Effective not glamorous Agile change. How to use peoples’ relations and overcome resistance

Agile change is all about interactions & individuals over tools & processes, it’s about satisfying the customer through the early and continuous delivery of valuable software. To succeed in Agile adoption plenty of people need to change their mindset, and this kind of an is the hardest kind to achieve.

Have you ever wondered why some organisations succeed in their change and some struggle to sustain it? You wish to know how to start your next attempt at Agile change with a bigger chance of succeeding? In this article I’ll take you through two of the most important in my opinion elements of a successful Agile change.

Those who were ever responsible for introducing change wonder why the change is so unstable, why it sometimes requires a lot of effort, constant monitoring and external sustaining. Try to remind yourself of a moment when you tried to introduce a change in your life, quit smoking, eat more healthily or start sport activities. Have you ever noticed how busy fitness clubs are in January and February? Introducing change in organizations is even more complex because we have to deal with the effect of scale.

According to the research done by an international weekly newspaper “The Economist”, 70% — 80% change attempts failed.

What are the possible reasons?

Let’s identify what change is. There are many types of change: we have organizational change, technological change, social change, personal change, biological change… all of these types of change have one thing in common — they are transformations from one state to another, i.e: obese into fit, smoker into no-smoker, activities focused organization into a value focused organization. Additionally, an important fact about change is, following Everett Rogers words, “The change as such is not as important as the consequences of the change itself”.

Change can be introduced in many ways.

Let me present some of the usual approaches:

  • introducing change in one of the meetings and reminding it from time to time — “Remember the presentation which took place 2 months ago, I think the management was sharing some info about a new approach to doing things…”
  • using more directive-based leadership to sustain the change — “ Management expects us to do it this way, so do it this way”
  • offering more collaboration and input expectancy to foster the change — “Come on, let’s try the new way which was presented by Management”
  • — sharing the deadlines for a change to be fully implemented — “As you may already know, we expect the change to happen effectively by…”
  • trying to influence employees to take early and sustained actions -” Who, if not us as the company, will show you how to deal with the change? Are you with me?”

before I’ll go the other way, let me share why it is so hard to introduce and sustain the change, one of the reasons is…

is the state of steady internal, physical, and chemical conditions maintained by living systems. The concept of the regulation of the internal environment in reference to people’s behaviour was described by French physiologist Claude Bernard and later researched by Joël de Rosnay as one of the most unusual and typical properties of open complex systems. Such a system responds to each change through a series of modifications of equal size but with the opposite return to those initiated by the change to keep the inner balance.

The second reason is…

Most organizations use the classic, structural approach to change which focuses on organizational models or their structures, who reports to who, which unit is dependent on the other unit

However, classic, structural analysis is not able to capture important, relational or communication nodes. Let me present it on a real life example:

showed such a structure of the organization, the initial idea was to introduce Leers and Colder as leaders of the change.

but another analysis was done, this time asking “who trusts who”, and the results were slightly different

have you noticed how many trust relations Baker and Harris have?

As James O’Toole said, resistance to change is a perfectly normal result of homeostasis. This could mean that direct, “top-down” or external drive for change, even the most beneficial one, can create resistance. Therefore, it seems important to introduce changes that fit into the regulatory mechanisms of the system; for the same change may be well received if it becomes a natural consequence of a process leading to its co-initiation by the .

, empower them, use what the community or communities in your organization offer you. Based on what James S. Coleman said — a change at the micro level (e.g. an increase in the willingness to cooperate) causes a change at the macro level (culture, group cohesion) it can make your journey through change more successful.

By sharing the purpose of change, but this time less abstractly than the usually presented vision on a big-invite-all success meeting. Basing on the theory of attractors created by Prof. Andrzej Nowak we need a negative and a positive attractor

The negative attractor is the reason we’re introducing the change, the situation or a position we want to move from. The positive attractor is the state or situation we want to be in, it has to be less abstract and has to address more of “what’s in it for me”, “how’s my situation going to improve”. What will cause people to start treating the change as endogenous and further on, enabling social capital — acquaintances, relationships, mutual recognition, trust and norms to make the change happen.

which will be meaningful for people in the organization, It has to be a real one, not just one that looks“sexy” in social media.

Through the previous paragraphs we went through the value of Social capital, the power of a positive attractor, which can create a new identity of people within the organization, but what’s the role of management or people responsible for the change to happen?

If we manage to introduce the change in a way that it’s treated as an endogenous one and we clearly share why we want to introduce the change, do we still need to push it from the outside? Sociologists agree that Empowerment and usage of social capital creates a willingness for bottom-up change so the change doesn’t require pushing, it only needs some adjustments.

create a frame where the new conditions for the permanent change and self organisation will be set.

Yes, we need the process part as well. The process is more about how we approach the changes at the organization’s structure level.

There are two ways you can adapt the changes at an organizational level, the first one is the way.

The Big Bang approach is based on long planning, preparations, and decisions — mostly made behind closed doors. Afterwards comes the big announcement with a series of presentations and meetings, where the change is sold under a name “it will allow you to be effective” and a date the organization officially becomes “Agile”. People are moved around, Scrum Masters and Product Owners are hired or converted from non-agile roles, people spend time moving post-its around the rooms, creating flipcharts and hanging them all around the office, building with lego bricks, all the training must be fun and entertaining and everything is wrapped around by squads and tribes… but is this Agile?

Let’s move a step backwards to the moment before introducing an Agile change and check if we’re able to answer the following questions:

  • If being “more” Agile means having a “better” Agile — do we really need to introduce the change to the whole organization?
  • Do we know what level of change will bring value? What do we need to change in our organization to achieve the desired level of efficiency?
  • Do we know what initial level of change we should start with? What’s the smallest change we can introduce to inspect the impact of the change?
  • Do we have enough information about the current state of our organization? What are the current levels of inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes and what are our goals?
  • Do we know what the costs and benefits of the change are?

If any of those questions cannot be answered, what could be the reason for the Big Bang change? Do you remember Everett Rogers’ words “The change as such is not as important as the consequences of the change”?

Evolutionary change works differently, it uses Agile practices to introduce Agile change in the organization. As a starting point we choose the part of the organization which we need to start with.

We introduce Agile practices, values, principles — the mindset, by teaching, coaching and mentoring to achieve the Agility at the process level.

By inspecting and adapting we search for the points of contact and we check whether we need to change the way of work in those parts of the organization.

We continue inspecting and adapting till the moment we’ve identified the parts of the organization blocking or slowing down the work on our product.

We’ve just reached Agility at a strategic level. At the same time we’ve managed to avoid unnecessary change.

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The most important element of successful change is being focused on the Social Capital of the organization, this includes the people and their relations. Creating an environment where the change is driven by a positive attractor thus empowering people to use their potential and treat the change as an endogenous one. This can as a result reduce the resistance caused by homeostasis. Try to imagine a CEO sharing information like “you need work more” or “the changes want to introduce are to make more effective” — they don’t sound really motivating. On the other hand, try to imagine a situation where the culture was really employee centric and the CEO openly shared the situation of the company and clearly called for action which would allow the organization to survive. There was no need for external motivators pushing people to act, the positive attractor was “I will still be able to work for this company” and it was more than enough.

The second element is avoiding introducing the Agile change as a Big Bang change. At the beginning of our path we should be able to answer questions like what’s the range of change we need, or what’s the cost of change. “More” agility doesn’t mean “better” agility. Therefore evolutionary change is an option that allows us to introduce agile change in an agile way — empirically — choose one team and through continuous learning, by inspecting and adapting, spread the change till you reach the moment when you’ll reach the ability to adapt quickly to new conditions and deliver value to your customer in undisturbed way. Or, if you think you can still introduce the change the Big Bang way, check if you know the answer to the following questions: do you know what level of change will bring you value? Do you know what initial level of change you should start with? Do you have enough information about the current state of our organization? And lastly, do you know what the costs and benefits of the change are? Otherwise, you may end up in the situation like one of the organizations I know, introducing change every half a year, each time saying it’s thing. Remember the change as such is not as important as the consequences of the change.

“Doing Agile Right” Darrel Rigby, Sarah Elk, Steve Berez
“Social Entrepreneurship” (Book + Lectures) Dr Ryszard Praszkier

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