You can begin an agile adoption as “something the development teams do,” but as their understanding of agile deepens and their proficiency increases, there will be an increasing need for the rest of the organization to transform to agile. Without this transformation, your agile adoption will either be a watered down agile implementation (sorry, I couldn’t resist the bad pun) or continually at risk of being pulled back to old ways of thinking and working.
In order for lasting change to occur, we must be open to having new experiences, willing to reflect on how our current mental models just might be filled with assumptions rather than facts. We have to be willing to change what we believe. This is why I feel that it is important to initiate change instead of driving change.
Driving change is problematic because people tend to resist being changed by others. People don’t react well when change is imposed. They need to be invited into the conversation about the need for change, what the change looks like and why the change is beneficial. And they most likely will need to make changes slowly, a little at a time.
This allows people the time required to assess their beliefs – their mental models of what they believe works and why it works. Initiating change is an approach of facilitating and guiding change. There needs to be a shared understanding of the current reality and where the organization – fueled by its people – needs to go and how it wants to go about getting there.
If you make the shift to being a true learning organization, one that supports continuous improvement, change can be one step at a time and yet still be – as paradoxically as it sounds – swift. Toyota does two things that are vitally important:
- Management is not to focused exclusively on improvement, but on increasing the improvement capability of people.
- Toyota makes use of a Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) model, teaching its people to change only one thing at a time.
The key to rapid change is the execution speed of the PDCA cycle. You need to check the results as soon as possible. Waiting for a formal review cycle that is weeks or months away delays the process. You can read more about this in a book review post on the Toyota Kata.
Do you need to focus on what the organization does right or what it does wrong? The answer to this question is provided in another post, Changing Mindsets: One Key to Successful Organizational Change. This post also outlines four levers of an influence model that can help to shift employee mindsets on a wide scale.
Another ideal component of change is that there is a shared vision that captures the hearts and imagination of everyone in the organization; it should provide people with a higher purpose to collectively pursue. This engages the emotions of both your customers and the people in the organization; you can read more about this in my post, Are People Buying What You’re Selling?
As the organization as a whole adopts change, people need to understand and reinforce behaviors and actions that are in alignment with the new change and constructively challenge one another when old habits and behaviors surface. As part of this, openness and the ability inquire about the thinking of others is essential. We need to have the ability to respectfully explore the actions of others, either to learn how they applied new thinking to an old situation (to learn from them) or to understand why they seem to be falling back into old behaviors – perhaps they are being overwhelmed by competing demands and could use some help.
Don’t drive change down people’s throats, and don’t create artificial crises to drive change, either. That is disingenuous and completely unnecessary in today’s turbulent world. Initiate change by engaging people in the change, then support and reinforce the change.
I’ll close with a quote from the Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu:
Of the best rulers, The people only know that they exist; the next best they love and praise the next they fear; and the next they revile. When they do not command the people's faith, some will lose faith in them, and then they resort to oaths! But of the best when their task is accomplished, their work done, the people all remark, "We have done it ourselves." (Emphasis mine)