How to Prevent your Transformation from Resembling a Failed New Year’s Resolution

How to Prevent your Transformation from Resembling a Failed New Year’s Resolution

Insights | 05 July 2019

Having been in the fitness industry for over 30 years, I have seen the same cycle take place every year on January 1: the local gym is suddenly packed with motivated individuals looking for results with all the latest gear and personal trainers. Yet come March 1, they have all disappeared.

Nothing has changed over 3 decades despite all the technological, diet and training “breakthroughs”. Disappointingly, only a small percentage achieve their goals, the rest fall by the wayside.

So why does this happen and why do only a few achieve their transformational goals?

The same reason that so many organisations and leaders are failing in their agile transformations – they want immediate results until they begin to understand the work and change required to achieve their lofty goals.

Some statistics to consider:

  • 80% of New Year’s Resolutions fail by February – Business Insider Jan 2017
  • 83% of organisations are below the level of competency to adopt agile practices – 13th Annual Sate of Agile Report 2019
  • 49% are at a level 1 maturity when it comes to Agility – PM-Partners Agility, PMO and Transformation Survey Interim Findings 2019

Transformation is hard, whether it is losing 10kgs or transforming the organisation to a new way of working. It is easy to get caught up in the race to be more agile, but it will take more than showing up on day one all enthusiastic and starry eyed.

So to help, here are 7 considerations to keep your transformation on the road to success:

1. Culture is at the heart of transformation

True enterprise agility is more about organisational culture and consciousness than it is about Scrum, Kanban, SAFe or any other practice. It’s not that these things aren’t important (they are very important) but the “sweet stuff” only happens when you include culture as the foundation in transformation. Shifting the business will be difficult and the work relentless, but it will be well worth it. For example, simple concepts like trust and safety need to be addressed early in order to create fertile ground for your transformation journey.

2. Transformation takes time

Accept the journey will take time. Plan for 3 years minimum for enterprise agility, anything shorter should be considered a bonus. Get the leadership team into the mindset that whilst we will deliver value early, the promise of full enterprise agility will take time – you can’t run a marathon after one week of training, yet that is often the expectation with agile.

3. Don’t force the transformation on the organisation

Almost every transformation I have come across has started with well-meaning individuals “pushing” agile onto the organisation. This approach nearly always guarantees resistance, which is often hard to see. Rather than “push” your transformation, consider finding a pocket within the business that is keen to try agile and let them be your “shining stars” who will invite others who are curious enough about all this good stuff happening in the business. An evolutionary approach, rather than revolutionary, is far more sustainable and aligns with true agile principles.

4. Start with the leadership team first

Spend the time working with the leadership team up front to fully understand what they are undertaking and why. The most common mistake I see is the transformation taking a bottom up approach, targeting a group or groups. They hire coaches, send everyone on training, start executing the practices of agile and expect to achieve enterprise agility within a few months.

I was staggered to learn from one client that they were running 100+ people on a one-day “sheep dip” style workshop with teams of overpaid consultants and then declaring victory.

Generally, only a small bit of time is allocated to the leadership team, yet we all know the success of any transformation is dependent on the buy in, support and understanding of those at the top.

Spend at least a month or two working with the leadership team so they understand agility and can define why it is important for the organisation. If your leaders are not willing to commit to doing the work up front, it is highly unlikely they are ready to support transformation and don’t understand the undertaking ahead. This isn’t about getting them skilled in agile techniques, it’s about the shift in mindset required and their role going forward. Getting the leadership team on board is essential and worth spending time on, they will thank you in the long run.

5. Transformation should not drive fear into the business

At its worst, I have seen tier 1 consultancies use agile as a cost cutting exercise, which is not only disappointing, but gives the entire industry a black eye. Unfortunately, it is also common to see “evangelical consultants” baffling teams with agile jargon, such as “you have the wrong mindset”. This creates the perfect Petri dish for cultivating fear across an entire organisation.

If the individuals in your organisation are unclear on where they will fit in this new world and are afraid they may no longer have a role going forward (in most cases this is not true), they will assume the worst. When personal circumstances are considered, such as families and mortgages, this will result in a deep and lasting undercurrent of fear. Yet, it is unnecessary and will create an army of silent resistors that will actively work against the transformation.

6. Don’t forget middle management

Organisations are complex, so having middle management on board as active participants in your transformation will assist in building bridges and gaining traction across the wider organisation.

Rather than alienate middle management, they should be invited along to the show. They are key players in transformation and can make or break your momentum. Remember, it is often a bad sign if these individuals are silent. Middle management also understand what needs to be preserved for the business to continue to operate well. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

7. Start with yourself and how you are showing up

Make sure you are living the values your agile transformation espouses. How you show up as an individual and doing the work is fundamental to success. If you aren’t prepared to show up, learn and live the values and apply the practices, how will anyone else be expected to? Like training, consistently showing up with the right attitude and a willingness to do the hard work will set you aside from the 99% who ultimately quit and go back to their old ways.

In the words of the worlds fittest man, Matt Frazer – “hard work pays off” and “enjoy the grind”. By consistently showing up and doing the work each day, you will see the results and become the 1% that achieve their goal.

What have you found to be essential to transformation success? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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