I like to compare an agile transformation to a physical fitness journey.
Achieving a complete agile transformation in an entire organization is rarely easy.
It requires a huge shift from focusing on how people can improve their individual impact to seeing how the entire organization moves and works together. That means being willing to influence change even when no one else does—because everyone knows it will contribute to the overall greater good.
The problem is, for most people, a job is something they’re paid to do. And if no one is paying them specifically to enact that shift, they’re not going to be inspired to do it.
So how do you motivate people to change?
I like to compare an agile transformation to a physical fitness journey. All of us know that working out has health benefits. You could go to any bookstore, pick up a book on fitness routines, and improve your health. The hard part is getting to the gym on a regular basis and taking initial responsibility for your fitness and diet routines.
The struggle is saying, “I’m going to be responsible for my best self today.”
In an agile transformation, the message is similar. Everyone has to be thinking, “I’m going to be responsible for being great at my job and also contributing to the success of my organization.”
It’s this shift—from individual personal responsibility to layering in the welfare of the group, team, or company as a whole—that’s so crucial to an agile transformation.
The challenge is not everyone wants to change in the beginning.
Most times, people are open to taking responsibility for changing their own actions.
I frequently see people who love being software developers come to work every day with the goal to be the best at their jobs. That’s what they went to school for, that’s what they’re passionate about.
But when it’s time to step up and contribute to the bigger dynamic, even the most die-hard developer on the planet may immediately think, “Well, that’s not my problem.”
Refusing to take responsibility contributes to a much bigger company-wide issue—everyone wants to complain about a problem, but no one wants to fix it. They’ll bring their troubles to the table, but they’ll resist taking on the task of actually addressing them.
As an agile coach, this is where you can run into big problems with agile transformation. When suggesting a change, you’re met with intense resistance—hearing “no” to just about every idea. Frequently the reason for refusal boils down to, “Well, I’ve been paid to do these actions, so that’s all I’m going to do.” Which puts us back at square one—everyone is working only for themselves and not together.
Unfortunately, if this happens—and you can’t get anyone to budge—the session will end in failure.
You have to inspire teams to look in the mirror so you can invite change.
Everyone wants change, but no one wants to change.
So before you can do anything as an agile coach, invite team members to first look at themselves. Ultimately, the only people you can ever change is yourself. So all growth—even growth that eventually leads to a better organizational environment—is personal growth. All improvement is self-improvement.
A huge part of an agile transformation is helping people to understand that if they don’t like something about the workplace, they have to stop and look at themselves first.
And this exercise isn’t relegated only to junior staff members. In fact, it’s crucial for leaders in the workplace to improve themselves and set an example of how to change.
It’s important to understand that leadership is a proactive responsibility.
I often begin an agile transformation by taking the managers and leaders of an organization to a two-day offsite.
We don’t discuss tools, metrics, practices—nothing technical. Instead, we spend two days talking about whether or not they actually want to lead change.
It’s not a simple move because it requires them to fundamentally change the way they view their responsibilities and day-to-day actions.
And because of this complexity, coaches often receive pushback. This moment is why the agile fundamentals of listening and asking for permission are so huge. You have to listen very, very carefully for the motivations behind the resistance. Sometimes, people give an outright “no” because they don’t want to change. Sometimes, you get a “yes” that isn’t truly a “yes.”
Think back to the fitness example. If you ask your friend, “Are you interested in improving your physical fitness?” their answer is, of course, going to be yes. Everyone wants to look and feel better.
But then if you ask, “Do you want to go to the gym every day?” or “Do you want to eat kale instead of pizza?” their answers may change. It’s all about gauging the depth of actual commitment.
That’s why it’s best to hold one-on-ones with the managers at the end of the two-day offsite. There, you can ask what’s really going on with them. And you can ask that question over and over again until you understand where they are coming from and how you can work with them.
An agile transformation all comes down to inspiring the choice to improve.
To transform an organization, everything must be done by choice. So as a coach, you have to listen and ask for permission. If you don’t make it clear that people can refuse the process at any point, then they’ll feel forced.
If a change is forced, it won’t stick.
True transformations come from a deep commitment to the everyday actions that perpetuate growth—whether that’s better agile practices or improving your mile on the treadmill. By choosing to make the change every day, there are no limits on how your client (and their companies) can grow.