Tag Archives: change

The Soul of a Change Agent – Part 1

Matt was the typical resistor of change.  He didn’t like the introduction of Scrum and certainly didn’t like being forced to stand there once a day and report on what he did yesterday, what he planned to do today and what was in his way.

As far as he was concerned, the only thing in his way was Scrum.  ”Just gimme my work and let me work!“, he’d often say.  Matt would decide on his own to do a piece of work that the team didn’t commit to until something happened.

Sarah was the Scrum Master for this team and one day she pulled Matt aside and asked him a question.  ”Matt, it seems like you’re not having much fun with this new process, what’s happening for you?

It’s stupid.” was Matt’s initial reply.  ”Why should I have to stand there and report status for stuff?  Did you know I used to be in the army before I moved here?  This reminds of being commanded and forced to stand there and I don’t like it.

That sounds frustrating for you.” replied Sarah.  ”The point of that stand-up meeting is really to co-ordinate work for the day and raise any problems sooner.” she continued.

That makes sense but I don’t like standing there in a circle giving status updates.” Matt replied.

Would it feel  better if we got together in the lounge and sat down for our stand-up meeting?” suggested Sarah.

Can we do that?” said a surprised Matt.

It’s our process, we can do whatever we want!” replied Sarah cheerfully. “How about we propose that to the team at the next stand-up and see what they think?

Sure” said Matt.

Something amazing happened after that.  At the next stand-up, Sarah could feel a tighter connection being formed within the team.  The conversation seemed more natural, there was levity, eye contact between team members and it felt less processy.

Most importantly, the team members stopped facing Sarah to report status!

A few years later Matt sent Sarah an email thanking her for introducing him to Scrum and Agile.  He said he was now working for “an Agile company” and he couldn’t imagine going back to working “the old way”.

This is a change that matters and this is a real story.  Only the names have been changed.

I had the pleasure of meeting Daryl Conner a few months ago at a conference and spoke about change that matters and the soul of the change agent.  He says change that matters is change that positively affects the lives of people.   His fear is that change agents are walking too far down the path of overly complex tools and processes to manage change.

Change models, tools and plans cannot match the complexity of the human brain and cannot replace the interactions and relationships between people.   Are models, tools and plans needed?  Yes, absolutely, but these models, tools and plans cannot replace the soul change agent must have to bring change that matters.

In Part 2, I’ll continue with why the soul of a change is even more important when you don’t see results from your change effort right away and in Part 3 I’ll close with how you can practice putting more soul into your work as a change agent.

Practical Advice for Managing Change Resistance

The Fast Track posted an interesting article about overcoming resistance to change filled with the usual feel-good, common sense advice for said topic.

I agree with all the points mentioned in the post but one bone of contention I have is that this, and many other ‘feel-good’ posts, sound great but offer nothing practical that you can actually do when faced with change resistance.

For each “fix” mentioned in this article, I’ll give you tangible actions you can do right now to help deal with change resistance.  Keep in mind that “resistance” is a response to change, it’s completely natural and it’s going to take time for those pesky resistors to wise up!

The Problem: Change is often heavily emotional
The Fix: Increase autonomy, involvement, and independent decision-making

delegation-poker-resultsRun a delegation poker session and make explicit how you make decisions within your team.  Post your results in a big visible area.  This gives you the benefits described in the article.  It establishes where the organizational electric fences are and what decisions can be more safely delegated down the hierarchy.  Review this monthly with your team during a retrospective.

The Problem: Change involves a mental shift
The Fix: Provide clarity to eliminate confusion

lean-coffee-signMany change models and articles cite the importance of clear and concise communication during change.  Duh, really?

Do this:

Have a weekly wide-open Lean Coffee session hosted by one of the change agents in your organization and an executive.  Let people freely ask whatever questions they want in context of the change.  Put the questions and notes on an intranet somewhere.  Chances are no one will look at the notes but try it anyway.  Do this weekly and rotate executives in and out.  This will show commitment to the change and will (hopefully) clear up confusion in a more effective way than sending out more email.

The Problem: Change requires adaptation to comfortable behaviors and automatic habits
The Fix: Emotions, thoughts, and behaviors can be interchangeable

This is a tough one.  One piece of advice is to make change easier by considering motivation and ability.  People can feel frustrated when change is too hard even if they’re highly motivated to do it.  Give people slack time by stopping lower priority projects which will give them time to adjust to the change or do what Volkswagon does and turn off BlackBerry service after hours to give employees a break.

We humans love the feel-good stuff and it is useful for building motivation in an emotionally charged topic such as change but at the end of the day you still need to do something to put these fixes into place.

Try this stuff and add a comment with what worked and what didn’t work.

Change Elasticity

Many organizations think Agile is the solution to their dilemmas.  Many try and many fail yet many seem to exhibit the same patterns.  The 3 most popular reasons for failure are lack of management/executive buy-in, general resistance to change and failure to change the organization’s culture.

To me, those 3 answers really mean “I don’t know what happend and why it didn’t work so I’ll blame somebody else.

I experienced on many occasions the excitement change brings, the loosening of processes to accomodate ‘Agile’ and the willingness to learn new practices, followed by a phase I call ‘the honeymoon is over‘ and finally ‘oh crap….panic‘ when results aren’t realized as quickly as they hoped. Continue reading