Interview with Jason Little

Lean Change Management is increasingly popular way of implementing successful change with innovative practices that can dramatically improve the success of change programs. We have been lucky enough to speak to Jason Little, author of Lean Change Management book to understand challenges of change management, his view on Agile leadership, and aspects of business Agility.

Here are some useful insights shared by Jason;

Q1. One of the biggest challenges of change management is bringing people along with your vision. How do you suggest to address this challenge?

Jason: I think it’s common to create a vision at the start of a change, and then assume that’s the only discussion that needs to take place. Typically leaders or appointed change managers are tasked with crafting the vision that they will broadcast out to those affected by the change. I treat a ‘vision’ more like a series of interconnected stories over time.

I always start with a co-created vision with everyone affected by the change. Obviously, if you’re making a change with a 4,000 person department, it’s much harder, but the payoff is worth it when people feel a sense of ownership of the change. Make the offer, include people and respect those who want to opt-out.

Mechanically, something creative usually works better, in my view. For example, I recently finished a change team liftoff where they were creating the vision for their team. The group split into 4 teams and each created a poster that expressed their vision. We reviewed each team’s poster as a group and merged them into a final version and statement that the whole group believed in.

Q2. Is it important to engage people’s logic and appeal to their emotions when undergoing a change at organisational level? Please highlight key reasons for the same.

Jason: GREAT question! Too often we ignore the emotional aspect of change. People respond to change differently. Personally, I go into problem-solving mode, and want to take action sooner based on understanding where we are, what’s affected, and the best way to move forward for now. Some people are the opposite. They may have seen this attempt at change happen before and they need some time to complain, proclaim why it’ll never work, why it’s stupid, or why their ideas are better.

We immediate leap to that reaction as resistance when it’s not. It’s a natural response to change and if we don’t allow time for the emotional reaction, taking a logical approach won’t move the change forward.

As change agents, we need to balance both of these and help people who tend to be more logical by nature understand that others think differently. This can be stressful for logical-thinkers, but from my experience, it’s more stressful for those who are more emotional.

Q3. How can one review the change? Is there any metrics you suggest to measure the success?

Jason: It depends on what the change is. If it’s the implementation of a new IT system that affects business processes, measurements are a bit easier. Most of my work is in on the people-side of change. That is, organizations are looking to transform to something and bring in new mindsets and behaviours. Those are theoretically easy to measure, but in practise, they don’t make sense.  For example, I talked to an experienced OD manager who said, “you baseline the existing behaviours, do the change and then measure the new behaviours against the baseline

That sounds logical enough, but people are not robots and not only is it insulting to people, it makes no sense to create quantitative measurements for something that isn’t quantifiable.

I encourage organizations to use diagnostics and measurements to use as input into a conversation. For example, a diagnostic would be: “given we’ve been doing <this change> for 1 calendar quarter, from 0 to 5, rate how much you believe we’re headed in the right direction and why?” The resulting conversation is what we’re after, not the ‘rating’

As for success measurements, I find very few organizations use these, other than to appease the board, or people at the top because they just want a number to look at.

Q4. What is Jason’s view on ‘Agile Leadership’?

Jason: I understand why it’s becoming popular but it’s unnecessary in my view. Throughout human history, leadership has been necessary and great leaders like Herb Kelleher and Alan Mulally did amazing things at Southwest Airlines and Ford respectively without ‘agile leadership’

Today we live in the Age of the Maker. That is, with knowledge being largely free and easily accessible, anyone can create a model, method, framework or set of tools based on ideas that have existed for a long time. While Agile formalized in 2001 with the Agile Manifesto, the ideas that inspired it has been around for decades or longer.

For example, Servant Leadership is something ‘agile’ has talked about forever, but it’s been around since the 1970’s. I created a timeline of the more popular leadership approaches for a conference I spoke at a number of years ago http://timelessleadership.ca/

MIT’s 4 Capabilities model for leadership and change IS agile leadership, but people don’t like to stop and look around, they like to invent something new. The 4 capabilities are Visioning, Sensemaking, Relating, and Inventing. The basic premise is that great leaders need to know when to use the capabilities and why. A great example from MIT is the US automaker bailout in 2008. Ford Motor Company didn’t take a buyout, but Alan Mulally, the CEO of Ford at the time, lobbied for it anyway because he understood the bigger picture by using his sensemaking capabilty. That is, with the supplier overlap, and the oligopoly that is auto-manufacturing, he knew that what was at stake was bigger than Ford.

Great leaders know how to change the engine of the plane while it’s flying. In my view, Agile Leadership was created with good intentions, but we’ve all seen what watered down Agile certifications have done to the industry so I don’t think this fad will be any different.

Q5. Over time, business agility has taken over being agile. Why business agility is discussed so much these days?

Jason: For me it’s similar to agile leadership. Fundamentally, two things never change: competition and innovation. The more competition we create, the more we create the need for innovation. The more we innovate, the more competition we create. This is how business has always worked and while agile people like to cite Kodak in their failure stories, they don’t realize Kodak is still around. Sure they’re not the giant they were, because their products became a commodity, but they have survived for 131 years.

Business agility is just a new phrase based on the same idea that organizations that survive learn faster than their competitors.

I believe it’s helping people new to agile realize that agile is about more than IT, but it’s been my experience that organizations with strong leadership already get this.

Q6. Please share your thoughts on following – We have tight deadlines, and we don’t want Agile to get in the way of delivering, what’ll you do?

Jason: Ha! I was asked the same question over a decade ago while working as an agile coach! At the time, my answer was, there are only 4 values, which ones shall I break?

Today, my answer is much different. In fact, it’s been replaced with more questions: How would you see ‘agile’ being a barrier to project success? How have you dealt with this problem in the past, and how did it work out?

More often than not, agile is never the problem, it’s the card that the person asking has to play because they’re on the hook for delivery. Sometimes it’s easier on our brains to do things the old way because trying to change how we work, even when we know we need to, creates more of a cognitive load than we can handle.

Q7. Will Agile Coaching get replaced in future with something else?

Jason: I think the term will change over time, but what coaches do won’t. I’ve already seen Business Agility Coaches, Organizational Psychologists, Design Thinking Coaches and other fancy-sounding titles, but that’s just marketing and an attempt to stand out in a sea of noise. There will always be a need for coaching and consulting. I think ‘whitespace functions’ like HR, change management, organizational development, agile coaching and more will blend together more.

Roles and titles will become less important because many people in these disciplines know these roles are service functions. Sure there are change managers who value control and believe standards and process are most important for ensuring successful change and those people would make great project managers, but not change managers.

It’s the same with Agile Coaching. I’ve worked with Agile Coaches that are really process improvement specialists, and there’s nothing wrong with that, just don’t call it coaching.

Agile Coaching won’t be replaced, if anything, it’ll expand by merging and working with other disciplines like Organizational Development and Organizational Change Management because that’s really a huge component of what Agile Coaching is.

I would say Agile Coaches that come from the values, principles and process side would be well-served to develop new skills. That stuff can be learned through Google now, the real value is technical coaching, and organisational level coaching.

 

Jason is the author of Lean Change Management, international speaker and has been helping organizations implement Agile practices since 2007 as a Scrum Master, Product Owner, Internal and External Coach.

He began his career as a web developer when Cold Fusion roamed the earth. Over the following years, he moved into management, Agile Coaching and consulting. The bumps and bruises collected along the way brought him to the realization that helping organizations adopt Agile practices was less about the practices, and all about change.

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