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If you’ve been following the Lean Startup or Agile Software Development philosophies that have appeared in the business spotlight in recent years, it would be hard to miss the fact that business-wide agile operating models have generated a great deal of buzz.

As agile operating models increase in popularity, there has been a tendency to focus on a specific framework like Scrum for managing software development. However, that focus is too narrow. In fact, many companies are making the move to agile because other programs they’ve tried in their attempts to make major business operational shifts have failed to deliver the desired results. There is a growing sense that it is less about frameworks and methods, and more about developing capabilities in the business, and operating and engaging in different ways.

When applied more broadly, agile practices uncover business challenges from talent gaps to flawed work culture. Here are three ways an agile operating model can improve your business.

1) Moving from a tools and processes change to a cultural shift

It’s human nature to want a quick fix for our problems, but that generally doesn’t lend itself to long-term, systemic change. Focusing on making incremental changes from where you are and using data to measure and monitor improvements cut to the heart of that conundrum by changing the way people think about their roles and responsibilities, and how they deliver a great service. During a successful operating model implementation, your entire team should be asking themselves why they do things a certain way instead of just following instructions to change.

In order to foster that type of deep change, executive sponsors should be willing to show their team members how to adapt to the new agile culture that’s being implemented. They should also be willing to introduce some “quick wins” (which are also meaningful!) so that employees can see change is possible. Even more importantly, executive sponsors should be willing to adopt the agile cultural shift in their own approach to management. A cultural shift doesn’t just happen by saying “we’re going to do it differently.” Executives have to be willing to actually do things differently and ultimately help the organization shift its collective thinking about business processes. It’s ultimately about being able to challenge the status quo, the current beliefs and collectively learning new ways of delivering.

2) Employee happiness and retention

When an organization implements an agile operating model, it’s inherently telling employees they are worth the investment. That investment generates a return for the employee in terms of new and improved skills along with a greater sense of satisfaction and engagement with their work. And, of course, an employee who feels valued and experiences fulfillment from his or her job is more likely to stay with your organization for the long term. Any HR director will tell you that a happier employee tends to be a more productive employee. That means an entire workforce experiencing a sense of satisfaction in their jobs is going to lead to a healthier bottom line for your organization.

3) Customer satisfaction

This one is almost an extension of the two points discussed above. A workplace culture that encourages people to ask why they’re doing something instead of simply charging ahead like always is naturally going to lead to better interactions with customers.

Agile principles are focused on creating end products and services that customers and the market really wants — instead of what an engineer thinks customers want — and delivering those well-received products to market more efficiently. If your organization can make your customers feel like they’re actually being heard when they provide feedback, and give them more of what they want faster, you’re going to see stronger profits.

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