Productivity & Effectiveness

How to find levers of change in your company

By 15/12/2020 No Comments

In order to Release Agility in your organisation you’ll need to instigate programs of change. 

Change is always happening, but Releasing Agility needs 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, initiatives and rules. 

Hence, to remove these blockers, and release agility, managers and leaders must spot these problems, and then pull “levers” of change. 

A “lever” gives leverage. It makes a bigger impact and change than the effort required to pull the lever. In other words, we can find seemingly small changes to make that have dramatic improvements within our business or teams. 

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 change, and what impact they could have.

Your results will vary, but most companies have some or all of the following. 

I guess what surprises me the most, is that many managers and leaders don’t see these levers, or know how to “pull” and “push” them. Instead, they tend to exert even more control and defend the status quo, even when the status quo is not working. 

Management is indeed about bringing control to chaos and ensuring work is done in the best way, but there comes a point when there is too much control and work, creativity, ingenuity and initiative are squashed by process, rules, regulation and the like. 

It’s why I work with leaders and managers to Release Agility – not through Agile Coaching upwards. It can work bottom to top, but let’s face it, leaders and managers have more impactful levers to pull. 

Here are some ideas worth playing with.

Lever 1 – Delays

An easy place to start looking is at delays. Delays within the work, delays in decision making and delays to approvals such as budgeting and process change. 

There can be big gains by fixing delays. The best way to find delays is to staple yourself to work, metaphorically, not physically – 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 quicker delivery to customers and faster process improvement times. 

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. 

Some delays are for good reasons, some work takes detailed time (and can look like a delay) and sometimes delays are caused by too much work, too many commitments and leaders changing their minds too often. 

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 be rebuilt. There are usually communication breakdowns at this intersect too. 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. It’s not uncommon to have teams using different containers and rules of work – and therefore delays when these systems need combining together to report on the “state” of work. 

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 your 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 pull to Release Agility. 

Lever 3 – Goals and Rules

Is it clear to everyone what the goals of the business are and how their work feeds into these goals?

Do you have competing goals across teams? Do the goals make sense or are they so ambitious that people will never achieve them?

The outcomes from most business level goals are outside of people’s control. But that’s kind of the point. It’s something to aim at to drive routines, habits and discipline in trying to attain these goals. The problem comes when people are asked to deliver the goals at all costs. The system gets broken and people’s behaviours can morph, and not in a good way. 

When anything “goes” in order to meet the goals, don’t be surprised if shortcuts are taken, toxic behaviours creep in and people break the very system of productivity to get results. 

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 make changes to processes and procedures locally and in conjunction with others delivering value to customers?

To release agility we have to break down the rules, process and red tape that has crept in over the years stifling people’s ability to move quickly and smoothly to deliver business results. 

When people are stifled by this rigour they may not be able to deliver good work, or adapt to meet the needs of the customer. This is made worse when there are decision and governance boards for everything, meaning delays are created in doing the right thing for the customer. 

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

Find those people who live and breathe the mission and values of the business, but are frustrated. They are often trying to do good work but are getting pushed back from the system of work. They are frustrated that they cannot do what they need to for the customer. 

Frustrated people care. If they didn’t they would just become apathetic to the problems they face and resign themselves to doing poor quality work. 

Find these people and find out what’s frustrating them. Then help them to remove the blockers, red tape and pointless process that is slowing them down. Give them more “”power” to change 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 together disparate groups of people, align them and mobilise them to get things done. Natural leaders, even though they may not possess a leadership title. 

Find them and give them more to do. Give them hard cross-functional problems to fix and help them bring people together to address them. Most barriers to growth and delivery are across functional silos. It therefore requires cooperation to make changes and release agility. It’s why it’s so hard to do from the ground up. 

As a leader or manager, find those alignment people in every team and bring them together to solve these gnarly problems, so you can remove the impediments to growth and delivery. Assuming leadership and management politics don’t get in the way. These people will also grow amazingly in their careers.

Conclusion

Here are just a few levers to start looking for in your organisation. 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 that you find may be hard and political, but at least you then know where to focus. 

The trick is to find levers that make big changes. It’s why it makes sense to focus from a management and leadership level, they have bigger levers (think rules, budget, performance, goals, purpose of the team, incentives etc). Whilst it is possible to make big changes from the ground up, it often takes a lot of time and usually requires leaning on leaders and managers anyway. So, why not start at the top. 

You may not like what you see when you start pulling these levers, after all, many of the dysfunctions without 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.

rob..

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