Agility is “all the rage”. Agility is chic, modern and “in”. But what is agility actually that, at precisely times like these, has triggered such hype. Everybody is talking about agility, but is it truly more than merely a theme whereby consultants (and many other occupational groups as well) have developed a new business idea? Many employees are dispatched to training classes in order to now become Scrum Masters, Product Owners and earn many more such professional titles. But can we truly learn in training classes why agility is?
In this context, I have my doubts and, in many discussions, seminars and workshops recently, I have indeed found there to be a profound interest in the theme, but also false expectations. In this case, methods are being sought which one will learn quickly in order to then assert “we are also agile!” By now, I have already spent some time intensively working with this theme and answering this question is still not easy for me. If we work with agility, then we will quickly observe that the answer regarding what agility truly entails is infinitely more complex than we have hoped or perhaps also expected. According to Aulinger, agility is supposed to help us to successfully move in an increasingly more complex world. If we thus are searching for an aid in order to be able to better handle complexities, why is the solution then supposed to be simple?
Agility is thus a tool; it is a means to an end. Oftentimes, agility is misunderstood to be synonymous with flexibility. But if we equate both of these terms to be synonymous with each other, then we wouldn’t be doing justice to agility. There can be many reasons why we believe that agility will help us to handle our complex company environment better, but ultimately it is always only still a matter of pursuing the (agile) values and principles in order to make a system capable of surviving. Agility may perhaps be modern today, but the fundamental idea is not new at all. As Talcott Parsons addressed the question in the 1950s of what task a system is supposed to fulfil in order to be able to preserve its existence, the theme was still very “theoretical”. Subsequently, when a group of experts at MIT was searching for methods and solutions in order to do something to counteract the stagnation of mass production in the 1960s, a system-theoretical question became a relevant question of practically-oriented organisation development.
Moreover, if we intensively work today with agile organisations and agile workforces, then this is not attributable to the social concept, but rather new findings from neurology and psychology on the one hand and a new values concept of a young generation on the other hand. And thus it is now indeed the case that the generations (Baby-Boomers and Generation X) who have the majority of the power at companies these days, suddenly have completely different, indeed directly unfamiliar, value systems. Whereas previously the classical careers were regarded as being the ideal profile for having security later in one’s retirement years – the ideal profile of a devoted work life, this is hardly important anymore to Generations Y and Z. They ask for self-organisation, decision-making authority and a better work-life balance and hardly are familiar with long-term life planning. Whether we – and I am indeed likewise a member of the Baby-Boomer Generation – will now truly find this or not, we need these young people if we want to continue to be successful financially.
Agility is such hype these days because generations must reach agreement on a new value system – the value system which better corresponds to the human being’s neurology than the management theories of the past. Based upon my experience, young people do not have to spend a lot of time addressing this issue because it corresponds better to their value system. Thus, we are striving for new framework conditions which will ultimately enable us to be successful in a complex world. Thomas Würzburger aptly stated this in his book “The Agility Pitfall”: “The purpose is still always the same: To make the human being as productive as possible”. Thus, behind the purpose of agility, there lies a financial benefit. Agility was therefore never a social romanticism.
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