The support function’s dilemma when introducing agility.
Corporate support functions first need to sort out their own strategy before getting serious about adding value with #agility.
What’s the problem?
In many organizations I work with, corporate support functions such as e.g. HR, IT, R&D, Innovation or Supply Chain have a reputation of being a bottleneck, of being reactive rather than pro-active or of having the wrong priorities. Sometimes, they are referred to as those who drain or waste resources (which should rather be invested elsewhere) or those who create overhead (without adding value to essential business activities).
Recently, some of these support #functions are among those introducing and promoting agility. They start setting themselves up as agile agents, consultants or coaches – with best intentions, but often without aligning their agile initiatives with business priorities. As a consequence, their efforts are not taken seriously, are unspecific or untargeted and – therefore – ineffective.
What is the root cause?
Why does that happen? Why are some corporate support functions viewed as an unwanted appendix?
Many support functions lack their own strategy.
In consequence they
b) put the function and its’ status first, blindly overinvesting in e.g. high-end technology or megatrends like e.g. agility – for their own reputation sake only and regardless of particular business demands and alignment with overall strategy.
What could a solution look like?
Support function #leaders should engage in a continuous #dialogue and initiate a focused #strategy #development process in close alignment with business priorities and needs. Also, or especially, when it comes to investing in and introducing services related to agile culture, mindset or methods (e.g. agile leadership, agile manufacturing, agile innovation etc.).
First, a support function needs to ask itself:
What is the function’s current strategy which is reflected in day-to-day decision making and prioritization? It might not be explicitly stated, but implicitly something is driving decision making. Find out what. What is working and what isn’t?
Secondly: What is the overall corporate or business strategy? And hence which priorities does the business follow? In what way is the function most critical to fulfilling or achieving those?
Answers to those questions allow conclusions about a support functions disconnection from or alignment with overall company strategy. Are functional choices poorly or well aligned with business needs? Are functional efforts focusing on the wrong areas hence underserving those critical to success? Is the support function helping the organization to develop the right systems and capabilities?
Based on the insights and conclusions gathered, a specific functional strategy can be derived,
which tackles business problems worth solving
which clearly outlines where the function wants to play (Who are the units/brands/ products most important to the company’s strategy? Who exactly are the function’s primary internal stakeholders within those units? What is the core offering the function is serving to them? Which parts of that does the function deliver itself or outsource?)
which transparently states how it wants to win (What is the differentiating factor as a function? Which “competitor” or “best in class” should the function sensibly, realistically and logically benchmark against? What is the relative value the function delivers to the firm?)
Only based on those fundamental considerations and analyses, smart decisions on effective and targeted business support can be taken. And maybe some of those actions and initiatives involve agility. Agility refers to how a business need can be addressed. Still, prior to that, the function must understand what problem (or challenge) needs tackling and why it is relevant in the bigger corporate strategic context. Otherwise all good intentions are overshadowed by the prevailing reputation of “not getting the job done”.
More about managing functions on hbr.com, for deeper insights view this article.