The two groups who are talked about most in Agile change management are the Early Adopters and the Laggards.
- Early Adopters are open to change, seek out new and different ways of working so are early to volunteer and help us create examples and pilots for how the new ways of working can work in practice. They have a belief that change is necessary, it is essential to progress. If they are not changing, they are standing still and everyone else who is changing is moving past them.
- Laggards are committed to current ways of working. They recognise the benefits of stability and the knowledge that has been built up about the current ways of working. They will defend the existing ways of working over the newer, riskier ideas of change.
I think there is a forgotten group who play an essential part in making sure change really happens. I call them the Housekeepers, although at an Agile event recently, using a music industry analogy, the Early Adopters were referred to as the Rock Stars and the group that interests me were called the Roadies!
Early Adopters show early enthusiasm for change, and quickly get on with experimenting and creating new ways of working. However, their enthusiasm is for how the change will work for them, and as soon as they have made progress, they move onto the next change. That isn’t especially helpful for those of us responsible for implementing change across the whole organisation.
I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I really value the practical examples that the Early Adopters create, and I am happy to showcase their achievements to prove to those more sceptical that the change is workable, it is possible and that it is already in use by some of our colleagues.
We need housekeepers!
However, if we are to get full value from these early, and often personal examples of change, we need people who are good at translating actions into processes, procedures and performance measures. We need to normalise the change, so that it is easily incorporated into existing ways of working. That means getting it written up as one of our standard procedures, notifying those affected that we are now working in a different way, and identifying all the knock-on effects of these changes and making sure they are addressed so that the part of the business that is now working differently doesn’t negatively impact all those in its chain of value.
People who like experimenting with new ways of working find these tasks boring, and they just don’t want to give them attention. However, to give new ways of working legitimacy, they are very important. There are a lot of staff for whom the examples from Early Adopters are not enough. The examples provoke interest and generate questions, but what will prompt this majority to move forward with the change is detailed guidance and clarity over how the change aligns to existing processes and standards.
Their concerns provide a useful risk assessment. They are checking that a change in one part of the system isn’t going to destabilise something at upstream or downstream. They are taking a more holistic view in that they are considering the total impact on the system, as an improvement in one area that has a negative impact somewhere else isn’t really a win at all.
Find the right resources
So for me, the hunt is on for these marvellous people who have all the skills that I don’t have (I must declare myself as an Early Adopter here!) I am very aware that I am great at getting new ideas underway, creating excitement and motivation for the opportunities on offer. But I am not good at “dotting the Is and crossing the Ts”. Working through all the steps from start to finish of any activity bores me. I go off at tangents and continue to innovate!
Lets celebrate those that will ask:
- How will this work if X happens?
- Who else is affected by this?
- Do we have permission to change this?
- Have we updated our quality manual/staff handbook/standard operating procedures?
- Can we get this written up in detail?
To generate the level of involvement needed to make change real, I actively seek out people who enjoy creating process and who are detailed focus. I don’t want them to be involved at the very start, as their questions can inhibit innovation.
But as soon as we have trialled and got positive results from doing things differently, I want to bring them in to ask questions of all those involved in the pilot. I empower them to put a plan together for how a wider roll-out would work, getting them to identify the logistics and the resources required.
I know from experience that the time they want to take is going to be much longer than I would like, but it is time for me to stay quiet, and celebrate their attention to detail, safe in the knowledge that our new ideas are going to be properly parented and taken care of.
The people we need to make business change happen are not just those that are naturally interested in change. One of the reasons that I find my work so exciting is that to be effective I have to really celebrate the different ways we all work, and appreciate the positives of different ways of doing things.