Change is always happening, but to successfully Release Agility and bring about positive change in your company you need to find levers of positive change. Levers are actions you take that induce a compelling change worth more than the effort it takes to pull that lever.
In a sense, these are actions to take that unlock big change. Positive change. Change that is directed, nudged and purposefully brought about.
Releasing Agility is all about finding the very things that have hindered agility and removing them. I believe all organisations have agility, they’ve just lost it through the years as too much “control” has come in from well-intentioned people with well-intentioned initiatives and rules that slow down growth and delivery. Hence, you need to release it again.
Hence, to remove these blockers, and release agility, managers and leaders must spot these problems, and then pull “levers” of positive change.
Watch the video, or read on for more
A “lever” gives leverage. It makes a bigger impact and positive change than the effort required to pull the lever. They often have dramatic improvements within our business or teams for a seemingly minimal change. (Meadows, 1999)
These levers are everywhere, some are more impactful than others. In this video and blog post I will share some thoughts on how to spot these levers of positive change, and what impact they could have.
Your results will vary, but most companies have some or all of the following opportunities for improvement.
I guess what surprises me the most is that many managers and leaders don’t see these levers, or know how to pull them, or even know they can pull them.
Here are some ideas worth playing with:
Lever 1 – Delays
An easy place to look for improvements is in delays.
If there are delays within the work flow or business, you can look to reduce these delays, or remove them.
Think about handovers, approval processes, budget cycles and single points of failure (like when people go on vacation and work stops as they’re the only person that can do certain work).
There can be big gains by fixing delays. The best way to study work is to metaphorically, not physically, staple yourself to work items and join them on their journey – I’ve done a video (and post) on this before so I won’t cover old ground.
Shortening feedback loops increases our chance of building the right thing first time, making decisions in a timely fashion and getting feedback on work quickly. This can lead to better customer impacts and reduced waste. It’s also a positive way to go from idea to value quickly.
But, good work can sometimes take a long time, so it’s important to study why things take time and not just demand a reduction in delays. Delays are often not delays, merely people doing a good job with their work. Study the work to see where improvements can be made.
Easy places to start looking:
- Central planning teams distributing work out – massive area of delays. Do you really need a central planning team organising and distributing work?
- Governance and approval boards – why do you have them, do they work and could you push decision making to those doing the work?
- Handovers between departments. At a handover work is often broken down and passed over, only to then need rebuilding back up again. Study and see how smooth, effective and efficient handovers are. Ask a critical question – “Do we need them?”.
- Delays in reporting, measuring and understanding the “state” of work.
- Communication delays cause significant problems.
Lever 2 – Communication
Another place to look is communication and how it flows, or doesn’t, within your organisation.
- Does everyone have the information they need to do their jobs and make decisions about their work?
- Does everyone know the strategy?
- Does everyone know what everyone else is doing and how they all play a part in delivering value to customers?
- Do you get timely and accurate information, data and concerns from your team? If not, why not?
I reckon 99% of problems in business are caused by poor communication. Find these problems and fix them, and you have a great lever to Release Agility.
Lever 3 – Goals and Rules
Is it clear to everyone what the goals are?
Do you have competing goals across teams? Do the goals make sense or are they so ambitious that people will never achieve them?
I often see many company goals being set for employees only to find the outcomes are outside of people’s control.
How can it be good to set goals for people who cannot even control the outcomes of those goals?
Goals will drive behaviours as people will morph themselves and the system in order to achieve them – so be careful to set goals that align to the purpose of the business and are in the control of those who own them.
Goals are useful and constructive, but not if they’re the wrong goals, are confusing, compete with other goals or are driving people to become a shadow of their former selves.
Lever 4 – Can people change their own systems of work?
Do people have the freedom, support and ability to change their work for the betterment of the customer?
To release agility we have to deliver business results. So, it pays to help people overcome the stifling process, red tape and nonsense that hinders people in doing their job. Give them the tools, training, support and sense of care and pride to be able to change their own systems of work without lots of approvals, maanagement interventions and the like.
They’ll need to know the measures their work contributes to and how their changes affect these measures. This is very powerful as they can make positive change to improve their work and ensure it’s making a positive difference to the delivery of value to the customer. And they’ll need careful support – not all changes they make will have positive outcomes. Support them.
Saying that, we also don’t want everyone changing everything without thinking about the wider system of delivery. Sub optimisation then takes place – where people optimise for their own work at the expense of the wider delivery system.
It’s important that communication flows and people know how they, and others, fit in with the wider delivery of value. They can then use this knowledge and their good working relationships with others, to improve the process collectively – without everything needing a manager’s sign off.
Lever 5 – Find the frustrated who want positive change
Find those people who live and breathe the mission and values of the business, but are frustrated. They are often trying to do the right thing but facing blockers (usually created by managers).
Frustrated people care. If they didn’t they would just be apathetic to doing poor quality work. Because they care, they’re frustrated at not being able to do their job properly.
Find these people and find out what’s frustrating them. Then help them to remove what is stopping them doing good work.
Lever 6 – Find the aligners
Find those people who are insanely good at aligning people around work.
These people can seemingly bring anyone together to get things done. Natural leaders, even though they may not possess a leadership title.
Find them and give them more responsibility and opportunity with your support. They’re essential to aligning people around work.
As a leader or manager, find those alignment people in every team and bring them together to help growth and delivery. This is a very effective way of bringing about positive change.
Conclusions about positive change and levers
These are just a few levers to start looking for in your organisation to bring about positive change. There are plenty more, but when I work with clients, these are the main focus areas.
It’s through identifying levers like these that you can make big changes, for a low level of effort. Sure, fixing some of the systemic problems you find may be hard and political, but at least you then know where to focus.
The trick is to study what levers are available and work out how to pull them.
You may not like what you see when you start pulling these levers, after all, many of the dysfunctions within your business and team may be your creation. But leaning into problems is part of Releasing Agility. Agility was in your company at some point.
I believe all companies start with massive amounts of agility, it just gets squashed over time. Managers often do the squashing. As such, if they are part of the problem, they are also part of the solution.
Until next time.