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There is no better way to respond to an overused four-letter acronym than to create your own, as Kai Riemer did at the first BOSS Emerging Leaders networking event for 2017. In front of about 220 people in the Ivy Ballroom in Sydney, the technology professor from the University of Sydney Business School said it was time to move on from the term “VUCA”.
This military acronym, which stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, proved to be a useful starting point for a sometimes fiery panel discussion about the impact of technology disruption.
The 90-minute panel discussion covered many topics, including the skills needed by leaders of the future and how to bust through the bureaucracies holding back some of our largest companies.
Of course, agile thinking is the new black in business. But in Chook Roast’s experience, few have been able to define what it really means.
Riemer believes agile is, first and foremost, a set of values. “Agile is about trust in self-organising teams and not micro-management.”
“It does not compromise on quality or time of delivery, but remains flexible regarding the project’s scope. Rather than planning exactly what to deliver, it is about iterating towards a good solution. It’s a good approach when the exact outcome is unknown or unknowable.”
The most recent high-profile implementation of agile in Australia is at ANZ Banking Group, which wants to use it to improve customer service. ANZ chief executive Shayne Elliott said it was also about breaking down bureaucratic walls.
“The use of agile will mean a much less hierarchical ANZ, one built around small, collaborative, self-directed teams focused on delivering continuous improvement in the customer experience,” he said in early May.
During the panel discussion there was a focus on the issue of bureaucracies in business. But instead of looking at why bureaucratic processes suffocate innovation, the panelists talked about how to cut through red tape.
Riemer says bureaucracies are useful in stable environments with a focus on managing compliance and risk. But when faced with disruption there is a tendency for managers to fall back on rules to avoid taking risks.
“I think it is important to balance bureaucracies with spaces in which employees can engage in open sense-making without the fear of retribution,” Riemer says.
“The problem with bureaucracies is that they crowd out trust and trust is the basis of agility. By learning to follow the rules we literally forget how to trust each other.”
Chook Roast is Chanticleer columnist Tony Boyd’s monthly column in BOSS Magazine.