How change networks can accelerate agile transformation

By Emily Stammers, Jack Liggins

Change is constant – and embracing it is how successful organisations continue to keep pace with the market.

Many organisations have evolved their operating models to become more adaptable to change, with senior leaders acting as the guiding force behind their agile transformations. However, enabling agile methods of working across an entire organisation comes with its challenges. Our research on organisational agility revealed that 60 per cent of leaders know their organisations needed to change but are struggling to act. Typically, it’s in the individual and organisational behaviours where progress flounders.

So how can organisations accelerate a behavioural shift to better embed organisational agility? Waiting for behaviours to evolve gradually once other changes have been implemented risks delaying the effectiveness of those changes. Instead, organisations should actively intervene to unfreeze old patterns of behaviour and enable new ones.

Implementing agile accelerator networks is one of the most effective ways to enable the required behaviours. By creating a network of agile advocates who are intrinsically invested in agile ways of working, behavioural shifts begin at the grassroots level. These then quickly gain momentum throughout the organisation, as advocates pull new ideas from the network and deploy them within their teams.

To operationalise these networks, the following steps are fundamental:

Embed genuine and unanimous top-team commitment

Sponsorship from senior leaders is imperative to establish a network’s credibility. Senior leaders hold a unique position in shaping culture; they can function as either the greatest enabler or the greatest barrier to a successful agile transformation. Senior leaders can also remove blockers or impediments, bringing accelerated energy to an agile transformation. We would, for instance, expect the CEO to sponsor the journey by setting the network’s strategy and direction.

In our work with a multinational bank and financial services company, C-suite leaders emailed value stream leads to promote opportunities for involvement with the network, this both raised awareness of the network within the value stream and encouraged participation by highlighting exposure opportunities to senior managers.

Then, senior leaders must recognise and amplify the network’s successes through engagement with stakeholders – reaching all employees through newsletters and town halls. Visible advocacy from the highest levels illustrates trust in agile ways of working, supporting the network’s messaging and mission to transform and change.

The network can also act as a communication conduit, passing on feedback from participants to senior leadership, ensuring the input of those on the ground influences the direction from the top. As Agile is, by principle, designed to support collaboration, the input of the network ensures that while senior leaders are the architects of the vision, the transformation blueprint is informed by all.

Harness the power of early advocates

Transparency is a fundamental tenet of agility. There should be no barrier to entry in an agile network; nor should individuals be selected by their position. Allowing open entry creates a diverse group of individuals from across the organisation with the authenticity to attract their peers. Be open to accepting influential agile sceptics into these groups; they’ll soon become your most powerful supporters.

Forming a network of these early advocates presents many advantages. Peer-to-peer messaging is treated with less cynicism. And these early advocates can reinforce key communications, while also providing valuable source of insight as to how initiatives have landed on the ground, creating a two-way dialogue to shape direction.

This was observed at a global bank undertaking a major agile transformation. Through the creation of an accelerator network, they leveraged the power of advocates to create enthusiasm and momentum, which in turn inspired individuals across the organisation to understand and buy into the agile transformation. This resulted in 74 per cent of advocates saying they were able to influence colleagues to adopt agile behaviours, while 68 per cent reported that they were able to solve challenges relating to agile adoption as a direct result of the learnings from the network. 

Create the conditions for network success

Coordination is essential to scale, maintain and drive the agenda of an agile network. In addition to your advocates, appointing coordinators with the right energy and appetite will help provide the structure needed to support effective engagement across the business. Responsibilities might include organising events and feedback sessions, running initiatives and actively promoting the network. Coordinators should act as the driving force for the networks, keeping an ear close to the ground and leveraging insights from network advocates to inform future agenda points in upcoming sessions.

To enable continuous improvement across the network, events should be set at a frequency which enables advocates to showcase Agile practices within their respective teams. Setting aside regular time to identify lessons and new approaches in these sessions will allow networks to continually optimise operations. If mistakes are made, or new practices fail to land, members should be encouraged to discuss their experiences in future network sessions. It’s therefore important for coordinators to facilitate an environment where members feel empowered to share anecdotes, rather than creating an overly prescribed agenda that fails to engage. This ensures networks are informed by the needs of the workforce.

Enable change via digital technology

In the current hybrid landscape, change networks play a pivotal role in promoting agile behaviours through active engagement with peers in the office, online, or a combination of both. Digital spaces help champion a culture of collaboration, regardless of geography or preferred place of work.

Digital platforms also help to quickly surface problems and crowdsource answers, supporting agile principles of transparency and putting decisions at the point of most information. Through agile accelerator networks, tools such as Jira and Confluence enable members to freely ask questions and comment suggestions, creating a space where agile methodologies meet curious, collaborative minds.

In our work supporting a major global bank undertaking an agile transformation, digital technologies were key for networks to connect and collaborate. An accompanying microsite helped provide resources, contacts and collaboration pages for sharing feedback and ideas, acting as a knowledge library, to inform and cascade materials on best practice to those outside of the network.

At PA, we know that organisational agility is a vital attribute. It’s also perfectly achievable. By empowering and engaging agile accelerator networks to be the friendly face of change, organisations can ensure they’re not just pursuing agility but leading the pack.

About the authors

Emily Stammers PA Agile Change expert
Jack Liggins PA Agile Change expert

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