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.