An Agile Response to the Great Resignation

Business Agility can help us adapt to radical change
An Agile Response to the Great Resignation

It’s early 2022. We’ve just been through a few years of COVID, political chaos, and the “great resignation.” It has been a unique and challenging time for our business. We’ve had to pivot not only how we deliver our products, but who we turn to to help us get those products to market. The complexities and variability of scenario planning for a future that is in a rapid state of flux can be extremely frustrating for an organization, even an agile one.

These Are the Times that Agile Was Made For. 

The thing is, times of great complexity and change are exactly why companies need to be agile.

Agility is the ability to respond to change over following a plan. The business landscape is changing faster than ever before and it's only going to get faster. Disruption is an ever-present threat, always shifting, and can come at any moment. It stands to reason that companies that invested in becoming more agile prior to 2020, were more likely to be able to pivot to the changes COVID brought.

Indeed, recent research from McKinsey backs this up: “Agile companies have outperformed others in adapting to COVID-19. By examining their priorities and using practices such as objectives and key results (OKRs), they have sped up their work and adapted to new industry landscapes. The weekly and daily rhythm of agile teams has worked well in remote settings.“ ​​

Teams from more adaptive companies or those practicing business agility are also better able to keep moving despite the change that surrounds them. A recent report from Forbes says, “the organizations that adapted quickest were self-organizing teams.” In fact, “agile teams continued their work almost seamlessly, while non-agile teams struggled to be productive.”

As agile consultant and former Scrum Alliance CEO Howard Sublett puts it, “The best time to prepare for change is before change has happened.” Future-focused companies realize the complexities of change and the need to build an adaptive work environment where they can pivot a business model at a moment's notice. 

The best time to prepare for change is before change has happened.

Team Ownership of Work Means Gaps Are Easier to Fill.

One of the greatest strengths of a truly agile team is the cross-functional nature of the people that are working on that team. 

Agile companies are looking for individuals with T-shaped skills, where “the vertical bar on the letter T represents the depth of your skills and expertise in a single field, whereas the horizontal bar is your breadth or ability to collaborate across disciplines with experts in other areas and apply knowledge to areas beyond your primary field,” writes Lisa Bodell of Forbes.

Having teams with T-shaped skills allows them to keep going even when one or two team members leave. Sublett says, “Instead of a single tower of knowledge, agile teams are made up of individuals who are great at their primary skill but also have the interest and ability to bridge out into the other areas around them.” 

Agile teams also work in a collaborative fashion. In many traditional environments you have one person who “owns” a section of code or “owns” a process. When that person moves on from the organization, the team is left scrambling to try to fill the gap. In a collaborative cross-functional agile team, each team member has a shared understanding of the work to be done because they, as a team, have defined how to accomplish the task and delight the customer.

Sublett says “When an agile team member leaves, it's still a disruption, but you haven't lost that single tower of knowledge that may cause a business critical issue.” 

Related Article: How Agile Teams Overcome Obstacles Created by Distance and remote work

As People Move On and New People Join, Celebrate. 

Approximately 4.5 million Americans left their jobs last year. Like most organizations, Scrum Alliance has seen people come and go during this time, most recently our CEO Howard Sublett. While it's hard to say goodbye to teammates whom we care about, it’s equally important to celebrate them and what they contributed while they were here. Sublett equates it to a parade:

Parade of past, present and future Scrum Alliance Employees

"I remember being a kid on cold December nights and lining up with all of the people in my small hometown to watch the Christmas parade. I’d lean out and peer down the road as far as I could to see the next float or band that was coming our way. As they came into view, we would cheer and they would wave or throw candy our way."

"We’d cheer until they were out of sight and then turn to see the next float. Each float or band or group added something unique to the experience. But each one moved on. A parade marches on."  

"I have always looked at organizations as a passing parade of people. New people join and add their special flare, and existing people flow out, moving beyond our sight. The thing is, the people we can no longer see are just down the way, creating a magical experience for someone else. And that’s not only okay, that’s amazing. So it’s our job both to cheer when new people come into view and also when they have an opportunity to move on along that parade route to advance in their career."

"I have always looked at organizations as a passing parade of people. New people join and add their special flare, and existing people flow out, moving beyond our sight. The thing is, the people we can no longer see are just down the way, creating a magical experience for someone else. And that’s not only okay, that’s amazing.

We have the opportunity and obligation to instill in every team member a better way to work, to demonstrate the power of agile principles and values and to equip them for the jobs not just of the moment within your company but to equip them to be better at the jobs in the future further along the route of their lives and their careers.

We also need to recognize that moving on and moving up is a normal part of an individual employee's career journey. Their career is their career, it's not owned by the company nor is it owned by the leader. It's the organization's responsibility to provide the guidance for them to grow and get better at what they're doing, to offer places for them to grow inside the organization, and eventually to let them go.

If we’ve done our job well, former employees can become your best recruiters and brand advocates, and they take with them the skills and culture they have learned while at your company and bring it to a new organization. 

Agility Makes It Easier. It Doesn’t Make it Painless.

Change is messy and hard, no matter how prepared you are for it. COVID, political upheaval, and the great resignation have been a 1-2-3 punch that's been hard to absorb with grace. 

We recently watched as our own CEO Howard Sublett turned the corner toward a new career path and paraded beyond our view. You better believe we cheered him on and made sure he knew how much he was celebrated. You better believe he’s one of our best advocates in the world of work.

As Sublett puts it, “The thing about change is that on the other side of the messy, you have opportunities: opportunities to shift, opportunities to change, opportunities to learn something new. New people joining in your organization bring a fresh perspective. New challenges in the market usher in innovation. Upheaval turns up new discoveries, every single time.”

Truly agile organizations are positioned well to adapt to the shifting landscape of market shifts and employee turnover. Celebrate the possibilities that come with every twist and turn; and reposition each shift as an opportunity to reach your customer in an ever more powerful way. 

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