Being in a Leadership role within a complex environment, I focus on enabling an environment that improves people’s capabilities, better engaging them in the work they do, nurturing their talents and developing strengths to generate the results. Complex environments require continuous learning, experimentation, open communication and value realisation based on long term rather than short term gain. These characteristics often link to an organisation’s culture. Culture here meaning the ideas, customs, and social behaviours.
Leading change could therefore mean addressing certain parts of the culture that doesn’t sit right with the direction of change. Often you need to get some buy-in before embarking on change, like Agile change. However, I often feel buy-in is outdated as it means convincing smart people that there is a better way. Sure there is always a degree of buy-in and change is better when it has executive support and is on some strategy roadmap however smart people are rarely wanting to be plunged into uncertainty. A complex environment, one that requires knowledge work and innovation requires another approach to achieving change. An approach that is more collaborative and involves co-creation change methods.
Often I take my toolkit to every new engagement, learning lots of new things from the last. However, what I have learnt is that one system never works in different organisation. I would never for instance say textbook scrum will work with these teams or impose my ideas and principles of how things should be (Let’s be clear, I do love scrum). My first job is to help surface things that need change and I often look out for catalyst that indicate that change is needed. Common examples being, lack of visibility into delivery progress, teams having transparency challenges, no sense of expectation management or management pushing timelines too hard, missing key deadlines and overspend, lack of value creation within an agreed period etc.These catalyst will often surface to you as a new team member but always amazes me that it is the norm. Now that’s the current culture.
An experiment I ran once I call “Pull Your Kaizen”.Pull meaning you stop pushing changes through and Kaizen meaning practice of continuous improvement. This is in essence continuous improvement commitments on a visible Kanban Board using key Kanban principles. Over a period of time, I worked with the teams to collect symptoms and outcomes and we placed them on a board under “To Review”. I then have a team session or a retrospective with the teams and the board at center stage. I work through the issues raised with the teams and discuss how top issues can be resolved. There is always the opportunity to bring out your toolkit here but it is important to remember that the team need to own the change. Also, we discuss qualitative and/or quantitative measure which can indicate that an improvement has been made. At the end of the session, the team should commit to what they will resolve by which experiment. I advise two things per Sprint are easier to follow, measure and review,(limit change in progress).
What I really love about this stuff I call Pull Your Kaizen is that it allows the teams to have more ownership for continuous improvement, makes things-to-improve visible and allows the team to truly follow up CI commitments. Problems are no longer buried within the culture. The level of visibility gives you all the buy-in without having to be the best sales man. Off course, I would emphasise that retrospectives are on a cadence but Retrospecting is constant. Fix things as they surface. Don’t leave it to special times.
Try this approach as an experiment if it doesn’t work, understand why, and try something else. Remember that people are the greatest asset in an organisation and they need to be engaged. If you are too focused on applying textbook methods and dogmatic change, then you are missing the point and are not implementing long term change and certainly not impacting culture.