Becoming an agile organization is a major challenge, but an even bigger challenge is doing it right. Organizations can encounter myriad missteps during Agile Transformation, but one of the biggest is neglecting a change management strategy that addresses culture from the get-go. Adopting agile practices enables you to serve your clients and be more customer-centric, collaborative, and gain an edge in a competitive landscape. To get this right, both leaders and employees must be willing to give up their pre-existing ways of working. You want to create a culture in which everyone is empowered, has ownership, and is customer-focused. This requires work: You must first understand the barriers to change in order to break them down and build a culture that embraces continuous evolution.
Uncovering the roots of resistance
Resistance to change frequently stems from a lack of both clarity and understanding. Generally, this resistance is a byproduct of misalignment at the leadership level as to why the change is important to the company as a whole. If any single person in an organization cannot succinctly explain why the shift to an agile operating model is necessary, this can generate fear and, in turn, resistance. Employees may suspect that their skills will no longer be of value and that their jobs will be in jeopardy; they may expect an increase in workload or worry that successes based on current work habits will be lost if those habits are disrupted, all of which can generate a widespread resistance to change. Resistance is based on fear, and so it’s important to empathize with the root causes of these fears. Common causes include past experiences with unsuccessful change management and a general lack of awareness regarding the need for change.
Cultivating change champions
Clarity and cohesive communication can mitigate fears at the root of resistance. Change management needs to run both wide and deep throughout the organization. Communication needs to to be carried out not just from the top down, but also at an individual level, through one-on-one communication. A people-centric approach to change management is crucial to effecting change at an organizational level. We’ve developed an effective top-down, organization-wide approach, based on Kotter’s Model of Change Management—an industry standard—which can be broken out into three phases:
- Embrace change: More often than not, projects are shoved down through the organization by leadership and are inundated with analysis. Highlighting the problems that people encounter in their day-to-day work can create a sense of urgency for the change. Urgency brings people together and helps you identify the right people to further your mission: the ones unafraid to have hard conversations or deal with problems that are conventionally difficult to solve.
- Enable Change: Over-communicate. Over-communication doesn’t mean pushing all available information, all of the time, but it does mean keeping lines of communication open and sharing a meaningful dialogue. When communicating any message, always keep it simple, and empathize with your audiences. This mitigates the potential for resurgent fears—or new ones—and keeps the vision progressing.
- Sustain Change: It’s not only important to provide autonomy, it’s crucial to celebrate short-term wins and build upon them. This proves that change is working, reaffirms employees’ value, and keeps all eyes focused on the bigger picture.
It’s not enough to create change agents: You can’t just ask people to trust the vision without also placing genuine trust in your people too. This trust empowers people to make their own decisions using their own judgments; to fail and learn from those failures, and make better-informed decisions in the future.
Change management for managers
In an organization that is truly agile, middle managers no longer direct and control, but become powerful facilitators. The ADKAR model (awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, reinforcement) is a goal-oriented approach that is an invaluable tool for managers and individuals in easing change and transitions. The manager’s role in building the new culture is to create awareness and determine how best to intrinsically motivate people to change. Cultural agility can make or break organizational agility. It is a key component of the Agile operating model. To be truly agile, bureaucracy needs to be minimized, and people must be empowered across the organization. Agile demands flexibility, autonomy, and transparency that is embedded into the culture. Proper change management during Agile Transformation will seed these qualities throughout the organization and enable them to flourish.