Agility is more than Scrum and Agile

It’s about connecting leadership, external focus and a flexible work organization.


Marty de Jonge

3 years ago | 5 min read

It’s about connecting leadership, external focus and a flexible work organization.

Agility is one of the most important themes of the 21st century. Organizations have to adapt faster and faster to changing circumstances, which means continuous improvement and renewal. If you fail to do so, you will have a hard time. Former DSM board chairman Peter Elverding concluded years ago: ‘Companies that do not adapt are dying out like dinosaurs.

Nothing new so far. We’ve been hearing this message for decades and the agile hype has been around for several years. Agile is thus high on the agenda of directors and managers. But how do you tackle it?

Many organizations have started with new organizational principles and working methods such as agile working, lean processes, self-management or ‘scrumming’ in projects. But these are only a few pieces of the puzzle. If you really want to become agile, there is much more to it than that.

Most important is looking beyond this Scrum-agile noise that is being spread. The real question is, how do you become “strategically agile”? Asking the question is easier than answering it. This is because becoming really agile has consequences for the entire organization. The book ‘Wendbare strategie op één A4’ from Sjors van Leeuwen describes eleven building blocks. with these, organizations can increase their agility. These eleven building blocks are:

  • Compass,
  • Scope,
  • Connecting leadership,
  • External orientation,
  • Rolling strategy,
  • Innovation,
  • Business model,
  • Working organization,
  • Technology,
  • Brand,
  • Customer.

In this article, I will briefly explain three of the eleven building blocks that are most important in my opinion. These are connecting leadership, external orientation and a flexible work organization.

Connecting leadership in healthcare

When it comes to ‘leadership’, the present time, but certainly also the future, demand a different kind of leadership than we have had in the past hundred years. That much is clear. In many cases, the familiar hierarchical and managerial leadership no longer fits. But what does? There is a need for what I call ‘connecting leadership’.

A good example of this can be found at Verslavingszorg Noord Nederland, where a new director took up office after the organization was set to lose a few million euros. A reorganisation plan was prepared and approved by all parties that stated that 130 people had to be dismissed. But the new director said he didn’t believe in that. He believed in growing and adding value, not just cutting.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do”, he said. “But there has to be a plan in a few months time”. That caused a lot of resistance in the beginning, but in the end, plans came up during discussions. It turned out that if everyone worked 1 hour less, 35 FTEs could stay on. Those were called ‘solidarity hours’. The research hub also proposed doing commercial jobs. Bottom line, there was a reorganization with zero compulsory redundancies and a completely different approach.

The “old school” (top-down) approach to these types of reorganisations would be to cut costs by examining which business units are no longer profitable. (of course by an external ‘specialist’ or consultant)

Subsequently, on the basis of a detailed report, these parts would be disposed of or drastically reduced. The people no longer needed are placed in a “work to work” pool and are ‘guided out’.

Instead, this director looked at it in a totally different way and reached out to the people involved in the process. He took a vulnerable position by indicating that he also did not have all the answers. He invited the organization to look together at what is best for both the organization as a whole and the people within it. Connecting instead of separating.

External orientation in government and business

Agile organizations have ‘strategic alertness’ in their DNA. They continuously monitor the environment. You can tackle this in different ways. For example: For years, Rijkswaterstaat has had an Early Warning team that functions as a ‘crow’s nest’. With representatives (open-minded people) from all parts of the organization. This team scans the developments in society, the work field and its own organization in a structured manner. Important signals are shared in various ways within the organization. These form input for the strategic discussion.

You can also bring the outside world in through structural cooperation with customers, suppliers, knowledge institutes and educational institutions. Through research (R&D), co-creation, knowledge networks, innovation platforms or customer panels. Companies such as IBM, SAP and HP involve stakeholders and external parties in foresight studies with business games and design contests.

Other companies have an ‘innovation hub’ in Silicon Valley to be close to the action. Of course, you regularly go outside your office walls to see with your own eyes what’s happening in the world. Microsoft is known for sending many anthropologists out to observe people’s behaviour in real life. What do people do and why? What do they need?

Unilever marketers stay at people’s homes to see what’s going on among their customers and how they buy and use products as a family. Supermarket chains such as Target and Tesco identify trends through big data analysis.

Come from behind your desk and seek out the outside world. What does your crow’s nest look like?

Flexible work organization on-demand

To get more flexibility, many organizations work with a ‘fixed core’ of employees surrounded by a ‘shell’ of flex workers who are available on a call-off basis. For example via temporary workers or freelancers. This is a well-known phenomenon in sectors such as hospitality, care, construction and agriculture and horticulture.

Working with flex workers can increase manoeuvrability because you can scale up and down the workforce faster. The advantage for the organization is clear, although there is a lot of social and political debate about the legal status of flex workers.

One step further are the new companies from the on-demand economy such as Uber, Helpling and Deliveroo. In these types of companies, the workforce is largely made up of flex workers who can decide for themselves when, how often and for how long they want to work.

Can you imagine yourself working like this?

  • In the morning you are a driver at Uber,
  • in the afternoon cleaner at Helpling and
  • in the early evening bicycle courier at meal delivery company Deliveroo.

Maybe not, but young people now entering the labour market are much more open to these new kinds of constructions. Organizations can also use platforms within their business model to outsource work via ‘crowd service’ and ‘crowd working’. Think of ‘outsourcing’ customer service to the ‘crowd’. Telecom companies such as T-Mobile have customer queries answered by other customers through their customer forum, in which more than 200,000 customers participate.

As a result, T-Mobile was able to transfer dozens of customer service employees to social media management. A variant of this are the platforms for ‘crowd working’. These are online marketplaces for independent professionals who specialize in a particular task. In this way, NASA focuses with a small core team on a small part of the activities in which it is really good. Other important and less important matters that do not belong to the core area are outsourced to these types of platforms.


‘Change is the only constant’, also in terms of what we mean by “Agility”. Until a few years ago, that term was mainly related to the use of frameworks such as Scrum, SAFe or concepts such as the Spotify model and ‘Modern Agile’.
However, companies and organizations that are TRULY Agile feel limited by the above models rather than delivering value to them.

Organizations that are TRULY Agile find their own form of “Agility” that works for them!

What about the “Agility” of your organization?


Created by

Marty de Jonge

As an agnostic change agent, I am constantly amazed at what happens in organizations and learn every day. Enthusiastic writer and always open for discussion.







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