Business agility is all the rage these days. Business consultants use agile methods as a tonic to ward off nimble challengers, as a vaccine against the disruptions of COVID-19, or as a panacea for all of your company’s problems.
However, achieving business agility is more difficult than training some of your employees as Agile Scrum Masters and implementing daily stand-ups. It requires all levels of your organization – employees, middle management, and possibly the C-suite in particular – to change their beliefs and behaviors in four basic ways:
Layer 1: From a focus on outputs to a focus on results
Let’s face it: the majority of marketing departments and agencies are content and advertising factories. They produce emails, blog posts, ads, websites, and other promotional materials like an assembly line. Then they justify all activity in terms of vanity metrics: email opening, blog traffic, reach and frequency of ads, website views, and more.
However, for this approach the following questions need to be asked:
- Do customers want more marketing noise?
- Who cares on the business side?
- Who thinks the vanity metrics matter?
Marketers – and others on teams hoping to be more than a support function for their core business – need to focus on the results: revenue, revenue, and profitability.
While this seems obvious, a specific focus on results (and the customer behavior that leads to those results) in organizations can be lost when you step down from the C-suite. However, a focus on results needs to be ubiquitous in your company. It is not enough to cheer sales and profitability.
Many employees, individual employees, and middle managers cannot see how their work affects the bigger picture. CMOs and other executives must therefore help them identify the specific customer behavior that leads to increased sales or higher margins.
For example, instead of measuring website views, marketers should ask what types of visitors and visitor website behaviors are driving sales.
Layer 2: From campaigns to continuous improvement
Traditional marketing campaigns take weeks of planning. They require coordination of multiple teams and skills, from marketing strategy to creative development to web deployment to testing and measurement. Most campaigns are run once, and victory is declared with all of the metrics that tell the success story.
Many marketers think in terms of campaigns. But everyone in your company needs to think about continuous, incremental improvement instead.
Continuous improvement starts with an idea – a hypothesis about what works or might work better. This hypothesis is tested on a small scale. If that fails, there is no need to justify the test with vanity metrics. It went wrong; try something else.
Optimize the idea and test it again.
Some tweaks may not produce any improvement, but others can produce massive and unexpectedly positive results. Only when an idea has been checked and optimized should it be implemented on a large scale with campaign budgets and full customer reach.
Layer 3: From an internal focus to a customer focus
Customer focus can deliver real results:
Agile offers special techniques to improve customer orientation, including the use of user stories, personas and customer journeys. Agile also encourages decision-making based on customer data and analysis rather than opinions and conventions.
Companies with robust implementations of marketing technologies (or stacks, as they are called) can achieve much higher levels of personalization for their marketing, resulting in happier customers who receive fewer, more targeted promotions and ads.
Layer 4: Top down to decentralized decision making
The shift to decentralized decision-making can be the hardest – and most important – of the four shifts.
An agile implementation that maintains the delays and rework associated with top-down approvals will inevitably fail. Approvers create bottlenecks, morale suffers, and the hoped-for improvements in speed and productivity do not materialize.
Decentralized decision-making has many benefits: improved responsiveness to customers, greater creativity and use of talent, greater accountability, and improved work ethic.
However, it is difficult to achieve these results. Management needs to give up control, and while it is necessary, it is not enough. Lower-level executives and individual contributors also need to change their behavior. Many individual contributors are reluctant when given the opportunity to make decisions. You hesitate. They urge executives to take responsibility for the final decisions.
Managers need to make sure employees understand that it is okay to fail, especially if they have followed a good decision-making process.
* * *
Business agility requires a change in mindset at every level of an organization. In addition to training in agile methodologies and practices, organizations must invest in the cultural changes mentioned above if they are to achieve long-term agility and success.
More resources on business agility
Agility vs. Speed: How Agile Marketing Can Cope With Volatile Times
Using Scenarios to Achieve Marketing Agility
Marketing Smarts: Frank Days for agile marketing