Getting Agile Transformations Right

- Change Management

Mario Brückner, Management 3.0 Facilitator and author of Living Transformation®, shares some key insights he has gained from years of experience accompanying organizational transformations in businesses in a range of industries around the world. Despite their heterogeneity, he observed distinct patterns – particularly of dysfunction – common to all these organizations. Knowing about these may help you in your endeavor of getting agile transformations right!

Why most agile transformations fail

Let’s look into some questions first:

  • How many times have you been personally involved in a process of transformation?
  • How deep was that involvement? 
  • How early did the involvement begin?
  • Did the desire to change come from you and your colleagues? 
  • Did you participate meaningfully in the change? 
  • Did the process have a lasting impact on your daily tasks and your work environment? 
  • Are you more efficient, more motivated?

If your answers to the last four questions are mostly “no” you’re not alone. Studies show that most transformations aren’t successful in terms of making real changes to people’s daily working lives. It is very rare that a transformation sponsor – often from the C-suite – openly admits this, however. These processes are commonly declared “successful”. They’re too big to fail. We need the courage to accept when they’re not successful and examine how to make future transformations really live up to their promises.

Whether you’re planning on initiating a transformation or in the middle of one right now, I might ask you to loosen your fixation on the results expected of your transformation and instead examine more closely how you will approach it.

A transformation cannot help but be a highly complex process as it involves humans – multiple individuals, each with a range of requirements, preferences, and opinions. To me, it only makes sense to implement any transformation in collaboration with as many of these people as possible. Hiring external transformation experts or building fixed in-house teams only serves to introduce or deepen a them-and-us sentiment when, in almost all cases, the employees themselves are the ones who know best how to improve their own work environments. 

How to start transformations right

For a transformation to be successful, space needs to be created for employees to have the opportunity to get involved: they must have the time to actively engage in the process. 

Asking whether team members want to participate in a transformation is the wrong question, as most people want to make improvements to their work environment: the problem is they don’t have time, as they’re already at capacity with their regular job. 

How to get agile transformation right:
1. Give time

Further, both responsibility and authority must be delegated to the wider team. As well as completing tasks, members must be permitted to actually change processes, organizational structures, and decision-making rights. 

How to get agile transformation right:
1. Give time
2. Give responsibility and authority

If such starting conditions are in place, a transformation is likely to hit the ground running, having set a positive tone for the road ahead. 

Getting agile transformations done

Along with the full involvement of the wider team, the procedure used to carry out the transformation is, of course, of paramount importance. A successful start must not be allowed to fizzle out. And it starts with acceptance: the course of a transformation in today’s “volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous” (VUCA) world can no longer be predicted with any accuracy. Therefore, extensive planning, over a long period of time, represents a misallocation of resources.

The environment in which an organization operates changes quickly and sometimes radically. The people – still the most important part of any organization – face different challenges today than they will tomorrow. This is why an agile way of working is so suited to transformations. You proceed in iterations – similar to the “sprints” which characterize the Scrum framework – with early and frequent “learning loops”. This does not mean that there are no structures or prescribed processes: they are just newer, agile ones. 

How to get agile transformation right:
1. Give time
2. Give responsibility and authority
3. Agile way of working

One example of such a reimagining of change management is the “Living Transformation®” approach, which leverages the more organic nature of the agile framework to allow the process to grow as the transformation does.

The “Purpose” – connecting strategy to implementation 

There may be no long-term detailed plan at the start of an agile transformation, unlike in more traditional “waterfall” models, but this does not mean there is no clear purpose. Indeed, it is essential for employees to have an explicit understanding of the reasons behind the transformation and what the organization is hoping to achieve, so they can feel motivated to get fully involved and contribute. A definite purpose is also essential when determining priorities: you can’t improve and change everything at the same time, so the ultimate question is what to implement next. 

So, how to formulate a purpose which, in turn, allows specific goals to be set? Who should be responsible for it and what should they base their decision-making on?

The “Purpose” should be intimately related to an organization’s overarching strategy. Such a link can be made using Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). The content of the transformation, in the form of “Transformation Epics” (TrEpics), is implemented in a prioritized manner with the help of the OKRs. Moreover OKRs give employees a clear direction and orientation. 

How to get agile transformation right:
1. Give time
2. Give responsibility and authority
3. Agile way of working
4. Have a clear understanding of the reasons and goals

By the way: In a VUCA world, even corporate strategy is best conceived in an agile way, with full employee involvement. If the direction of an organization is not understood by the employees, the strategy will likely have no impact on their daily working lives.

Living Transformation Trafo Retro
How to get agile transformations right | ©Mario Brückner

Continuous improvement leads to real transformation 

Organizations often go through one transformation after another. Each is experienced as a discrete project with a beginning, a middle and “success”. But transformations really should be part of a general culture of learning and development that never ends, only evolves. The content of the transformation may change; the Purpose may change as the strategy does; but the need to constantly adapt to a changing environment is never going away. 

How to get agile transformation right:
1. Give time
2. Give responsibility and authority
3. Agile way of working
4. Have a clear understanding of the reasons and goals
5. Continuous improvement

In many transformations, security is often not present for employees. In fact, the process can often trigger or intensify fears: the fear of being presented with a fait accompli, the fear of not being heard, or fear for one’s own future. Such insecurity inevitably erodes motivation, with a corresponding impact on performance.

How to get agile transformation right:
1. Give time
2. Give responsibility and authority
3. Agile way of working
4. Have a clear understanding of the reasons and goals
5. Continuous improvement
6. Security

Make it agile

It’s not surprising that so many transformations fail. An agile approach represents a far more reliable foundation for the success of any individual change process and, crucially, the wider concept of change for any organization over the long term. Employees are not “kept updated” but shape their future and the future of their workplace themselves.

How to get agile transformation right:
1. Give time
2. Give responsibility and authority
3. Agile way of working
4. Have a clear understanding of the reasons and goals
5. Continuous improvement
6. Security
7. Transparency

Believing in your employees, making them co-creators, may require a radical shift in thinking and more than a little courage. In my experience, however daunting the first steps may be, they lead to a leaner, reinvigorated business that grows more prepared for the future with every iteration.

How to get agile transformation right:
1. Give time
2. Give responsibility and authority
3. Agile way of working
4. Have a clear understanding of the reasons and goals
5. Continuous improvement
6. Security
7. Transparency
8. Co-Creation

Learn more about the Living Transformation® approach here: www.living-transformation.com
Header photo: Photo by NEOSiAM 2021 from Pexels


3 thoughts on "Getting Agile Transformations Right"

  • Julien Roux says:

    Hello,

    i would have start with the step 4. Imo without a shared reason/understanding, we can’t dedicate time, we can’t give responsibility and authority.

    Why decide to start with how and not why?

    Still a very interesting article 🙂

    Julien

  • Peter Bender says:

    Thanks for your article. It is very interesting and I support it.
    But when it comes to security: How would you reduce the fear or develop security for your employees? This remains unclear to me. Who can provide security in times of VUCA?
    Regards Peter

  • Mario André Brückner says:

    Hallo Julien,

    thank you for your message. It is great to get so much and good feedback here and on LinkedIn. Great Management 3.0 community.

    “Why decide to start with how and not why?”
    The sequence of transformation steps are less sequential. Basically, all steps have their raisons and importance. Depending on the situation “on site” I would see that flexible. No organization is like the other 🙂

    Have a nice rest-weekend,

    Mario

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