agile change management

There’s lots of talk about building agile organizations. For good reason. The world’s moving way too fast for traditional approaches. They’re too rigid. Organizations that will survive — even thrive — in these disruptive times are fast and flexible.

Agile approaches began a few decades ago with software development. According to the Agile Alliance, “One thing that separates Agile from other approaches to software development is the focus on the people doing the work and how they work together. Solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing cross-functional teams utilizing the appropriate practices for their context.”

The last few years, there’s been a broader movement to applying agile principles to leadership and organization development. According to the Agile Alliance, “If you extend the idea of Agile as a mindset, then people seeking Business Agility ask themselves, ‘How might we structure and operate our organization in a way that allows us to create and respond to change and deal with uncertainty?’ You might say that business agility is a recognition that in order for people in an organization to operate with an Agile mindset, the entire organization needs to support that mindset.”

Here’s what we’re seeing as the three vital leader shifts needed to deal with today’s seismic disruptions:



Internal Focus

Customer Focus

Products and services pushed out to the market.

Products and services pulled through the organization

Management and experts “manage change”

“Naive listening” keeps everyone tuned to and aligned with changing needs

Performance measurements are top down and aimed at internal control

Outside-in measurements are based on customers’ perceptions of value

Functional Accountability

Horizontal Teamwork

Department managers accountable for the results of their individual units

Teams accountable for understanding and managing core strategic processes flowing across departments

Departmental walls cause communication breakdowns and searching for who went wrong

Cross-functional teams look for what went wrong and rapidly streamline processes

Management budgets and priorities drive decision making and resource allocation.

Rigorous data and analysis clarify and leverage systemic cause-and-effect relationships



Management’s Key Performance Indicators cascade “command and control” hierarchy.

Leaders are “servant-leaders” to highly engaged teams.

Employees serve management.

Teams serve internal and external customers.

Information controlled by management.

Information widely and openly shared.

Change management is an oxymoron. Those two words make about as much sense together as “holy war,” “non-working mother,” “rap music,” “help desk,” or “political principles.” Change can’t be managed. Change can be ignored, resisted, responded to, capitalized upon, and created. But it can’t be managed and made to march to some orderly step-by-step process.

Whether change is a threat or an opportunity depends on preparation. Whether we become change victims or victors depends on our readiness for change. As Abraham Lincoln (“I will prepare myself and my time must come.” That’s change agility.