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Agile leadership – a key success factor for Covid-Exit

With the development of the pandemic, organisations have been experiencing a range of challenges simultaneously, such as employee wellbeing, decreased demand, office closures, supply chain disruptions, and many more. Leaders reacted by shifting to a survival mode, as they needed to accomplish as much as possible with less time, resources and people. And their success has been dependent on the willingness and ability to quickly shift to and adopt behaviours and practices that best suit the new reality.

Many organisations abandoned their standard processes and instead focused on their most critical objectives. The last months have shown that companies with a clearly defined purpose had an easier time with this than those with missions and values unmatched to the reality of the business. And purpose became more important than ever, enabling sincere decision making at speed.

The agile mindset

As a result of the pandemic, many companies have embarked on experiments focused on outcomes, in flattened structures that replace physical collaboration with hybrid models. However, collaborative models require rigorous processes, defined capabilities, and decision making enabled at the lowest possible layer. This also requires a fundamental change in how leaders operate and enable their teams to make decisions, as focus on speed requires faster decisions and empowerment.

In 2019, Gallup’s research has found that only 36 percent of employees in the United Kingdom felt their organisation had an agile mindset. One year later, during COVID-19, these figures have dropped to 26 percent. Typically, agile teams work with ongoing, direct interaction, that promotes engagement and enables highly productive work environments, naturally increasing the likelihood of timely feedback. And according to Gallup’s findings employees in agile teams are twice as likely to receive frequent feedback from their managers. Therefore, in the absence of traditional collaboration, leaders need to be more intentional about designing their teams' interactions to ensure regular, healthy human interactions in the new remote environment.

Agility is a core skill for leaders required to provide psychological safety that supports the environment of change. To be able to anticipate change, respond to it, face it with resilience and thrive in uncertainty, organisations need to enable psychologically safe structures and resources and treat employees as people first and foremost. Misinformation, economic uncertainty and health concerns have all underpinned heightened anxiety levels this year, and as a result, business executives have had to become drivers of honest conversations.

In the current environment it's not enough for leaders to know what their employee is working on. Instead, they need to genuinely understand their wellbeing and what are the collective personal and professional challenges keeping them up at night. Having this understanding can ultimately help leaders to delegate tasks, set deadlines and outline expectations, as well as build trust and mutual respect. Leaders who can demonstrate agility, innovation, and a willingness to listen are those who will turn the crisis into a successful business transformation.

Survival of the fittest

“Survival of the fittest,” a phrase made popular by Charles Darwin, applies to surviving many situations, attitudes and challenges. Leadership is hard. To be effective, it often requires pushing agendas, giving tough feedback, making hard decisions that disappoint people, and, in some cases, laying people off.

Barclays has recently implemented decentralised decision making by making local branches satellite offices for more employees and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) believes that its new hybrid model could improve velocity by about 25 percent, thanks to productivity gains. These are just a few examples of many organisations who transformed their business model to adapt to the economic changes presented by the pandemic. But no business can succeed without people and the operational shift requires new skills sets and approach to learning.

According to a recent McKinsey report, the UK will face a growing skills shortage over the next decade without retraining and reskilling workers for the shift to a digital-based economy which has been sped up by the COVID-19 pandemic. The analysis showed that 94 percent of the workforce lacked skills they will require in 2030, with the pandemic polarising the job market with some skills already in shortage, and some low-skilled jobs unlikely to return.

At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills through to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at


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