An organisation that is resistant to change, and prefers to stick to the tried-and-true ways of doing things, can forget about surviving in the long-run, much less prospering.

Syed Ali Abbas, the Group HR Director of Global Fashion Group and a 20 year veteran of the industry, talks to HRM Magazine Asia about why agility is such an important cultural characteristic for any organisation – and the role leaders play in propagating it.

In a climate of constant change, agility has become essential. How can leaders best nurture this trait in their employees?

The most basic step in my view is providing the working environment, learning opportunities and empowerment for employees to actually be agile.

It makes no sense at all for leaders to expect employees to be agile and innovative without also changing the top-down, rigid, inward-looking and consensus-driven way in which they run their organisations today.

I’ve seen environments where employees are asked to be agile and innovative… but then need 10 people across various teams to approve even a minor, non-controversial and free process change that could greatly benefit customers.

How can HR, in turn, support leaders in these efforts? 

Our job as HR professionals is two-fold. First, we need to educate ourselves on what it really means to be agile because, quite frankly, HR is one of the least agile functions in most organisations today.

Second, after getting educated we should then translate our newfound knowledge into building more agility-friendly cultures, organisation structures, leaders, management styles, ways of working, and HR programs/policies/processes/systems to enable the rest of the business.

This is not as easy as it sounds. First, it means we need to rethink and redesign a lot of the HR practices we have come to rely on in our careers so far.

Second, at the same time it’s very difficult to pick what should be redone and what should not because we have to think through the implications for our own organisation rather than what someone in Silicon Valley did for a lavishly-funded startup 10 years ago.

In terms of leadership development, how can organisations ensure that they are cultivating agile leaders?

Just like what I shared for HR, future leaders also first need to be educated on what it really means to be agile.

We can do that in a variety of ways like:
- Providing training that equips them with the right conceptual frameworks and case studies.
- Connecting them to best-in-class agile leaders / thinkers / coaches / organisations in the outside world to learn from them.
- Giving them the chance to apply all of this in their work back in the office.

These are basic things but they work. Leaders are employees too and they are not perfect or all-knowing, so they need our support just like everyone else.

Further to the above, what do organisations need to keep in mind to ensure these future leaders are also equipped to lead a workforce that must constantly evolve to keep up?

The challenge is not only that the workforce must constantly evolve to keep up with the world and leaders need to guide them through that, but it’s also that the workforce itself is evolving rapidly and leaders need to be ready for that themselves.

If you visit the Zalora Singapore office where I sit, or our next door neighbours Carousell, you will see that these offices and the people in them are not typical.

So we need to actively work to help our leaders develop the right leadership skills and also the right leadership mindsets.

I’ve already hinted at the answers above but some of the things leaders can and should do more are being collaborative, being flexible, being connected to the outside world, being open to new ideas, building an environment of trust and empowering their teams to do the right thing.

(Source: HRM Asia)

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