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Making Change Stick

by Shane Hastie on Apr 02, 2010 |

Management consultant and author Steve Denning has been investigating and writing about applying Agile principles to the management and running of entire organisations. 

He champions creating environments that foster the formation of high performance teams, and has identified that Agile software development approaches help to create a culture of high performance – see http://www.infoq.com/news/2009/06/high-performance-teams-teamicide.
 
He is currently writing a book based on the work he’s been doing, titled "The Leader's Guide to Radical Management: Re-inventing the Workplace for the 21st Century", it is to be published by Jossey-Bass in November 2010.  Mode details can be found here
 
In the book he discusses the challenges faced in making organisational change stick – cultural change is difficult and there will be pressure to revert to the old ways of doing things. Making an Agile transition is a major change for many organisations and the resistance to change is often more than is anticipated.
 
Denning provides some advice in the form of 10 practices for getting change right: 
First, the impetus will begin with a single individual. That individual may be anywhere in the organization. It may be the CEO. In a large organization, it is more likely to be someone in the middle management.4 It may even be someone at the working level. Change will begin when that individual takes responsibility for the future and decides: this needs to happen and I am going to help make it happen.
 
Second, the change will happen organically. One person starts talking to and inspiring other people who in turn have the courage, determination and communication skills to incite fresh groups of people to imagine and implement a different future. In turn, they become champions and inspire others.
 
Third, a small high-performance team will be needed to inspire and guide implementation. Dutiful or representative performance won’t get the job done. This will be a group that is creative and energized and trusts one another and is willing to do whatever it takes.
 
Fourth, the change will happen quickly or not all. Once organizational change takes off, it will happen rapidly. The process is viral in nature. The idea is a virus that is either growing and spreading and propagating itself; or dying and de-energizing people and spawning new constraints. There isn’t much in between. A top-down process that is grinding it out, step by step, unit by unit, is usually generating massive quantities of anti-bodies that will lead to mediocre implementation or even total failure.
 
Fifth, the change idea itself will steadily evolve. This is not a matter of crafting a vision and then rolling it out across the organization. This is about continuously adapting the idea to the evolving circumstances of the organization. As the organization, and everyone in it, adapts the story of change to their own context, it becomes owned by each individual. A sense of ownership grows.
 
Sixth, the change process will run on human passion—a firm belief in the clarity and worth of the idea and the courage to stand up and fight for it. No template or detailed roll-out plan can inspire the energy, the passion and excitement that are needed to make deep change happen. Most of the paraphernalia of the top-down change programs will in fact be counter-productive to authentic implementation and will generate deep-seated opposition to the change.
 
Seventh, it will be focused, disciplined passion. This is not an approach where “anything goes.” There will be a tight focus on the goal and continuing alertness to head off the diffusion of energy into related or alternative goals. Progress will be assessed and adjustments made based on what has been learned. There will be systematic feedback on what value is being added. There will be freedom to create, but within clearly delineated, adjustable limits.
 
Eighth, outside help will be used but not depended on. As there is nothing new under the sun, experience of others should be drawn on. It is foolish to go it alone. Intellectual energy is generated by cognitive diversity and interactions with people with different backgrounds and ways of looking at the world. At the same time, it is equally dangerous to follow external advice slavishly and let others dictate the change. The external advice will be received, evaluated and adapted to the local needs. In the process of adapting it, the idea will become owned. Things are not done simply because outsiders say so. They will be done because they make sense for this context.
 
Ninth, the top of the organization must support—and be supported. Although implementation of radical management cannot be accomplished by top-down directives or rollout programs, the support of the very top of the organization is key to creating the umbrella for change, for setting direction and heading off the inevitable “death threats” to the idea. Yet the top cannot make it happen alone. In a large organization, the top will need many others to communicate the idea throughout the organization in an authentic way.
 
Finally, the idea will be more important than any individual. Topdown change programs typically die when the manager leaves. The replacement manager is a new broom who sweeps clean what has gone before. By contrast, when a change has taken root in an organic fashion, the idea continues to live, because it is owned by wide array of people.
 An excerpt from one chapter of the book is available here: http://www.stevedenning.com/slides/GettingChangeRight-Mar29-2010.pdf
 

 
How effective is the change process in your organisation, have these principles been applied, and how useful have they been?

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Make change or watch it happen? by Pavel Veller

There's a great classic book out there written by John Kotter in 90-something. It's called Leading Change. John suggested an 8 step process, or framework if you will, that an organizational change has to go through to stick.

The most important thing to understand is that change will not happen organically, it has got to be led. And another very important thing is that a change requires passionate followers more than it requires passionate leaders and champions. Champions alone will hit the wall of complacency and status quo and natural resistance of the human nature.

Many of the suggested 10 practices make sense but don't look like a practical guide to actually produce changes that stick, it looks more like a guide to watch a change occur. Like a table of content that would help you understand what's happening but won't help you guide it, won't help you deliver it.

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