Interim Management in the Agile Organization
The English language has this remarkable capacity to generate “buzzwords”, ancient parts of our vocabulary that suddenly mean something they never did before. Business press and business internet sites are full of references to “agility” these days. While the term “agile” was always used to describe someone who was physically nimble and/or mentally acute, “agility” in the world of commerce now connotes what we previously may have termed “flexibility” or “adaptability”. And these are highly valued characteristics of enterprises coping with the frequency and speed of change in an increasingly complex and inter-connected business environment. Thus, we see frequent references to the agile organization, the agile business, the agile workplace and the agile workforce. There are many, many professional service enterprises that have incorporated the word “agile” into their corporate names.
This all seems to have started in the IT business as a new approach to software development. Agile development methods emphasize an adaptable, learn-as-you-go approach. Agile project management in IT breaks a project into small segments and looks for early results which are evaluated and made subject to adaptive improvements. Agile development is underpinned by the industrial engineering LEAN philosophy that concentrates on value adding activities, reducing waste of time, money and talent. IT professionals have their own support groups – in Vancouver, for instance, it’s the Vancouver Agile Methods Users’ Group (aka Agile Vancouver, www.agilevancouver.ca).
A lot of business service providers have subsequently adopted elements of the agile approach, promoting everything from agile office furniture to agile executives. They see opportunity in the desire of organizations, particularly in the knowledge-based economy, to keep management, staffing, infrastructure resources fluid and scalable to the pace, volume and quality of work required to meet short term business objectives. Competitive, growing enterprises no longer want to be burdened with non-productive, but expensive, resources that cause the business to maneuver like a battleship when it needs to be a speedboat. No half filled office space, no idle equipment, no drones on payroll repeating routine tasks that do not add value to the enterprise. Again, you can see the LEAN principles emerging here – insidious, those engineers. The result is a trend to using temporary resources to achieve results.
Here’s an example: from its base in Luxembourg, the Regus company has grown a worldwide network providing mobile corporate executives with access to facilities, administrative support and business technology. Clients make temporary use of Regus’ services on an as required basis and reap an “agility dividend” in doing so. The company’s website (www.regus.ca) states plainly, “Agility has become a mainstream way of working.”
Within the human resources management profession, there is much dialog about building the agile workforce. The discussion encompasses how, when and where employees work and, sometimes, the use of contractors and temps to accommodate peak activity. Temp services have always been with us (Kelly Services, for example, since the 1940’s). But the use of temporary workers remains focused on production and administration and still seems more tactical than strategic. However, the thought leaders in the field seem to be moving toward agile staffing as a component of an agile workforce which, in turn, is an essential building block of the truly agile organization.
Management teams, arguably, are the part of the corporate resource base that are most susceptible to the stresses of change and the pressures of transition. The plight of management teams struggling with rapid change seems to be drawing little attention in all this discussion about adaptation to change and the need to build agile organizations. Interim managers potentially provide flexible, scalable resources to the over stressed management team. Used strategically as required, interim managers have a lot to contribute to the leadership and development of the agile organization.
“Agile”, like other buzzwords, will soon become so over-used as to be meaningless. And some other terminology will replace it. But the concept of organizational flexibility, adaptation and effective transition in response to change will remain vital in building successful enterprises. Interim management should always aim to be recognized as a part of that.
Osborne Interim Management, on its Home Page and in its brochures, has adopted the inuksuk as a visual symbol of what we stand for. Visual symbols are generally more clear and more enduring than buzzwords. However, the theme of this short article has me thinking that we might trade our inuksuk for an acrobat.
Managing Principal – British Columbia