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How to Manage Change in an Agile Environment?

World of Digits / Explorer


History demonstrates innovation is accelerating at an incredible rate: mass market automobile Ford Model T, data storage, digital photography, smartphone, electric car, … the examples of historic disruptive innovations are numerous and they keep growing.

Blockchain, IoT, automatization, self-driving (electric) cars, … the seeds of tomorrow’s disruptive innovation are present.
We know we are giving an education to our children for tomorrow’s jobs that don’t exist yet.

How to make sure your company will keep up and stay in the game?
Your recent important projects were a failure?

In other words, you are facing issues which need a profound change in your organization.

The Power of Purpose

First, you need a company Vision. This Vision needs to be presented widely and thoroughly to everyone involved. A few PowerPoints slides shared for 5min at the end of the year corporate party will not be enough. It’s much more than a punchline. It is the purpose of the organization, its reason to breathe and it must involve every employee at every level. Recruits must be chosen with this Mission in mind as well. You need to feel if the recruit will feel empowered by the challenge required to pursue this Vision. Motivation is a crucial factor.

Everyone needs to understand profoundly what the Vision is and what it actually means. A corporate Mission is a declined Vision to a few short-term concrete examples.

Company Mission and company Vision are often synonyms but bear with me here, as this describes two different and important steps: a Vision is the anticipated position of the company, its representation in the consumer’s mind of your company. This is what you strive for and it shouldn’t really change for the next few years.

An organization’s Mission is the business, its objectives and the strategies and even probably tactics to reach those objectives. You will probably have several Missions to work for one corporate Vision.

Those very steps should be shared openly to all stakeholders in order to create a sense of belonging to everyone. It should feel as an urgency to reach to the Mission and achieve a short-term win.

If you are familiar with the Change Management reference book of John P. Kotter (and his updated approach on HBR), this shouldn’t be a surprise. However, we beg to differ. We try and adapt to have a more agile and disciplined attitude on the subject.

You’re reading this and you’re thinking this article is not relevant to you as you’re not the CEO of the company? Most of what we share here can be adapted to a department, as long as it is aligned with the whole company. World of Digits love to bring solution of change management.

It is amazing to meet organizations and discover they have a great Vision and a few short term, achievable Missions and at the same time, interviewing employees who don’t even know there is a Vision. Moreover, some don’t even really agree with it.

The new Vision hiccup

So, for example, in a bad case, you find an experienced employee who don’t believe in your Vision. What should you do in this case?
Let’s take a short parenthesis on this issue here. Where there are problems, there could be opportunities.
The easiest way, as one says, would be to dismiss them. First, this can be hard/expensive in Western Europe as you know, and secondly, if you do, ask yourself what kind of person surrounds herself/himself of persons who only agrees with her/him? Do you want to be that person? What about understanding her/his point of view? Spend a lunchtime with her/him. You can aim to agree to disagree at the very least. You could even partly agree with her/his point of view and you may find new Missions from her/his ideas. If everyone sticks to his gun, the employee will probably ask herself/himself if the Vision is not against her/his own principles and decide what’s her/his purpose in the company is. In any case, make sure that kind of person is a constructive critic and not a toxic employee.
Constructive critics need to be heard and answered to. If one person tells you something which could be considered negative against your way of handling things, you can be pretty sure there are 13 people who think the same and don’t say so.

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Sun Tzu

As a few studies have demonstrated that for products, negative reviews can even be advantageous because it has positive influence on the perceived credibility. On performance review, difficult feedbacks are very hard to give. So it is precious when there all parties have constructive criticism in good faith.

The Empowerment Momentum

Your organization has a Vision that you shared with inspiration, it has a momentum of belonging and motivation instilled to everyone. The not-so-motivated are heard on a regular basis.

Don’t let it go and capitalize on this momentum. Make this new energy to be the power for all stakeholders. Create an environment where everyone can thrive to make a difference against your competitor. Sure, it’s easy on paper. So how do we do that?

There are several ways and Kotter gives one of them: The Dual Operating System. The major flaw with this approach is its best point at the same time: you don’t need to disrupt anything which is currently working but at the same time, isn’t it a paradox to change?
Isn’t maintaining the current state an obstacle to change.
But is it?

The objective of the Dual Operating System is to recruit the most driven individuals through all levels of the company and empower them. Kotter calls them the Volunteer Army, which is accompanied by the Guiding Coalition, which we will briefly explain below.

The Dual Operating System is created when individuals answer the call. A new corporate life is being built and motivated employees who care about their job, their customers, services and colleagues are willing to help in specific initiative or in general. They signed up to be part of a greater company solution.

Are there some Change Managers, Strategic Advisers, Agile Coach, Key Users, (…) in your organization yet? They are already assigned for such tasks? Good for you. Quick question: do they involve people based on the motivation and their “call of company purpose” ?

It is rarely the case.

Closing the gap between strategy and execution is a perfect Agile challenge.

Some will just want to help and be part of it. With an innovative change management solution, you need to maintain a high level of connection between the two Systems.
The Dual Operating System makes sure everyone involved has a “get-to” mindset, driven by heart and not just head.

Dual Operating System – John P Kotter

Now that you got a first introduction to change management, we will see you soon for the next and final part: capitalize on the momentum and make your own history!

Written by Pierre Peléeheid



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