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Drivers of performance in change agility

By Sara Patoff Last Updated on Jun 11, 2021
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  • Posted By Sara Patoff
  • Categories Agile and Scrum

What change-agile organizations have found is that impacting these four operational systems of change agility requires a deep understanding of what drives the systems to be successful—or not. One organization saw repeatedly that sponsorship was tepid. It undertook some of the most obvious improvements—getting agreement on the responsibilities of a sponsor and providing training to all executives on sponsorship. But no significant improvement occurred. When the organization dug more deeply into causes, it recognized that the cultural tendency to avoid confrontation caused sponsors to withhold support when the programs created conflicts with peers. The organization’s next improvement efforts were in building a “contract” among executives about how they would respectfully address conflicting priorities and commit to both voicing and working out differences. The organization cemented it with changes to performance measures.

In addition, change-agile organizations recognize that causal drivers of one problem may be created or impacted by other causal drivers. In the example above, there was a strong culture of business unit autonomy. Before the executives could agree on how they would address conflicting priorities, they had to agree on how they would modify their viewpoint of what they could do independently and where they had to work together more effectively. Causal drivers of change agility are interlocking gears; they cannot be viewed optimally as distinct areas of focus.

The literature points to three interlocking causal drivers that either aid or impede change agility:

1. The cultural norms of the organization,
2. The ways in which its leaders commit themselves to effective change, and
3. The capacity of the organization to plan, resource, implement and absorb change.

Consider these more in-depth thematic findings in the context of Figure 3

Also Read: Benefits of Lean and Agile

Organizational Agility
Figure 3: The Driving Forces of Change Agility

The change-agile organization is distinguished by certain drivers of its capacity to respond to change effectively, rapidly, and with sustained success:

1. Culturally, the organization, its leadership and employees are:

  • Tuned to their market environment, responsive to trends, and innovative in thinking ahead to their next moves;
  • Holistic and integrative, marked by boundary fluidity (including boundaries outside the organization);
  • Lean in organization structures and decision-making;
  • Collaborative and coordinated in work styles, with interactions marked by trust;
  • Inviting of all data points, input, and challenges as part of a healthy dialogue about the organization’s future and best options to get there; and
  • Insistent on knowledge-sharing and personal, team and organization development.

2. The organization and its leaders commit to change as a productive way of life:

  • They accept change as inherent and seek out sources of volatility and complexity in their environment;
  • They build an attitude of change as normal and work to ensure successful change as the experienced norm;
  • They are ruthless in triaging change opportunities and culling those with poor value alignment or poor match with cultural and resource capabilities;
  • They both accept challenge to direction and insist on above-board debate rather than below-the-surface complaints; and
  • They are active in supporting change efforts before, during, and after implementation to assure ultimate strategy achievement. Commitment is supported by the culture.

3. The organization’s business models, processes and systems (capacities) support:

  • Lean and adaptable business models and processes;
  • A digestible inventory of change;
  • Well-understood and well-used processes for idea development, change management and organizational portfolio, program, and project management;
  • Constant improvement of these processes;
  • Inclusive, respectful, iterative—and rapid—plan development and decision-making;
  • Development of resource accessibility, capability and expertise in key areas needed for the organization’s changes; and
  • Reward systems that are supportive of all of the above themes. Capacity is supported by leadership commitment.

Building Change Agility: The Strategic Process for Improvement

Change agility is not a destination or a defined state of maturity. It is a continuous quest, informed by changing internal and external factors. Change agility is enhanced through an intentional management process of continuous improvement in the organization’s ability to both respond to environmental change to remain competitive, and to proactively initiate change to leverage opportunities. This intentional process is an internal strategy process focused on developing and sustaining organizational capability, much like a talent development/succession planning process. A talent development strategy aims to define the organization’s overall talent needs for the future and to influence such things as what people learn during their careers; how they behave and interact in the organization; and how people are selected to fill certain roles. Similarly, a strategy for change agility considers what the organization’s needs are for change over time, and influences such things as what people need to know, how they behave and interact, and how they play out roles.

So the improvement of change agility is best positioned as an internal strategy aimed at improving the organization’s capability and capacity to change rapidly and effectively when the need arises. Like other internal strategies that position the organization to be effective (talent development and succession planning, strategic sourcing, sales force selection and development, etc.), change agility deserves intentional strategic discussion and planning.

As with any internal improvement strategy, the quest for change agility includes the steps of:

• Defining the desired state:

In undertaking a strategic review of organizational change agility, the process of defining the desired state is staking out a few key areas that will best aid the organization in becoming more agile. It may be completed prior to assessing the current state or after that activity.

• Assessing the current state:

This assessment helps to tease out both the visible manifestations of impediments and underlying causal drivers, and highlights more clearly what measures will be most effective in improving agility. In conducting an assessment of the current state, it is critical to gain an accurate picture of both the obvious and the hidden attributes.

• Performing a gap analysis:

The purpose of a gap analysis is to define the richest areas for improvements. The thematic compilation of areas for improvement gathered in the current state assessment is the primary input to this work. If a desired state was defined prior to the current state assessment, it will also be input to the gap analysis.

• Developing and executing the program:

Once the strategies are selected based on the gap analysis, the strategies need to be championed, and programs and projects identified to carry them out. As with programs and projects to achieve other company strategies, change agility programs and projects are appropriately governed to strategic success as part of a portfolio of efforts being undertaken by the organization. This governance is well served through a portfolio management process and function that gives clear authority for monitoring both the programs of work and the environment in which they are to be implemented.

• Reassessing/measuring to determine success:

Arguably, it is even more important to assess the success of change agility efforts than it is of any other organizational change. Whenever change touches on culture and peoples’ behavior, there is a high tendency to return to life as usual if there is little commitment to ongoing measurement and reassessment of the success of the changes over time. As with any other program or project, measures of short- and long-term success of the change agility program will be established as part of the journey from strategy to execution and benefits realization.

This five-step process is not a once-and-done activity. The entire process should be repeated on a periodic basis.

Guidance on conducting each of the five steps is detailed in a companion paper titled Building Change Agility: The Strategic Process for Agility Improvement. That paper walks through the details of each step and identifies considerations that should be taken into account—providing processes and methods for ensuring a complete and viable program for improving organizational change agility.

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