How to Engineer an Agile Corporate Culture

bad knees


“I finally figured something out. Agile development is a culture, not a process.”   ~Jeff Patton

I have a bum knee.  Actually it’s more than bum, it’s truly dysfunctional, especially after running 15 marathons between the age of 45 to 50, on a right knee where the interior meniscus had been removed 25 years earlier. Long before keyhole surgery.

I don’t run anymore and to be honest, sitting for long periods causes my knee to stiffen up.  The knee action just seems to freeze up and it takes a bit of awkward walking to loosen things up and return to a more fluid stroll instead of a hobble.  The fact is, my knee gets stiff if I don’t move it frequently.  Movement seems to act as a lubricant making the joint more agile and flexible.

Pulling Taffy_thumb[1]The same is true with taffy candy.  Let it sit and it hardens, keep stretching and pulling it and it remains soft and pliable.

So what’s all this got to do with an agile corporate culture you ask?  Lots!

Creating an Agile Corporate Culture:

We all know that corporate culture impacts business performance, both positively and negatively.  And that culture can be a significant barrier to organization change initiatives. In fact, many estimates go as high as 70% of business change initiatives fail due to a rigid corporate culture.

And there is ample evidence that an agile culture improves long-term sustainability and overall business performance.

So, how to develop a more agile corporate culture?

One important action is to move people around.  Don’t let them get ossified and build up mental and work habits by staying in one job or one function too long.  The key to functional excellence, contrary to traditional thinking, is not sticking with the same function for a long time, but continuous learning about the function and how it relates with the other functions and supports the overall business.

Most companies have reduced the amount of cross-functional training that goes on inside the organisation.  Over the past decades we have inadvertently created narrow specialists instead of savvy and agile people who understand how the business works and how their chosen function fits into the overall business model of the company.

What is the frequency of cross-functional learning in your company?  How often are people at all levels given assignments in other functions? How often do we send people to conferences that are not function-specific so they can learn more about the overall business world and customer experience?  Do we make cross-functional knowledge a requirement for advancement?

This is how to create an agile culture where people see change as another learning adventure.

Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.  ~Helen Keller

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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