Transitioning your operations into an Agile environment isn’t easy. In the first article of our Reinventing Agile sequence, we introduced five pitfalls that threaten every large-scale agile transition. And in the second piece, we discussed why the one-size-fits-all mentality is bound to hamper your Agile strategy. In this instalment, we take a closer look at Leadership, and the vital role executives play in making Agile transitions a success.
Because behaviour and culture are what make or break organisational transformations. If leaders of an organisation do not provide the example for their staff to follow and if they – knowingly or unknowingly – stick to old patterns and old habits, an Agile transition is destined to fail.
Despite this, there is no one blueprint of ‘good’ leadership behaviour to make an Agile transition successfully. After all, every company is different, and giving every business the same formula will not work regardless of their model.
The good news is that we’ve pinpointed helpful insights from the role leadership behaviour has played in Agile transitions. Here are four key learnings from our consultants’ collective experience.
1. Go all-in
Riding the Agile wave may sound like a compelling story to those looking to invigorate their company’s image and operations. The old ways do not work anymore. Forecasts left and right predict that start-ups and scale-ups will overtake you in no time. Meanwhile, consultants claim that they can deliver out-of-the-box and guaranteed successful Agile turnarounds.
What is not to like?
Well, for one, Agile isn’t just about changing a few processes. As a leader, you will need to change, too. Making the transition to an Agile organisation means challenging your own core beliefs, your preferred way of working, and everything you have done until this point that has made you successful.
The people in your organisation will be able to tell if you’re not all in and if it appears that change is reserved for employees.
In other words, if you are not committed to adapting yourself, do not make the Agile transformation. Or consider a role at a different organisation, to give this organisation the liberty to change.
Because at a new organisation, your core beliefs, ways of working, and personality may be just what is needed to make that organisation successful.
2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Making an Agile transition will mean a lot of communication, and the earlier you and your leadership team start, the better. Take the people along, share and collect input on your thoughts and ideas, and be tenacious in encouraging your people to speak their minds.
Don’t lose focus along the way when teams are devising which form of Agility suits your organisation’s challenges. Everyone needs to be on board, informed about changes, and feel listened to.
Everyone knows the saying, “there is strength in diversity.” But be aware that different perspectives may be muffled on the way up the leadership chain before reaching you because they put the finger on a sore spot that not everyone likes to see exposed.
To build a strong communication team, focus on implementing a top-down and bottom-up communication system, varying from large townhalls to focused working groups. But also put your ear to the ground directly. Listening to feedback from employees on the ground will ensure that you hear the whole story. At the same time, this lets you know you’re moving in the right direction (or not), with the added bonus of improving your company culture through transparency and openness.
3. Let it go… with caution and guidance
One of the most significant pitfalls of any Agile transition is the moment the change is there. That first Monday morning out of the starting blocks.
All the preparations are done, the senior leaders are selected based on skills and Agile potential. Your organisation can embrace the changes ahead, and the form of Agile that is implemented can take the organisation into a higher gear.
You are eager to see the Agile leaders autonomously run and improve their domains. You know that the people combined are better problem solvers than you and the leadership team, so solutions to the inevitable challenges ahead are a phone call between the people away.
But no matter what you’ve been told, no one is truly ready.
We’ve experienced first-hand that just giving autonomy and purpose gives rise to a plethora of unforeseen consequences. Teams and individuals need guidance, especially in the starting moments of a transition, to take the freedom they’re designed to have. To make that phone call when needed. To remove a roadblock themselves where they are used to writing a memo and waiting for an answer from higher echelons.
Guidance, however, is not steering as there is a delicate balance to strike between nudging and intervening. Do the first, do not do the latter.
4. Remember, you’re ahead of the curve
Finally, in everything you do, remember you are miles ahead of everyone in the organisation. No one is on the same level as you are. Realise that what has crossed your mind months ago is new for everyone else. Those ideas that have had the time to mature, adapt, and adjust?
It may be a good idea to keep a journal. Who knows, in time, you might write a book about your own experiences and pitfalls.
It is important to note that these are four insights from our consultants’ collective experience. Not the hard rules for a successful transition because all transitions are different. It may very well appear that these learnings contradict each other.
Becoming truly Agile in mindset, getting to know your organisation on a much deeper level, and working out what Agile works for you. And that is both the hard part and the fun of an Agile transition. For an interesting take on that last point, you may want to read my colleague Mikaël’s article here.
If you’d like to learn more about our experiences in Agile transitions, contact us today to learn more about how you can strategically transform your value chain and reap the benefits of Agile at your organisation.