In an agile world, do we still need our ducks in a row? by Harvey Neve

What on earth does having your ducks in a row mean anyway? Does it mean everything is ship shape and Bristol fashion? And what the hell does that mean?

Well, I believe that these phrases highlight one of the modern-day pitfalls for people in leadership roles. We all like things to have structure and regularity but, unfortunately, the business world is no longer like that. Structure charts are pretty much worthless in the modern world as people are now likely to be members of lots of different teams, often at the same time dependent on the needs of those teams vs the skills and experience of the person. To the traditional manager, this appears as total chaos. To the modern leader it is a thing of beauty, as people constantly move around, coming together to solve problems and create and take opportunities and then moving on to other challenges; a veritable kaleidoscope of ever-shifting talent and success.

When I reflect on the many change projects that I have led or been involved with over the years, one thing I have learned is that by striving to have ‘all your ducks in a row’ you'll constantly find your resources lined up against something that was happening yesterday. Things will have moved on and you’ll find your best competitors are already on it; There is a new pond of opportunity and when you discover it you’ll find it’s already covered in other ducks!

This habit of ‘never being in quite the right shape’ is a symptom of having command and control leadership. If you’re at the helm, endeavouring to control everything, making sure that all your ducks are in a row, then you’re over managing and your appetite for control will be holding back the pace of delivery and stifling innovation. Your people will be waiting to be told what to do, where to go and which resources to take. This is frustrating for talented people and they will simply leave.

Leadership is about making sure all your ducks know what they’re trying to achieve, have a broad set of operating principles to work with and are empowered to collaborate and use the resources at their disposal or go find new resources to realise new opportunities. If they need to line up they will!

Empowerment is by definition a powerful thing; releasing the talents within your people means that you have more of your ducks where they need to be, at the right time. When you start consistently doing this you’ll find that not only will you start getting to the new pond of opportunity first, but you may even create a nice pond of your own to take full benefit of before all the others arrive. You should also find that you start to get more of the most precious thing of all: Time.

Things change, constantly and at a pace, we have never seen before. If you’re solely focused on having the right structure and processes in place, then you will consistently be successfully solving yesterday’s problems. If, however, you’re constantly communicating your vision of success, discussing progress and ideas with your teams, encouraging them and allowing them to get into the shape they need to solve the problem or take the opportunity in play, then suddenly things start to happen, your business becomes ‘agile’.

I was once warned by a truly inspirational leader that working in this way would result in me never really feeling in control any more and that this would be unsettling. He was right! But he reassured me that continued good governance and reporting would keep me up to speed with what was ‘happening’ but that by empowering and engaging with people I would also have a good understanding of what was "going on" and that this was one of the key differences between management and leadership.

So how are your ducks looking?

#Agile #Leadership #Strategy #Change


Harvey Neve is head of digital products and transformation at Public Health England and a specialist in leadership and change management having held transformational leadership roles in both the private and public sectors, more recently leading the application of new technologies and adoption of the behavioural change required to realise the benefits of digital transformation. Harvey is also director of Inglefield Consulting who specialises in leadership and culture development.

Harvey is a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute and a regular blogger/speaker and lives with his wife and family in County Durham, England.