We need to abandon change management to adopt a culture of agile change
All organizations that want to survive go through changes or transformations – such as the adoption of technological tools, the search for new business models, digital transformation, you name it.
This is not a coincidence, nor a passing trend: thanks to multiple factors -one of them definitely being Moore’s law-, the organizational change went from being something episodic, to something constant.
Faced with this scenario of instability, traditional models of change management – Kotter, Prosci, the Satir system, the ideas of Kurt Lewin, the Kübler-Ross model – fall short, or even become obsolete.
Yes, I understand that I just made a too broad, general and abstract judgment, but read this excerpt written by John Kotter in Leading Change, one of the change management bibles:
“In small companies, or in small business units, the first results are needed in six months. In large organizations, results have to start to be evident in eighteen months (p. 126).”
Six months? Eighteen months?
Tell this to a manager from Cemex, Alfa or FEMSA regarding their company’s change processes and please be sure to tell us how it goes… (after laughing, they will surely answer something like ‘no way, I need to start seeing changes in a month, tops!’).
If you have an expert competitor in digital platforms -almost all of us are competing against them-, you don’t have that time to detonate changes in your organization.
Agile change is continuous and participatory
A few years ago we stumbled upon Lean Change Management, a book that addresses the issue of change management from a very different perspective than traditional methodologies.
Its author, Jason Little, brings an approach to change fueled by agile, lean startup, neuroscience, psychology, organizational development and change management.
We loved the book because we believe it represents what we see in our work with some of the 500 largest operating companies in Mexico.
In his book, Little brings a tool called the Agile Change Management Cycle, which looks something like this:
Rather than to start with an invasive diagnosis that can take months, Little suggests starting with discoveries – insights – about improvement opportunities. Then, he suggests having conversations where solution options are found (“instead of doing X, we could do Y”). Finally, experiments are run where these options are piloted.
If the experiment works, done! You already made a small change happen. Now start the cycle again, until you achieve the desired change, at the desired organizational level.
In the Transformational Change course that you can find for free in LinkedIn Learning, Aaron Dignan explains that this way of seeing change leads us to a continuous and participatory approach:
“We will be making changes at all times, in all teams and at all levels … in such a way that it becomes second nature, and we incorporate it into our work habits”, Dignan explains in the course.
This way, in a short period of time – not in eighteen or six or three months – you can start changing practices in your organization.
Changing how we have meetings in Astrolab
Astrolab is a small firm -7 people-, and although we have fast working cycles, it has not been easy to find the best way to collaborate, to build information channels that allow for an agile flow of information and to accelerate decision-making that helps us deliver more value to our clients.
Something that has always been a headache for us is the concept of passing the post, that is, the transition between the commercial function and the operational function -(insight)-. We often realize that those who sold the project fail to explain all the relevant information to those who will operate it, or vice versa.
In order to work on improving this dynamic, last year we started addressing the problem. We could make a diagnosis, interview everyone, and build a plan to resolve the situation. Instead, we started doing something analogous to throwing spaghetti on the wall to discover its cooking state: experiment and learn.
We knew that ours was a problem of collaboration and information flow, and that the best way to address it was to discover and implement alternatives on how to have better meetings between the commercial and operational functions – (solution options)-. Up until that point, each functional team had its own meeting separately, but this starting generating silos – yes, silos within a seven-person company.
Since then, we’ve been running nearly ten iterations – (experiments) – on how to have better meetings. I would like to give you a brief tour of these iterations so you discover what we have been learning as a result of each adjustment:
- We first started with weekly meetings, one for each of our strategic pillars, rather than by function. Our strategic pillars are Relevant Conversations (where marketing and commercial enter), Operational Excellence (operation), and Growth Ventures (where we talk about expansion). We tried to get people from operations to also participate in Conversations, people from the commercial function were part of Growth Ventures meetings, and almost all of us attended the meetings regarding Operational Excellence. Eventually we realized that this configuration reinforced the issue of silos.
- Then, we started having thirty minute daily meetings where all the functions would come in, and where we would talk about all the strategic pillars. Participation was in alphabetical order, and everyone pasted their ideas on post-its that served to expose.
- Eventually we discovered that some of us took too long to talk, so we started giving two minutes per person, to rotate the order of participation… and to being more selective with post-its regarding topics did not add enough value.
- A few days ago we realized that two minutes was too little, and that it was not enough to talk about what we were learning -the heart of these meetings-, so we extended the individual presentation time to a maximum of five minutes, with the opportunity to give your remaining time -if you had some left- to someone else who needed it.
These meetings have helped us a great deal in reaching agreement, generating transparency and establishing a sense of urgency around the projects we are operating. The meeting is not perfect, but it is much better than six months ago, and better than two weeks ago.
Aaron Dignan took Jason Little’s Agile Change Management Cycle – in fact Dignan attended a workshop imparted by Little in Toronto – and turned it into a Learning Cycle, and renamed the phases to ‘discovering a tension’, ¡considering alternatives’, and ‘conducting experiments’.
Words are the least important: the important thing is that these terms are useful to you, so you can create a culture of continuous and participatory change.
Do you want to start today? Spot a tension, have a conversation with your team about possible alternatives, and then design an experiment to test a hypothesis.
These Dignan questions can help you design your experiments:
- What are we going to test?
- Who is going to try it?
- How long is the experiment going to last?
- How are we going to know if the experiment worked?
What you are hoping will happen is: either prove that a hypothesis worked … or that it didn’t. As the Heath brothers say in the book The Power of Moments, “the promise to get out of your comfort zone to try new things is not success, but learning”.
The intent of this article is to democratize change management. You don’t need external consultants to trigger a change process – you can start it this week. And you will discover the power of agile change.