(Editor’s Note: What follows is an excerpt from Empowered Agile Transformation – Beyond the Framework, a book by Alexandra Stokes. For more on Stokes and how to buy her book, see her bio at the bottom of the excerpt.)
“It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.” – Charles Darwin
So you have understood that Transformation is a must and radical reform in your organisation is vital. How do you start to turn your Transformation dreams into reality? It is important to examine your company as it stands and identify where you need to put in the groundwork for a successful Transformation. By creating these conditions for effective Transformation you will be setting yourself up to beat 70% of your contemporaries destined to fail. How might we understand if we are ready? Who must be ready?
Behaviours, Beliefs and Practices antipatterns
What behaviours linked to the current delivery of value do we see happening in our organisation? Are we deadline driven? Do we see pressured workers? Do we see overruns on deadlines? Is there a lack of care for quality? Are managers making all decisions and delegating execution to workers?
What beliefs do the leaders in the organisation have? Do they think workers cannot be trusted? Do they believe managers come up with all the good ideas? Do leaders think people won’t work unless they are watched? Do leaders think it is better to plan at length before starting a new initiative? Is there any room for experimentation in our organisation?
What practices are the norm? Is status reported via PowerPoints and Gantt charts? Do we see an abundance of overly polished presentations? Is there a practice of only shipping value once it is 100% completed? Are workers organised into functional silos, arranged according to specialist skills?
It is crucial to understand where we are at, so that we can embrace where we need to be. Leader behaviour, beliefs and practice antipatterns can impede your change.
I belong to a community of technology leaders in Australia called CTO School. There was a discussion thread about who can realistically initiate Transformation in a company:
“It is possible for a leader at any level of a management hierarchy to introduce Transformation within their control.” and “It is critical that Transformation leaders make it clear that everyone in the system will need to change behaviours or leave for Transformation to occur.”
Behaviour, beliefs and practices are the norms held true by the leaders in the organisation. These all need to be examined, in order to find the unhelpful antipatterns and influence a change for Transformation to be successful.
If we are not all committed to the mission to change, we are hindering the organisation’s progress.
The Executives as a Team
“For many executives, the biggest barrier to their own success is themselves. Particularly if they are somewhat successful, inertia sets in – why change what we do when that is what made us successful? Success inhibits our future.” – Michael Fagan
The Executive Team are the custodians of the company and the people that ultimately decide and design the overall system of work. All systems are ultimately endorsed by this group.
The Executive team could be working 10 to 20 years out of date, because their expertise and experience that got them to their current position has lost its relevance in a world of accelerated change.
Their approach can be to apply past experience to current problems. Their 20-year-old solutions are incompatible with contemporary problems. They need to retrain to adopt flexible systems that adapt to new challenges. Otherwise, the workers are constrained by the level of understanding of group executives, and progress is inhibited. They are impeding their teams’ potential.
We have all the tools to work contemporaneously today. We have the technology, tools, and experience to leverage agility in delivering value. It is now the executive leaders and company boards fighting the new way; a more collaborative way to generate value for businesses and their customers.
The solution is to understand their current customers’ problems, and identify threats to their business models, while gaining the skills and competencies to apply contemporary ways of working.
Executives must hone a future-proof mindset to approach the new challenges their business will face. They must assess their customer, organisation and themselves, and build adaptive systems of work to thrive.
Starting a ‘learning group’ for executives is a productive start. Is everyone ready to go back to school? Surround the executives with learning opportunities and support. What evidence is there that the organisation relies on old models? What antipatterns do we see? We must first unlearn, and then be ready to learn again. Unlearning is extraordinarily difficult – will this be possible?
The Executives as Individuals
We also need to assess the executives as individuals.
Traditional: How many execs have a tenure of 20 to 30 years in their industry? Have they been purely in management in recent history? Are they a long way off the tools themselves? Are they experts in your industry? Do they have organisational knowledge?
Contemporary: Do execs know what their team’s activity is day to day? Are their skills still relevant? Are they lifelong learners? Are they voraciously consuming books, going to conferences, reading links, visiting other organisations, and networking to hone their craft? Are they experts at people leadership?
The Organisational Structures (Teams)
We need to assess what organisational structures are already in place; are they traditional or contemporary?
Traditional structures have people organised into functional silos, developers sit in one function, business analysts in a separate function, and testers in another while people known as ‘The business’ are far off in other meetings and functions. They are self-contained pools of skillset, their value is ‘locked’ in the silo. These structures need more transformative change.
Contemporary structures are those organised into teams that are cross functional in skill set and collaborative small cells of people, they are self-contained enough for the team to deliver value. These structures may need no Transformation at the team level, instead the focus could be only on transforming leaders.
Assessing what organisational structures you have in place will affect how much you need to transform to get to where you need to be.
Conditions for a Learning Journey
Sometimes the traditional executive leader is settled into their space, an expert. We want to expand the growth mindset and create lifelong learners of our executives. Do we have conditions for a learning journey? Is it our aim that everyone is fully utilised, leaving no gaps for training and learning? Are we investing in people? Do we possess an understanding that learning and development are integral to the employee experience including the executive? Do leaders champion the concept of learning and investment in people?
Stokes is co-founder, consultant and coach at rebootco.com.au. She has orchestrated numerous successful transformations without the need for large consultancies or frameworks. Her book offers over 100 answers to frequently asked questions and shares over 30 real-life Agile transformation success stories. Her book can be purchased on Amazon at the following links: