Being a leader or manager is something that is heavily discussed in our current knowledge worker times. In more or less any consulting or coaching session of the past years this was a topic at one point of time. Many organizations think about changing their process and role models and establish more leadership than classic management. However why the heck do we need to do it at all?
People need leadership. Things need management. It is dangerous to get it the other way round.Charles Handy
This blog post is a brief overview of the 4 steps allowing you to make your own thoughts about it. In case you have further questions may be it is a good idea to post a comment.
I have a dream. I have the dream that our organization is driven by ownership and empowered teams
The primary driver for change in my environment is the changing understanding what drives our work. In the past it was a standard production process in which the costs of each piece of product was the driver for success. Our managers had been successful by optimizing the cost of each unit or by getting a higher price or selling more of these units. Research and development costs (R&D) had been factored in the unit price by finance allocation and usage of capitalization. This drove our process to have fixed gates and contracts based on product deliverables.
As the engineering processes are shifting towards more and more knowledge based solutions it becomes relevant to understand how to optimize this part of the research and development engineering as a whole. Just focus on managing one single project and run for local optimizations does not work anymore. We need to optimize the flow of product delivery rather than a single project, and we write off the capitalization of product phases rather than project milestones.
And at the same time people are the needs of people similar to the once of machines? Some are for sure similar like time for improvements (learning) or maintenance (vacation). And others are completely different. Or did you ever had a production line asking for more mental security or personal engagement of leaders?
So lets see how the dream can start and what ingredients we identified to be important.
How do I start? – 4 steps for your journey
Remember last time you met a friend who is a manager or top executive of a partner, customer or even competitor? As both of you know each other well you share not only business talk but also insides about how your organizations perform and behave.
Once you entered the office your friend offers you a coffee which she/he is going to make her/himself for you. Seems your friend is very relaxed and calm. You know there are burning projects and both companies have to go through rough times. Your are surprised about the fact that the new office is widely open and for your private talk you both go into a common meeting room. Your friend does not have any manager private room anymore. They are working in a collaborative working area which is quiet. You are surprised to see how much was changed since you visited last time. Asking about what changed he answered:
A few years ago we started to transform our organization into a Lean-Agile way of working. Since this transformation has reached out beyond our engineering teams it also changed our way of leadership understanding. After we reached a tipping point I have much more time to think about strategies, I’m less involved in escalations and have much more time to speak to partners, customers and suppliers.
Of course the escalations are not vanished completely and we still have products that need my attention. However we gained back our leadership champions from their line management roles and now they really own these products similar to small businesses.
All together this gives me time to visit friends and make them coffee.
Our manager has the dream: „I want to focus on the future of my organization and its strategy too. And I also want to make coffee for friends while being confident that my business champions own the business. I want this Lean-Agile „what so ever“ too.
Step 1: Launch & Learn your leadership journey
We identified that it is more about ourselves than others. In our leadership and strategy sessions we discussed all scenarios how to start. In fact our DACH30 community of Lean-Agile coaches within enterprise organizations elaborated about the various options too. All this lead into an understanding that we as future leaders need to better unterstand ourselves what it is all about.
What we have learned is that starting is about ourselves. We should not ask teams or other departments to do it, we as managers, Head Of’s, Executives need to start. In our environment a team of 10 department, group and segment leaders started using agile practices themselves. Not their teams, not just some of them – all together. Our head of segment with more than 1.000 engineers working in this segment, became the product owner and all of us the team. Our most experienced Agile Coach became the coach for us and we all had been the team.
The Launch & Learn phase might look different from each company or scenario and at the same time I would argue that starting with those who are thinking about the mindset change is very fruitful. Just some reasons to consider:
- Typically those with positive experience in using a new mindset become advocates of it for a long term. I experienced it as some of those participants are advocates and drivers even after 2 major organizational changes. Their positive experience in this new way of working is stronger than bouncing back to old habits
- The introduction of new mindset often comes with new tools, training and other aspects – most of these things are not available from the start. Even external and experienced consultants need several month or years to establish it for you. Establishing this new environment with a Agile practices helps to embed continuous improvements and learning from the start.
- Using just this small team of future „followers“ and „promoters“ that have the power to actually change something in their departments allows you to simplify the initial talks and discussions. You can exclude a lot of conflicts as they are mostly in between different departments. With only their managers involved in the change, the teams can continue like they have worked so far. Their change will be driven by the managers later.
Step 2: Connect & Share your knowledge with others
To implement a Lean-Agile mindset within a team or even a team of teams is relative simple. The existing scaling frameworks provide good practices and guidelines how to do it. Even the majority of consultants is familiar with these approaches – so your step 1 will be a supported.
The core question that arise fast is how to distribute the knowledge? How to influence the mindset of others and establish the new way of working with all the other people the doubt your success?
Kotter speaks about his 8 steps of change and these are a common practice for all change initiatives. As we are doing some of that it is fair to say our step 2: connect & share is about communicating the new vision and values. And this is in fact a pretty complex step. Especially as it is not easy to measure if you are on the right track.
We identified the language as one of the best key result we can use. Managers using the new language correctly and within the correct context are supporting the change. They also transform to leaders as they start to understand the new anchors and behave differently. In general you can say this step starts to change behavior of people and this will require a lot of communication.
As mentioned above the managers who positively experienced these new practices and mindsets themselves start to think differently. They also start to influence others on their level – as a Lean-Agile coach you need to stay very close to them. They will have many questions – you need to be there to answer or elaborate on them when the time is there.
This is also the most important reason for establishing an internal team of experienced Lean-Agile coaches. Your external Coaches and consultants are far too expensive to stay with you over a long time. Beside that most of these characters are getting bored if they would work for you over several years. However your managers and influencers need sparring partners to create fitting ideas for their change scenario. This is the role of the internal coaches – this is their value. They continue to work as a change agent having no hurry to claim a change successful just as the contract is over.
Step 3: Fail and improve
This step is described in so many documentations, strategy and leadership papers I will not go into very much details. What was the most important thing for us?
As mentioned before we have had strong existing processes. These have been established over several years some even decades. To change something like this it nearly impossible. With this in mind we used this phase to do many so called „Baby Steps“ and improved our environment one after the other.
As a leader this requires a lot of patience and persistence. Always remember the „Change Curve“ and in case you have yet another employee, colleague or partner telling you that this „Lean-Agile way of working“ will not help your organization, try to understand what was their origin? What is the anchor they have in mind that bring them to this dedicate conclusion.
Of course you might not be able to change the relevant topics at one moment in time. And at the same time if you stay persistent you have the opportunity to be there if the right time comes. May be you are lucky and something helps you that drives change – like COVID did. These external events are sometimes needed to drive larger changes.
What I have learned and do actionable in my own position? Always have your own big picture in mind and keep your official presentations updated regular. You never know when someone asking you to provide a set of information. When you have a consistent communication and can show that you have done the required steps of learning and improvements your story becomes plausible.
And as mentioned above – being open about the failures is a strong motivator for people to trust you. They start to see you as a leader not a manager that just focus on the right statement within a political wind.
Step 4: Grow and Innovate
The last step is the one which brings in the highes complexity as a leader. So far your environment was focused on you. With the three steps above
- you have unlearned some old habits and learned a new behavior
- you established a new learning environment covering the tools, practices and processes for others
- you fostered the new mindset and culture of learning and improving the environment you are working in
Now all of these topics have you in the center of your actions. It is the team you are working with, the people you lead and the colleagues you are collaborating with.
Now the last part is about all of the others that are at least one hub away from your direct social network. To grow the environment you need to find followers on your path that establish their own small cells of change.
We have learned that this can happen through organizational changes, as people tend to take their habits with them into the new positions or even locations. Sometimes it is even the general environment in which your organization works that is changing – now in these scenarios you are hopefully already in step 4 with your transformation. Otherwise it might get tricky to stabilize what was already achieved.
In all these topics for your as a leader you need to let loose. You can’t control what is happening in your larger environment. You need to have trust in what you have taught your fellows. Try to stay in touch and establish some regular knowledge exchange touch points to bring in all the perspectives. You can definitely learn something new again.
And yes in this stage you hopefully can make a coffee for your friend, business partner or colleague coming to you for a chat.
The full picture
This is the full picture of the four steps we had been talking about. Within the picture you also find some „key results“ that I use to measure if I’m/we’re on the right track. As said before this is not a detailed guide that you can just simply execute. For this the whole topic is too complex and large.
May be you can give us some feedback in the comments and this can inspire us to write further playbooks into the directions helpful for all of you. Hopefully this was valuable for you and there are some new learning items you can apply to your daily work.
(photo by sasint found at pixabay CC0)