Many managers think that their job will become obsolete, once their organization starts adopting Agile. However, we need Agile Leaders more than ever! The Agile philosophy is fundamentally different from what we are used to. We need Leaders with focus on turning the old organisation-reality into the new one. He/she resides in a continuous state of organization-transformation, enhancing team-ownership and cultural improvement. The role will change, but it will not become obsolete!
As a manager in a traditional organization you have a number of roles: planner, quality-guard, director, budgetkeeper and human resource manager. All these tasks carry a large responsibility and are crucial for operating the organization. The most important responsibility is to maintain stability, planability and predictability.
These responsibilities are often obtained by a proven track-record of results, full business-awareness, measuring outcomes and guiding your people’s careers. Schedules are packed with bilaterals, steering committees, content meetings and in parallel you’re trying to keep up with all emails on content and process questions. And last but not least, you need to make sure that everyone stays within yearly budgets and plans!
Changing market conditions, rapidly evolving IT-environments and increasing competition drives many organizations to choose the Agile approach. Organizations face an increase of complexity that requires more flexibility, transparancy, creativity and customer focus than ever. That is where Agile and Scrum kick in. Agile organizations are seen as a living system, evolving in an unpredictable and fast changing world. Agility has focus on customers and provides a stable, but flexible way of organizing.
By applying Agile and Scrum, responsibilities will gradually shift. Once teams understand their role, they will want to:
Leaders will feel the limitations of the previously applied leadership style. They are not used to be rewarded for the structural improvement of the ecosystem and the teams: knowing the maturity level of the team and guiding them to the next phase.
In many cases this is where the Agile transformation stops or locks down, because Leaders experience this as a threat to their status quo. The experience of loosing the influence you have build up in many years can lead to frustration. In this phase you hear sentences like “we have been Leaned” or “Agiled” and that “the transformation was only meant to happen in the lower ranks and in the teams”.
The Leader will experience an identity crisis and a sense of emptiness. Am I still of any value for my organisation?….YES!!!!!
His daily job is to increase Team maturity by providing them a dose of freedom they can handle. Or maybe a little more than that. Too much or too few freedom might cause chaos, illness, burn-out or bore-out and increased turnover.
Coming back to Lean: When Leaders and Teams focus on improving, they probably won’t even notice that they are in a transformation. While continuously improving you make deliberate choices, guided by a common vision: on what to do and also on what NOT to do.
You Manage Things, but you Lead People
This is how a Transformational Leader operates:
As you can see the Agile Leader is a crucial element in creating autonomous teams. New responsibilities will replace old ones. The Agile Leader is responsible to make the organization understand why change is happening. Only with the support of executive management, human resources, business and other departments he can create space to learn new and unlearn old behaviour.
In an Agile organization we replace Management by Leadership and this will not happen overnight!
A typical pitfall is to not involve the teams in defining the the WHY, HOW and WHAT questions. This often leads to confusion and a disconnect to the greater goal of the organization.
An Agile Leader always asks himself if he has the right people on board, before he starts asking questions. So the order is WHO -> WHY -> HOW -> WHAT.
Only when this is the case, people will actually help to improve and work on the vision. It creates involvement, ownership and energy in the workplace.
Most organizations have a vision, but it only lives at the board and management levels.
Self-organizing teams can only be created by involving people to the company mission…and that will cost time and paying attention!
This article was co-created with Jeroen Stoter, Transformation Director Agile Leadership at ‘Nederlandse Spoorwegen’ (the Dutch Railways). If you have any questions based on this blog? Don’t hesitate to contact us or join my Professional Agile Leadership training.