skip to main content
The One Key Element to Achieving True Agility

The One Key Element to Achieving True Agility

by Marco Nink

Story Highlights

  • Customers want new and better products
  • To encourage innovation, leaders need to create the right workplace culture
  • People need the right resources to be innovative and agile

Agility is about speed and efficiency in process for product -- the product that your customers want now and that people will want in the future.

Innovation is at the core of an agile workplace culture. Customer-centric products result from a mindset that can visualize -- and better, anticipate -- the groundbreaking, market-seizing products that disrupt markets, create new economic energy and make companies successful.

But in the workplace, innovation isn't limited to designing cutting-edge inventions -- it includes new ideas that accelerate processes and optimize workflow. And best of all, anyone in your organization can contribute.

So, Gallup's finding that many German employees feel encouraged to innovate is very good news indeed.

A focus on innovation is one of the eight factors that drive a culture of agility in the workplace.

In Germany, 41% of employees strongly agree with the statement: "I feel encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things," seven percentage points higher than the country's average in 2012 (34%). Echoing Gallup's findings, the number of patent applications filed in Germany was higher in 2017 than it was in 2012.

Though these measures have improved over the past several years, when just four in 10 employees agree that they feel encouraged to contribute to the conversation there is still much room for further growth. And in other countries, the outlook is not any better. In 2018, 36% of employees in the UK strongly agreed with that statement, followed by 30% in France and the U.S., and 20% in Spain.

These findings are from a series of interviews Gallup conducted in late 2017 and early 2018 with 80 business leaders and managers in the U.S. and EU about their experiences with agility in their organizations.

Gallup followed up that research by conducting interviews with more than 5,500 U.S. and 4,000 European workers regarding perceptions of their company's agility.

Gallup has found that a focus on innovation is one of the eight factors that drive a culture of agility in the workplace -- and most businesses lack all of them. As a result, employees' innovative ideas don't see the light of day, customers look elsewhere and the business falls behind.

Inspire an Innovative Mindset to Achieve Agility

Innovative cultures prize a mindset that conceives of new ideas and further, these workplace cultures encourage employees to share and develop them.

Unfortunately, only about one in four workers feel their opinions count at work. They may worry they're not entitled enough, competent enough or valued enough to suggest a fresh look at an old "certainty" or process or product or service. Or they may fear consequences if an idea fails.

Here are four actions leaders can take to intentionally encourage innovation in the workplace to become more agile:

1. Establish trust.

A psychologically safe environment is built on people-to-people relationships, this is especially true of the worker-manager relationship. And trust is the foundation of every relationship. Cultivating it requires respectful interactions that occur in an open and trusting environment. Leaders must help managers create workplace conditions that demonstrate management can be trusted.

Creativity makes people feel vulnerable, and it takes courage to offer a new idea. It's easier for workers to find that courage if they know supervisors are open to criticism and feedback about how things are handled. Managers who support "thinking out loud" stimulate such innovation.

2. Use collective brainstorming.

Conversations -- especially in different employee constellations -- can inspire fresh thinking and bring new perspectives. Brainstorming also provides a platform for critical examination, which is necessary for developing an innovative idea. Supervisors are more effective when they role model what they want from teams. Managers should question routines and be willing to try new, experimental processes. This will feed employee creativity and prove that managers genuinely value their contributions.

3. Consider the multisolution solution.

Challenge employees to develop many solutions for a single problem. It compels them to look at a problem from different angles in different ways to find various solutions and neutralizes blind spots. Contests can inject energy in the process, but great solutions tend to arise from trust-filled teams who feel empowered to explore beyond the standard quick fix.

Employees will need feedback on their ideas. Supervisors who serve as a sounding board provide an important service -- by asking questions and requesting elaboration, they push ideas toward customer-centric solutions. And it's an affirmation of sorts because it proves that innovative ideas are taken seriously.

Some of the feedback employees receive may be critical, of course, and some ideas will be rejected. Neither outcome is pleasant, but a supervisor's interest communicates that innovation is important and welcome. No response at all points to indifference; employees who feel like their ideas are not being heard will eventually give up and stop participating.

4. Apply 3P design thinking, but differently.

The "3Ps" are people, place, and process. People are the multidisciplinary teams with the ability to conceive of diverse ideas through the creative process. Place means an open and flexible work environment with plenty of space to visualize ideas. Process is an iterative, trial-and-error innovation model that puts the user or customer in focus.

Managers should defend this process relentlessly. A challenge to one aspect of it is a threat to them all. Equip workers to get the most from one another -- a strengths focus will help -- and remove useless barriers. Most teams don't have that advantage: only 54% of German workers in 2014 said they knew their own strengths and far fewer, 29%, could name the strengths and talents of their colleagues.

The 3Ps require certain resources. Some resources are budget items -- such as tech, analytics, and time -- while others are psychological, like implicit encouragement and intellectual elbow room. of the absence of resources can be a great barrier when it comes to converting ideas into reality.

And turning ideas into products fast is the whole point of being agile. That's how leaders meet the needs of the customers they have and the people who will become customers in the future.

Strengthening the spirit of innovation starts with leaders. They can create an atmosphere in which employees feel free to openly discuss their ideas without being disabled by hierarchy or fear.

The next great idea, obviously big or seemingly small, can come from anyone. So, it's a very good sign that Germany's workers feel freer now to talk about their innovative ideas. It puts their organizations one step closer to the eight elements of an agile workplace culture -- and a lot closer to their next customer.

Gallup can help you improve innovation by developing an agile workplace:


Marco Nink is Gallup's Regional Lead in Research and Analytics, EMEA.

Jennifer Robison contributed to this article.

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030