Change needs time

Guest contribution by | 09.05.2019

Your goal is to introduce Scrum or SAFe? Or do you want to establish an “agile mindset”? Here is one of the reasons why this can take longer than planned:

Our school days.

But more about that later …

From my professional experience I know many examples in which change processes in companies take a very long time and the workforce is very hesitant to adapt to new cooperation models.

Why is change so difficult in companies?

In my experience, change is not only at the level of an organization or a corporate culture. Change is something personal – it essentially takes place in people, even if the context is the company.

Let us therefore first look at the personal aspects of change. We often want things to change and yet we do not do so. So what stands in our way?

Knowing and not knowing

Back to school. Knowing something is good – not knowing something is bad. A question must be followed by an answer – that’s what we learned at school. We were praised when we knew something and punished and sometimes exposed when we didn’t know something. There was little room for curiosity and “not knowing”. Beeing ill-informed had to be hidden. That’s how we were conditioned in school. The silence that arose when the brain had no answer was sometimes unbearable. It created fear and shame. So it still lives in many of us today. But an essential aspect of change is that I don’t know what the changed future looks like. It is unknown. And that – as we have learned – is not good and creates unpleasant feelings.

Our relationship to the unknown

At first, changes seem to work against our need for security, clarity and stability. They usually make us afraid for the reasons mentioned above. Often we therefore remain in a situation that is not good for us. Usually we tend to think that the current situation is still better than something unknown to us. Many problems in the world and in people can be traced back exactly to this fear.

  • “If I quit now, I won’t find a better job.”
  • “If we take away his personnel responsibilities, he will leave and we won’t find a successor.”

Although the unknown may have something better to offer, we are stuck in a situation that we don’t want to leave for fear.
In other words, our relationship with the unknown is the key to success in change processes (also within the company). It is about trust, accepting uncertainty as part of our (working) life. In truth, most things in our lives are beyond our control. We cannot control how much money we make, what career steps we take or how people behave towards us. But we can be curious about what life has in store for us. If I get involved in the process of change, it leads to personal growth. Looking back, it is usually clear to us what we have won, both personally and on a professional level. (I’m sure you can immediately think of some examples.)

The magic of change

Science is about direct causal relationships.

Cause – effect.

We do A and the result is B.

We are used to thinking in these laws. If we can grasp something with one of our five senses, it is real, otherwise it is unreal. For everything else we have only vague expressions like: gut feeling, intuition etc… But: Deep change and growth are a longer process and they mostly do not obey the scientific rules. There is a magical component to this. It requires the willingness to engage us in a process of which we do not know where it leads us. And that is not easy. Although life constantly teaches us that we cannot control reality, we do not like this uncertainty. We don’t want to invest in something if we don’t know the result.

If we look into nature, we can observe that plants do not grow faster if we force them to do so by our will, but if we create the conditions for their growth (good earth, ponding water, light). We cannot “make” or “do” real growth and flowering. So we can only make growth possible by providing the framework for it.

Creating the right conditions

Even in times of self-steering teams, I consider accompanying change to be a management task. It is about creating the right conditions in the company.

Many business leaders and executives are currently looking for an “agile corporate culture”. Employees are sent to Scrum and SAFe training courses. Foosball tables, lounge corners and free coffee should create a pleasant working atmosphere and yet there is little change in the attitude of the employees. What is the reason for this? My experience is: Something essential is missing! The “why” is missing.

We all want to be part of a vision

I have often experienced that restructuring or the introduction of new ways of working were half-heartedly justified with increased requirements, increased efficiency, time to market, etc…. Economic constraints were sold to the employees as “vision”.

Personally, such statements have seldom inspired me to go to top form. Isn’t there a bigger goal behind surely justified cost-cutting constraints and demands to increase productivity, why a reorientation is necessary? You can also introduce Scrum, SAFe and Co. in a larger context that reaches employees at a deeper level. How about a powerful vision at the beginning of such a change in the company? If the framework were to be set differently?

Here is my suggestion:

“Dear colleagues,

In recent months, we have noticed more and more that the way we do our daily work has reached its limits. That does not mean that everything we have done so far has been bad. Nevertheless, it has made us inflexible and slow in some areas. Our goals were no longer achieved, or only with great additional effort.

The dissatisfaction with this situation was reflected to us by many employees and also customers. We want to change this and have decided to break new ground. Together with you we want to develop an agile corporate culture.

It is clear to us that a culture is always only a result. Something that arises when people share the same values and visions. If they strengthen each other in their attitude and support each other in achieving something.

It is important to us that it is not just about introducing new ways of working and tools. We want to make our workplace a place where we can grow – personally and professionally. The agile working methods are a vehicle that we want to use for ourselves.

There will be challenges for each of us. We will have to let go of many loved ones. This will not always be easy and we will all be confronted with our resistance. We also want to appreciate the resistances, because they show us a lot – especially about ourselves. They are an indication of our fears and needs. If we make ourselves aware of them, we have already taken the first step to grow from this change.
There are even more reasons for us to take this new path.

We want:

  • to gradually give all employees more responsibility and autonomy.
  • to create a working world in which we support and help each other more and more and which is less and less based on fear and pressure.
  • open a space in which we can be truly transparent with our work progress and in which mistakes and missing answers are no longer flaws, where every day we can show more of who we really are and bring in our talents and gifts.

Everyone will find their place in it. And everyone should know what contribution they make to achieving this vision. In the coming weeks we will be offering a number of discussion rounds in which we will be able to exchange ideas about the methodology, the goals, but also the concerns and fears.

And: We don’t know if it works for all of us, but we will find out.

I cordially invite you all to follow this path with us.

Thank you very much for your trust!”

Perhaps this is a helpful approach for a vision that can stand at the beginning of a change.

When it becomes apparent that there is more to it than just economic interests, when the self-interest of the employees has as much room as the corporate goals, the first step is taken and the ground is prepared for change.

Best regards
Michael Hermany

Michael Hermany
Michael Hermany

Michael Hermany is an independent consultant, coach and trainer for structured and holistic corporate development. He has worked in start ups, mid-sized companies and multinational corporations. Today, he accompanies small entrepreneurs and people in change processes to relate to their (working) lives and to regain self-responsibility. He is driven by the conviction that companies grow when people grow. He is inspired by the dynamism and directness of small businesses. He offers an open ear and patience, as well as orientation and support in the development of leadership and management skills.