Helping managers transmit a culture of innovation and agility

Tue 20 Feb 2018

The digital revolution is certainly bringing profound changes to the economy and the world of work but, at its heart, it is cultural and managerial revolution. Organisations today are having to adapt and modify their operating methods in order to survive. They are doing this through innovation and collective agility, which Orange interpret as customer-focus, cross-departmental cooperation and initiative development.

Though set in motion by top management and human resources departments, the cultural transformations that have to take place to give these operating modes a central role in organisations simply cannot happen without the help of middle management.

The need for new kinds of managerial skills

The role of managers is changing and evolving. Companies now expect them to have new skills that will enable them to transmit a culture of innovation and agility to their staff::

  • a more open approach to the challenges of innovation and agility, the ability to put these concepts into practice on a personal level, open-mindedness to promote initiative taking, cross-departmental collaboration and risk taking,
  • the ability to get the ball rolling with regard to these new practices and stimulate new potential-building environments where:
  • “clearly defined processes coupled with personal creativity enable them to express themselves and make the transformation into innovation”
  • people can “move from “knowing how to act” to “being able to act” and “wanting to act” in order to ensure they can be agile when faced by never before seen situations”.

This change involves transcending the role of order-giving manager and technical expert and growing to become a coach/guide figure.
An analysis of the different operating models for liberated companies (Favi, Poult, Pixar, to name but a few ) illustrates what is expected of managers in such models.

Their primary role is to welcome and actively promote creativity by eliciting all the different talents in the team and encouraging each and every employee to contribute, all the while implementing mechanisms, rituals and fruitful exchanges that generate innovation. This means trusting people and limiting controls in order to unlock free speech, initiative and risk-taking. Instilling trust and a sense of responsibility in their employees comes through managers being clear with regard to what they expect from them. This way, they can make each member of their team the instigator and driver of their own personal growth and professional performance. It is here that the subsidiarity principle – which is the idea that an individual who finds him or herself directly confronted by a problem should assume full responsibility for solving it – is absolutely essential and ought to be applied in all cases (the individual is also responsible for any mistakes that he or she may make).

Digital removes barriers and eliminates silos, driving managers to share and adopt collaborative attitudes, not only in the context of their teams but also when interacting with other entities. They are able to achieve this through networking (organised according to skills) as opposed to team-working (organised according to power), as well as through facilitating communication between the company’s different hierarchical levels.

Finally, in an environment that is in constant flux, managers’ added value lies in their capacity to develop employees’ responsiveness as well as in their ability remain realistic, dealing with real-world challenges before worrying about potential problems on the horizon.
These are the new operating methods that are being adopted in many companies; their implementation requires managers to have stronger interpersonal skills than they used to and a stronger capacity to manage insecurity and uncertainty. Réal Jacob believes that managers today have a lot to gain by being “T-shaped”, which means remaining an expert in their industry but simultaneously drawing on interpersonal skills like negotiation, coordination, empathy, the ability to appreciate every individual contribution, etc.

Levers of change towards new models of management

Going forward, discussion will be centred on which levers organisations have available to them to help their managers – present and future and of all levels of experience – to acquire or develop these skills and adopt the associated new management models.
These levers are still under construction, but we can already see three approaches developing:

  • Managers’ individual reflection and analysis:

Pascale Fotius recommends that companies “encourage managers to analyse any problem situations they encounter with a view to identifying the resources they need to mobilise collectively against anything that is restricting their support work and managerial control (hindered management)”.

Human Resources Departments (HRDs) are in a position to stimulate this sort of personal reflection, especially given that now more than ever before their role is to stimulate and support transformation. In addition to large-scale collective programmes, another way in which HR is able to spark and nourish this kind of reflection is by maintaining personal relationships with managers. With this in mind, managers’ capacity for self-reflection and their ability to take a step back and analyse the situation become crucial recruitment criteria and managerial benchmarks since they form the foundation on which all the other core skills are built.

  • Collective exchanges on the topic:

French public body ANACT highlights the need to create regulatory spaces where work can be discussed freely and “encourage analyses from stakeholders on the ground of their perceptions of what is hindering, holding up, slowing down or speeding up efforts to provide support to supplement the individual, collective and organisational resources already available to them”.
It would be particularly beneficial for this sort of reflection to be undertaken both individually and collectively. Naturally, this could be achieved through training. However, co-development workshops and best practice sharing groups – which have the advantage of focusing on co-construction as opposed to pure dissemination – can also play an important role.
There are other levers that are centred around experience feedback like Orange’s Worklab, for example, which analyses new methods of working and organises regular “share meets” allowing managers to share their personal experiences and encouraging them to think about the various initiatives taken in the Group’s different locations and entities. These kinds of specialist manager events are easily devised.

  • Testing:

Testing is absolutely crucial when it comes to convincing managers of the rationale behind new practices and giving them the tools they need to implement initiatives that have been successful elsewhere into their own organisations. In fact, transformations are often conducted using a “test and learn” method.
That is why “Learning expeditions” or “walk a mile in my shoes” type events are actually quite appropriate (L’Oréal board members have participated in immersions at Google, Vente Privée, Amazon, Webedia etc.).
It is also worthwhile involving managers in employee innovation programmes (in a variety of potential roles) in order to enable them to fully grasp and adapt to this culture.
Giving managers the right tools (human or otherwise) to pursue and implement the ideas that are generated during exchanges and test phases is essential. “One-shot” idea sessions have little chance of success: what is required is a long-term consistent approach. Therefore, it can be useful to run peer mentoring initiatives with other companies or even have staff monitored day to day by HR, coaches or trainers. Peer groups are also quite useful. Microsoft, for instance, has introduced “manager communities” that enable them to test out new ways of doing things together. Finally, very specific tools such as Orange Group’s “tool box” that offer practical guides to new operating methods (e.g. agility) are a precious lifeline for managers who are at last being asked to radically change their operating methods.

The change in attitude required of managers and employees if they are to come to grips with the digital revolution is significant. We must accept that not everyone will be able to switch their mindset just like that – it will require time and long-term support. The effort needed to achieve this, which relies to a more significant extent on operational personnel, cannot happen without an equally or even more drastic transformation of support staff and the processes that they implement. Lastly, an organisational analysis should facilitate the identification of the more business-critical teams and entities that ought to be given priority when it comes to transformation in order to afford other teams more time to familiarise themselves with and accept this change.


Aurélie Tobola