when being at home wasn’t cutting it. Alcohol distilleries shifted gears to mass-produce hand sanitizer.

Coming out the other side, we’re able to see the positive takeaways from an unprecedented crisis, including proof that the ability to shift quickly can be the most important business skill of all. This begs the question: Given lessons learned in 2020, how can enterprise leaders plan for business growth while maintaining the ability to be flexible in an unpredictable landscape?

[ Where is your team's digital transformation work stalling? Get the eBook: What's slowing down your Digital Transformation? 8 questions to ask. ]

5 ways to balance strategy and agility

Consider these five ways that leaders can successfully balance strategy and agility.

1. Test in real-time

The ability to try out differing points of view simultaneously can make the most of the design process. By implementing tools that allow for experimenting, testing, and adjusting along the way, whether it be a product or creative campaign, leaders can refine to the best version while still in the workshop phase. While some changes may involve a cost during the process, that expenditure will inevitably be offset when a better product is brought to market.

[ Also read: 4 IT leadership tips for turbulent times. ]

The trick here is twofold: First, collaboration is key. A product is a constant evolution of concepts and ideas that blends successfully only when many views are counted. Second, trust the hivemind. For example, if a project's value is unclear to most of the team, the people who believed it was on point need to hear that feedback and adjust.

2. Leave your ego at the door

As in the example above, there is no room for arrogance or hubris when collaborating toward a successful outcome. This applies not only to people but to ideas as well. Regardless of their belief in a concept or the time they’ve devoted to a project or product design, team members need to be ready to detach from it. What seems like the best idea in the room may end up being bumped by another – that’s just the design process.

Especially given the rapid digital transformation progress of the past year, the marketplace is moving far too quickly to lose time squabbling over idea ownership. By keeping an eye on the goal, an ego-free team can synchronize their collective efforts toward creating a quality product or solution that will move more quickly to market.

There is no room for arrogance or hubris when collaborating toward a successful outcome.

3. Get past the fear of sharing

One reason some business leaders make the mistake of designing in a silo is the fear of sharing ideas – specifically, the fear of prematurely revealing the unique proposition their product or service is going to present. Holding an idea as precious is understandable, but the fact is that ideas are everywhere. How a leader executes that idea is the key differentiator.

By testing a campaign or concept, business innovators can merely share part of the story – not the solution itself, but the problem it is geared toward solving. Presenting with a problem-solving mindset enables a brand to test the viability of its concept without giving away confidential methodology information in the process.

4. Empower those around you

Within a fast-moving marketplace, agility means building a team structure that supports the power of rapid response. Often this means the formation of smaller teams that are charged with more ownership of their role in the overall business model. Under the guidance of strategic leaders, these micro-teams can act on things quickly, from creative design to product features and beyond, all while remaining within the parameters of the overarching business strategy.

The more ownership these groups have and the more they are empowered to run with ideas, the easier it will be for them to deliver quality solutions within a tight turnaround.

5. Know when to get out of the way

Enterprise innovators need to wear many hats, which is a form of agility in itself. Playing many roles within the company, business leaders need to know not only how to guide the evolution of their company, but how to best shape their own role within it as well. As specialized teams grow and micro-teams are empowered within them, a business leader needs to step back and study where they can be most valuable.

That can change quite a bit over time as the focus of both the business and the founder respond to the marketplace. By consistently tracking that evolution and remaining fluid within it, an entrepreneur can also know when to bring new people on board and in what capacity.

From both a personal and a professional standpoint, it’s healthy to have new viewpoints introduced; it also enables leaders to shift responsibilities to the new hires. Micro-teams are subsequently strengthened, and leadership can refocus on overall business strategy.

Planning and agility are two vital concepts required for business success, but the two don’t have to work in opposition. In today’s marketplace, agility is part of the plan; and plans need to be pliable. By viewing both as synchronous strengths, businesses can build and evolve to be primed for growth.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

mariana_aguiar_desygner
Desygner Founder and CPO Mariana Aguiar has 15 years of experience in advertising, PR, and marketing. Her experience in digital marketing, social media, and international branding assisted Desygner to build a solution with the marketers’ interest in mind.

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