As the business adage goes, “The only constant is change.” Yet, despite increasing awareness about transformation, companies struggle to make the changes they need to grow and prosper. In fact, the Change Management Blog reports that although 79.7 percent of business owners know they need to adapt their businesses every two to five years, only 34 percent of change initiatives succeed. What can business leaders do to foster growth at a time when change is required faster and more frequently than ever before? The answer is to change the way they change.
Today’s fast-moving business world requires an innovative approach—one that has proven highly effective in the technology industry and that now shows exciting promise for businesses of all types. It requires agile change management, which was first created to shift development to an agile process. Agile change management is an iterative approach that involves using agile values and principles to make incremental changes. The agile approach frees rigid organizations that are stuck and unable or unwilling to transform and allows them to adapt quickly to an evolving marketplace.
For example, Equitable, a 160-year-old company, recently used the agile philosophy to make its operation “as nimble and productive as a five-year-old startup.” Other financial companies like Cisco, Barclays, JP Morgan Chase & Co, and ING also turned to agile to reshape operations and better serve clients going forward.
The agile solution
Resistance to change in the business world limits the ability of organizations to transform, adapt, compete, and succeed in an advancing marketplace. That is why having leadership that is open to and promotes change is so important. Maturing as an organization requires strong leadership, but not the kind that comes from books, seminars, and other traditional and theoretical training and development approaches alone. Rather, today’s leadership adopts an agile approach to change management and is willing to risk, practice, and drive change from a visionary perspective.
With most change management solutions, companies make a plan and stick with it from beginning to end, failing to consider the changes that might occur as the plan is being implemented. This can lead to ineffective changes. With agile, concepts like continuous delivery, short time frames, iteration, and adaptability are introduced so that change becomes more of an evolving process instead of something written in stone.
With an agile approach, companies are able to address change on a smaller, faster scale. They can start small and do not have to plan everything out at once. Rather than being locked into one approach, they expect changes. This means that instead of committing their employees and resources to a specific solution that may or may not work over the long run, they make minor changes, analyze their effectiveness, and proceed step by step.
Successful leaders understand that they cannot stop change from occurring and, as such, are eager to establish an environment that encourages and promotes agile methodology. Failing to do so means that instead of controlling and benefiting from change, they risk experiencing unpleasant, unexpected change and a massive business failure. On the other hand, embracing agile change management opens the door to a competitive advantage that makes leaders and organizations more nimble and better able to take advantage of new marketplace trends.
How to successfully implement agile change management
A company’s success with change often comes down to its leaders. It needs leaders with courage who understand the need to change and create a sense of urgency and a willingness to transform the employees they lead. To succeed, leaders must be observant, patient, empathetic, and flexible, as well as effective listeners to address concerns and ease uncertainty.
It is critical that leaders also acknowledge that change can be painful and do whatever is necessary to help the workforce adjust. That often means breaking down change into tangible and intangible elements. Leaders can also practice active communication and encourage the sharing of innovative ideas, which, importantly, can come from anyone in the organization. Another characteristic of a successful leader also is to be receptive to occasional failure and develop an atmosphere where failure is an opportunity to gain experience and improve.
When a business has leaders like this, it can overcome common roadblocks to change, which include unclear strategies, management resistance, and the disruption of established work practices to take its operations—and profits—to new levels. Here is a set of tips for leaders looking to embrace agile change management and lead their company to greater growth:
- Practice proactive planning and positive thinking. Having a plan in place helps prevent confusion and delays. It is important that the plan allows for flexibility and that leaders embrace adaptation and change as the company evolves. At the same time, practicing positive thinking helps keep leaders and employees encouraged and focused on achieving overarching goals.
- Create a strong foundation with a backlog. An “improvement plan” when leveraging agile to change should be contained in a backlog like with any other agile project. The transformation team will then work off the backlog and refine it as needed during the change process. Ensure that the backlog is comprehensive and updated regularly so that it becomes a clear roadmap showing where the company has been and where it is going.
- Clearly define the company’s policies and culture. When an organizational strategy is unclear and not effectively communicated, it can lead to resistance and give rise to teams, which quietly resist change, resulting in adverse impact to the future of the company.
- Encourage continuous learning and upskilling. Change won’t be as effective if employees aren’t prepared for it. That’s why it is essential for leaders to encourage learning and upskilling to ensure that everyone is fully prepared for the new processes and practices that will be followed at the end of a change initiative. Educating staff in this new way of work provides comfort and leads to greater adoption of change over the long run.
- Align corporate strategies and team priorities. While it’s important that agile teams are self-directed, they should not be self managed. By aligning corporate strategies and team priorities, “guardrails” are established that help ensure future team-level decisions are compatible with corporate direction and focus. This can save time, money, and frustration as it helps prevent false starts and keeps teams from wandering off track through the change process.
- Maintain open communication between staff and senior management. When communication breaks down, efforts to change often break down as well. It is important to maintain open lines of communication between staff and leadership. This will also help ensure an environment that encourages feedback and input, no matter where they come from.
- Get staff involved in the change. Finding ways to involve staff in the change effort increases overall buy-in. Leaders can use focus groups, ambassadors, progress checkpoints, and other mechanisms to get employees more invested in the change process. The goal is for employees to feel that they have ownership of the change instead of feeling as though they are being affected by change they had no real input into, which could lead to feelings of resentment.
- Encourage knowledge sharing as opposed to information hoarding. Change often creates fear. Promoting a collaborative environment will increase buy-in and prevent the creation of harmful silos that stunt growth and fracture a business.
- Define new roles and responsibilities. Often during transformation, confusion arises about role changes, which, in turn, increases fear and pushback among staff. Clearly defining roles for team members and middle management is critical to making sure change is embraced.
- Reward the “small wins.” Showing positive results is one of the best ways to increase buy-in and ultimately make change successful. Acknowledge small victories and reward those involved in producing that success. Ensure sure wins are known to everyone, as nothing helps change to stick more than hearing about positive results.
Successful leaders understand that they cannot stop change from occurring, and thus, they are eager to establish an environment that encourages and promotes agile methodology. Failing to do so means instead of controlling change and benefiting from it, they risk experiencing not just unpleasant, unexpected change but a massive business failure. On the other hand, embracing agile change management opens the door to a competitive advantage that makes both leaders and organizations more nimble and better able to take advantage of new marketplace trends.