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Lessons Learned at Business Agility 2018

  • Publish Date: Posted over 5 years ago
  • Author: Tony Shawver

Lessons Learned at Business Agility 2018

I had the pleasure of attending the Business Agility 2018 conference in NYC this month with our company president, Gary Wood. Although the Business Agility conference is only in its second year, the folks at the Business Agility Institute have done a fantastic job of creating an intimate, collaborative learning environment for all attendees. Kudos to all involved! I was impressed with both what I heard and where it came from. Here are some of my favorite takeaways…

Lessons Learned at Business Agility 2018

Why I went

My team at MATRIX has been utilizing and refining our Business Agility offering with a holistic focus (see Holistic Agile webinar) for the past two years. We utilize a micro and macro approach to agility across the organization for maximum responsiveness, customer value, and employee satisfaction. The micro approach allows Finance, HR, Marketing, etc. to get similar gains in work effectiveness and alignment that the IT folks have been after for years, but by using approaches more suited to those functions and skillsets. Additionally, Business Agility (see Business Agility blog) at the macro level allows all departments to work in a more cohesive manner and promotes the cross-function collaboration that modern businesses need to survive in today’s dynamic economy. I attended BA2018 to see what others were doing in this area and was not disappointed. 

My favorite things I heard

“Be the best at being better.”
Jon Smart from Barclays, the 300+ year-old London bank, gave me my new favorite phrase to describe what I do – on day one of the conference! It gets to the heart of being responsive amid the vast, accelerating change all around us. Simply change your core to focus on excelling at constantly being better. Simple, elegant, effective. I love it. “Hi, my name is Tony Shawver. I am a coach who works with organizations to make them great at being better.” Yes! Not only is this aspect of Business Agility a powerful motto to improve your organization with, but the fact that it was born out of a bank culture – with high compliance and regulation – made it even more special. If a 320-year-old London bank can do it, you can, too!

“Don't make your approach bigger, make your scope smaller.”
This was a sentiment that was echoed by several speakers throughout the two days. Very little of the “t” word (transformation) was used, and when it was, it wasn’t in a positive light. Think ‘less is more’. Stop trying to create and implement a big plan to transform your organization with large resources, cost and disruption. Instead, try to pick a bite-sized initiative or business unit and show success by adding real value using existing org structure and resources. Then, inspect and adapt in small steps and expand as your organizational tolerance allows. We know this approach works for eating elephants, and come to find out, it works well for adding Business Agility, too. Who knew?

“If you can't change the leaders, change the leaders.”
Coming in a very close second place for the “phrase that pays” award was this beauty. Of course, as an outside consultant, I’ll have a narrow window to use it, but Nanci Taylor of IBM nailed it. Executive and leadership support is key to make the cultural and operational changes necessary to really embrace agility. Doing things differently takes thought, patience and a willingness to experiment, learn and grow. Without those key leaders backing the relentless efforts of teams and departments to change, they don’t have a chance. So, if you can’t change the mind of the leaders that you need, perhaps it’s time to change those leaders out for someone who will support agility. The future of these organizations depends on possessing the responsiveness, collaboration and customer focus to compete in the modern marketplace. Ensure you have the leadership in place to get you there.

“Keep the ‘Founder’s Mentality ®’ as you grow.”
Jimmy Allen from Bain & Company – who tied Jon Smart from Barclays for the Tony Shawver Best Speaker award – analyzed the growth path of organizations and how the mindset they had early on which made them successful, gets shifted through many internal pressures as they grow. The keyword he stressed was “internal”. Jimmy presented survey data that Bain & Company collected which overwhelmingly showed that it was internal bureaucracy and silos that prevented these companies from sustaining their growth, not the various external factors which many assumed were the culprit. His ‘Micro-Battles System SM’ approach allows large organizations to adapt quickly and still scale those solutions effectively, keeping the “insurgent” culture alive and well. I purchased this book after the conference and have just started reading it, so I don’t know all the details. But thus far, it presents a lot of data validating the problem and supporting their approach to promoting the right culture to remain competitive during growth. He had me at “Keep the ‘Founder’s Mentality ®” as you grow. Who can argue with that!

Who was there

Although this was the conference’s second year of existence, don't think that the speakers were all from small, bleeding-edge startups. On the contrary, the conference speakers had a good, global mixture of industries, size and age including IBM, GE, Target, Buurtzorg, BNP Paribas Fortis, Ableton AG, Corelink, etc. In addition to the speakers, the intimate setting is conducive to a lot of great conversations with fellow attendees to discuss where they are in their Business Agility journey.


Overall, I felt the two-day conference was well worth it (and, no, I have not been paid to say that) and would certainly suggest attending if you have the opportunity. There is a lot of momentum behind Business Agility and examining other organizations’ successes in this area will help you formulate a strategy for your own organization. Good luck on your journey!

Are you moving towards Business Agility? I hope so. Judging by Business Agility 2018, your competitors definitely are.