A question from Agile India inspired this post. Change agents inside and outside of companies are being confronted with a tough leadership challenge; to help companies become more agile in responding to changing market and economic conditions. IT departments are rapidly adopting Agile, a software development methodology, but adoption reaches beyond into management level.
The values embodied in the Agile manifesto, which is included in Decision Making for Dummies, outlines principles guiding leaders toward being much better prepared for the uncertainties and volatility of market conditions. While the methodology serves software developers, it is the mindset that serves management and decision-makers. The shift in mindset is implicit in the values of the Agile manifesto.
Three out of the four values speak directly to mindset in the Agile Manifesto are:
1. Individuals and interact over processes and tools
2. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
3. Responding to change over following plan.
Inherent in the values you will note the obvious collision between a traditional mindset in a command and control management style, which rests in a totally different worldview. How different?
Which all begs the question…
How can tension be used to advantage?
Sociocracy 3.0 trainer James Priest talks about tension as a symptom of a driver (a need) emerging. In conventional thinking, tension is a ‘bad’ thing. Flipping perception of tension as a ‘bad’ thing to tension as an indicator of something seeking to emerge creates an opening for innovative thinking. Could tension be a symptom of a hidden need seeking attention? The presence of tension begs the question, “If we don’t respond, how will this negatively affect our working relationships and our company?” This question touches on risk, which traditional companies aim to minimize. It is a good place to start building a business case that is tied to current operational issues and then handled using a more agile approach.
An obvious source of tension found in most traditional companies is turnover. The costs of high turnover can be calculated and translated into impact on the bottom line. It is also a metric that reveals the relevance of the company and decision-making culture on engagement. Turnover is only one of many metrics that can be put into a holistic frame of interactions demonstrating the systemic relationship between turnover and business reputation, relevance and agility.
How can change agents present the business case for agile management and mindset?
Recognize that when fear runs the show, decisions are completely irrational, driven by self-interest over company success. Though companies will say they value profit over all else, it is not unusual to find decisions made that refuse money making initiatives if they do not match the belief system embedded in the culture. Decisions are far from rational. Shifting mindset toward greater trust and confidence is as much a balance between facts, benefits, and psychology. Introducing an agile mindset involves a willingness to intelligently experiment, make mistakes and try again using a different strategy without blame or judgment of any kind.
1. Build the business case off of an issue that is costing the company money, and where traditional thinking is amplifying the issue to the point where frustration and inertia are apparent. Use the pressure and stakes to come at it using an agile mindset.
2. Step back to calculate the system-wide impact of the costs beyond engagement, for instance, to innovation, rapid response to critical issues – issues that are on the executive agenda. Keep in mind that if your company has more than four layers of management there is a good chance that management is completely out of touch with the market. Michael Pacanowsky, explained in an Evolutionary Provocateur podcast episode, that bureaucracy is increasingly isolating management from reality.
3. Do the math on cost savings (and use cost savings rather than cutting costs), to show the benefit. Also illustrate the intangible benefits for executives in terms of information to make executive level decisions. Use relatable metaphors where ever practical so you build a picture of the outcome.
4. Start with one issue to experiment. See what words resonate and which ones render the conversation impossible. Notice where resistance comes to the surface, then explore. Chances are how words or the proposal is expressed has triggered a fear. Learn from the feedback you get. Apply to another issue.
5. Observe the workplace temperature in terms of trust and confidence. If you are able, from an objective and compassionate place, witness growth in trust and team confidence, you are heading in the right direction.
Although this approach may seem slow, it is important to respect pace simply because stepping into a different perspective, a precursor to seeing through a different worldview, requires trust and confidence. Neither are strong attributes of a traditional business culture. You are changing the context of the decision-making environment while systematically leveraging culture change.
Note: You will need to pay attention to your own reactions when proposals do not go according to plan. There is no question that making the shift is the ultimate leadership challenge for traditional managers and for change agents.
Isaac Getz talks about liberating leaders. Proposing an Agile mindset embraces the intention to liberate leaders from the stress of holding responsibility and pressure of what is going on in the company. Distributing responsibility is a logical, yet unfamiliar approach to giving everyone more freedom to contribute.
Please tweet, comment and report on your internal work to shift focus from the past to the future. Listen to the process one internal change agent used to gain greater agility by removing the budgeting process. Share what you learn. We are all in this together – the process of releasing human potential trapped in old habits.
Dawna works with progressive early adopter decision-makers to expand skills; accelerate workplace transformation and agility. A speaker and workshop leader, she authored Decision Making for Dummies and contributed a chapter on the new purpose of business to ‘The Intelligence of the Cosmos” by systems theorist Ervin Laszlo. Dawna runs Decision Labs, advanced master classes in decision making and leadership and coaches consciousness in new territory. She is also exploring VR/AR to build resilience and accelerate business workplace health strong enough to tackle business and global challenges. She hosts the Insight to Action podcast for business innovators on iTunes. Contact her through www.FromInsightToAction.com and LinkedIn.