10 Tips for Overcoming Common Obstacles in Enterprise Agility
Enterprise agility has its fair share of obstacles. Transforming an organization with well-established functional areas into a collection of small, closely aligned teams requires a major overhaul.
When organizations fail in their efforts to become agile enterprises, they often conclude that enterprise agility isn’t the right fit for them. However, the reason an enterprise agile transformation fails can usually be traced back to the organization’s approach to change management or its resistance to change, not to enterprise agility.
Develop a clear roadmap
Prior to embarking on an enterprise agile transformation, develop a roadmap — a path that leads from point A (where your organization is today) to point B (your vision of what your organization will look like when it’s an agile enterprise). If your organization has a control culture (most large organizations do), then your roadmap may look like a project plan:
- Identify the change.
- Analyze the change.
- Convince the stakeholders.
Stakeholders must do the following:
- Agree that the organization needs to change.
- Agree to start the change.
- Commit to helping make the change.
- Implement the change.
- Monitor the change and make adjustments.
Form a change management team, complete with a team leader, to implement this five-phase plan.
Approaching your enterprise agile transformation as a project is fine, but don’t think of the transformation as a one-time event. Projects, by definition, have a beginning and an end, but enterprise agility is an ongoing process.
Find support at the top
Leadership alignment is one of the key challenges to any big change initiative. Executives and managers must take more than a casual interest. If you’re following Kotter’s eight-step change model, executives should help set the vision. If you’re changing from the bottom up, executives should demonstrate their support in ways that are visible to others in the organization; for example:
- Set a budget for the change management plan.
- Invest in training and coaching.
- Provide support for the organization’s Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE).
- Attend enterprise agile transformation meetings, ask questions, and provide input.
Engaging others in the transformation is much easier when they see the organization’s leadership playing an active role. Often just having one of the organization’s executives sit in on a meeting is enough to keep your change efforts moving forward. What people see often has much more impact than what they hear.
Set realistic expectations
Every big idea comes with big expectations, but transforming a large, slow organization into an agile enterprise doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, your agile transformation should be a never-ending process of continuous improvement. If you set your expectations too high, you and others in your organization may give up when you don’t see immediate big improvements.
Set realistic expectations and don’t try to oversell the benefits. Prepare your organization for a long and bumpy ride. Managing expectations may curb the organization’s enthusiasm, but it will improve your likelihood of success. Large organizational change takes time, and you should be skeptical of anyone who tells you otherwise. Steer clear of quick fixes. With enterprise agile transformations, slow and steady always wins the race.
Establish clear metrics to make progress visible and keep everyone motivated. When change is slow, progress is often difficult to see.
Compensate employees for their investment
An enterprise agile transformation requires a significant investment from employees, but few organizations return the favor. They don’t release employees from their usual responsibilities or create time in the workday for change management events. Although executives and managers may not intentionally exploit workers’ good will, the oversight can make employees wonder whether they’re the only ones sacrificing for the organization’s success.
Create an employee change investment memo that shows the number of hours employees have invested in the enterprise agile transformation in excess of their normal hours. Present the memo to your organization’s executives to demonstrate what employees have already contributed and to make the case that with a little investment, employees may be willing to do much more.
Change minds as well as systems
Any effective enterprise agile transformation requires a change in both how people work and how they think about their work. According to some schools of thought, you can change people’s thinking by changing their behaviors. Others believe that you can change people’s behaviors by changing their thoughts. I recommend doing both:
- Change the culture. You can change your organization’s mindset by promoting agile values and principles, such as valuing people and interactions over processes. Creating a proactive Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE) can be a great way to start changing minds within your organization.
- Adopt agile principles and practices. Creating agile teams and adopting agile practices gets people to change the way they do their work and how they work together. Experiencing enterprise agility reinforces the Lean-Agile Mindset, which helps drive the necessary change in culture.
Be objective when assessing your organization’s culture
Most organizations have a stronger control culture than they would like to admit. They like to think of themselves as highly collaborative, and they may be very collaborative at certain levels. However, when you look more closely, you can see that people are generally doing what they’re told.
When you’re trying to identify your organization’s existing culture, be objective. View your organization as it is and not as you want it to be. Then, choose an appropriate change management strategy. If your organization has a control culture and leadership supports enterprise agility, choose a top-down approach, such as Kotter’s eight-step approach. Choose a bottom-up strategy, such as Fearless Change, only if your organization is highly collaborative.
Build broad consensus on the reason for the change
People often have different reasons for wanting enterprise agility, such as a desire for process improvement, better products, waste reduction, or increased collaboration. That’s fine when you’re just getting started, but lack of consensus on the reason for making the change can dilute the impact of everyone’s efforts.
Think of it this way: Organizational change management is about solving problems. This could be a problem with your culture, a low-quality product, or even a hostile workplace. Everyone should have the same understanding of the problem so all can work together to create a solution. If you’re the change leader, collaborate with all stakeholders to reach consensus on the greatest challenge and develop a prioritized list of objectives.
Don’t rely solely on outside consultants to drive change
Consultants are great, but they should be used primarily to provide objective third-party insight into your organization. Some organizations misuse consultants by treating them as disposable change agents. They hire a consultant to drive the change and then fire him when it fails. This practice — also known as the “scapegoat” method — persists because it protects managers from shouldering the cost of failure, and it gives consultants interesting work, but it’s not good for the organization.
A better approach is to choose a well-respected and longtime employee to drive the change internally with the mindset that the change is inevitable — failure is not an option. A well-respected, longtime employee can do a good job communicating the reason behind the change. She can point out that she’s been there for a long time and understands that this will be a challenge. She can speak in a language everyone in the organization understands and use examples that resonate throughout the organization.
If you use a consultant to drive change, make sure you have one or two longtime employees working alongside her, so they can continue to drive change after the consultant leaves. Otherwise, the change initiative is likely to lose momentum, and the organization may even reverse course.
Encourage reluctant executives and managers to embrace the change
You may encounter some of the stiffest resistance to enterprise agility at the top of your organization, because change requires taking a risk — something executives and managers have been trained to avoid or to manage carefully. To ease your organization’s leadership into embracing the change, try the following techniques:
- Be completely honest about the potential benefits and risks.
- Raise awareness of the risk of not changing.
- Give more than one choice in how to implement the change.
- Don’t let executives overestimate people’s desire to change.
- Don’t let the executives underestimate their own roles in the process.
Whether you take a top-down or a bottom-up approach, your organization’s leaders will have a huge impact on the transformation. If leadership is reluctant to change the way it works, you’ll have difficulty getting others in the organization to change the way they work.
Listen to the skeptics
Every organization has skeptics who will resist any major change initiative, and that’s not necessarily bad. Employees should be able to voice their opinions about large organizational changes. Listen to the skeptics; they may have some good points that you would be wise to consider.
Don’t dismiss the naysayers as resisting change merely because they’re afraid of the unknown. They may reveal important insights that can make your efforts more successful. In addition, by giving them a voice, you’re more likely to get their cooperation and may even convert them into your strongest advocates.
Expect some resistance and prepare strong counter arguments in favor of the change. You may even want to create a resistance management plan, which includes the following:
- A list of reasons why people may be invested in the way the organization currently operates, along with a list of ways these same people may benefit from an enterprise agile transformation. Think carefully about who might be hostile to the change and work hard to come up with solid and consistent responses.
- A list of additional work requirements that will be expected of employees, along with a list of ways the enterprise agile transformation will lighten their workloads or improve worker satisfaction.
- The reason for the change. Making employees change without providing them a reason for the change only makes them feel confused and frustrated. It provides no incentive for them to change.
Be prepared to answer the skeptics’ questions, so you don’t fumble when challenged.