January 30, 2018 Focus area: Scaling Agile, Digital Transformation

Start taking small steps to become an agile leader.

Three focus areas each manager can start working on to lead in an agile organization without losing control.

When organizations go through an Agile transformation, the origin of power is changing and so is the role of the leadership. The power of hierarchical status is fading out, and expectations from teams to get clear directions decrease. I see and hear about managers that want to change, but have difficulties to really start the change. Even though a manager has ingested organizational agility, this does not automatically make the leader agile.

I believe that there are a few small behavioral adjustments that are part of working in this digital age. Team members want to take responsibility, want to get motivated by understanding why they are doing what they do, and need focus to deliver. In this blog, I provide three examples of how to incorporate small adjustments in your day-to-day work that will make it easier to lead in agile organization: sharing responsibility, vision and focus.


Sharing responsibility

Managers are in many cases not the specialist on each topic. And that is okay! That’s why we build teams, even better: multidisciplinary teams, existing of people with divers expertise. The goal of sharing responsibility, is to build up responsibility in all layers of the organization. This is where to get started.

  • Ask questions. Why are you asking this question to me? What would be your own answer and what is that answer based on? You will discover if this person has weighted the pros and cons, feeling responsible for the decision – or if the person fully relies on you. 
  • Check if decisions are made with the company strategy in mind. You can challenge the team member to answer the question or take the decision with the overarching goal or company strategy in mind. Via this exercise, you know if the overarching goal is clear, plus you train your team to make operational decisions with strategy in mind.

Without realizing, you are now coaching team members to be able to make the decisions you would make instead, without giving them immediately the power to decide.


Vision

Why? That’s the most important question that we all like to get answered. Why do we take this decision? Why are we working on this? The strategy is what the company has decided to focus on, the vision explains where the strategy will bring you. So ask yourself: how good am I in explaining to my team why we do what we do? How do our actions help us to grow or get to the next level? Managers do not always see the need to be able to verbalize the vision, as it has been done by the CEO several times.

At moments where you discuss quarterly goals or one-to-ones to relate to the strategy of the company to share your vision. This is how you could start:

  • Create your own story. The CEO will share the vision in his or her own way. Even though this story is clear and easy to understand and repeat, challenge yourself to make your own version – whilst making sure you are still on the same page. You can use storytelling to help you visualize your vision or link it to an experience you had in the past. You can even take a real example from a client case that helps you to explain why your vision will bring the company to the next level. When adapting this ask your ‘audience’ to summarize your message to make sure that the message did come across the way you wanted it to.
  • Repeat. Information does not stick after the first time you see or hear about the vision. During meetings, updates, or one to ones you can bring the vision across. Try to connect the vision to the specific situation. Is your priority to be client focused? You can ask: what’s in it for the client? Or how does the client benefit from this? The balance is important, so be aware not to repeat the same story over-and-over again.

Focus

It happens that teams tell me they work on 30 things at the same time. When asking: what is most important? Answering is difficult. Everything is important and most of the time it is not even possible to get all tasks started! So: let’s be realistic and find focus. Prefer to know what can be finalized, instead of regretting afterwards that we did not manage to deliver. This helps to define those tasks that definitely need to be done – and those that are the ‘nice to haves’.

  • Prioritise. The most straightforward step to take, yet not easy, is to start prioritising. Start with yourself and write down everything you are working on or your team is working on. Then you start listing them vertically. The highest priority on top and lowest on the bottom. Many will know the WSJF (weighted shortest job first) formula that can be used for prioritisation for scrum teams. Following questions can help everyone to prioritise.

    How does this add value to our company goals?
     For example, how many new clients you expect this will bring or how much costs it will reduce. It can also be internal value by increasing efficiency.  

    What happens if we don’t do it or stop doing it?
    If nothing urgent changes, ask yourself if this is really something you want to spend time on. It can be that nothing changes, but that it is a minimum requirement. In that case, you do want to work on this. 

    Do we need to do this now or can it also be done later?
    Focus on those things that cannot wait until later. 

    To complete the job: how much time/effort does it take?
    Short jobs you want to finish quickly – but if a short job does not add value, why not focusing on something that takes more time?

  • Tell what you will not be able to do. By knowing your priorities, you can bring focus. Simply start by saying that there’s also work that won’t be prioritised, because there’s not enough time to do everything, or because it is not adding enough value now. If your strategy is the fundament of these decisions, priorities can be understood your team will get used to this sooner than you expect.

I believe that it is good to take a moment to realize how small adjustments can be implemented in the day to day work– especially in the start of becoming an agile leader.

My advice would be to start immediately to become more agile naturally by taking small steps. Define for yourself what you prefer to practice and don’t try to do everything at the same time.