Lack of Leadership

Lack of Leadership

This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)

People do not like change. And resistance will come from every part of the company, from senior management to the teams.

If your Agile adoption is not led by your CEO it is doomed to fail. There will be tough changes to make, there will be resistance, misunderstandings and job insecurity.

You can’t send out a memo or give a few brief speeches and think that things will change. Without CEO’s strong leadership pulling everyone forward to improve all the processes, not much will happen.

The CEO must roll-up her sleeves and lead by example, applying agile principles and values, driving change, setting direction, stretch goals and leading herself several improvement projects.

For big companies, CEO might no have time for that, then it should be the COO. But, you need to make sure this is the top person in the company, because as you start messing around with functional units, crossing boundaries and shifting the power from functional managers towards value stream managers (or product managers) many people will get nervous and many of them will try to protect their turf even against company’s and customers’ needs.

However, it is not only the CEO, in Lean we expect all management to understand, practice, teach and coach lean principles and drive continuous improvement. That is the essence of Lean Management, develop leaders while teaching, mentoring and coaching lean principles.

It is also important to detect those people who won’t change and will sabotage all your efforts and fire them immediately. We have all been there, we know who those people are, and you cannot afford to wait months for them to leave while jeopardizing and sabotaging your change efforts which are key to the survival and growth of your business.

There are real world examples of the CEO firing half of their executive team for not being capable or not wanting to adopt a Lean mindset. So, face it, and get over it, in Lean and Agile everything is not happy flower, you will need to take tough decisions, always under the key principle of “Respect for People” and keeping in sight the ultimate goal of your change effort: the survival and growth of your business and the well-being of your employees and customers.

There will also be important changes in career paths, roles and functions. And, that is something that cannot be left alone to a bureaucratic HR department.

Obviously, this is not black or white; there are shades of grey. We will dedicate a post to this topic of letting people go and reorganizations during an Agile or Lean transformation.

What’s more, we know that most companies are overstaffed by 20% to 40%. So, what do you do with the surplus of people? That will be the topic of another post.

As you can see, there are tough decisions to make, and you cannot leave that to chance or volunteering.

Before, leaving, let me tell you a real story about what happens when CEO is not leading.

Real Story

Norbert, was an Agile Coach of an Agile Transformation Office (ATO) of a 1500 size online business company undergoing an Agile transformation.

As many (wrongly managed) Agile adoptions they were working only at team level and nothing was happening at management level.

The Head of ATO was reporting to the CTO.

One day, during their Agile daily standup, Norbert is informed that HR Director following orders from the CEO is going to implement a new performance management system with a link to individual bonus payment.

As you can imagine, all Agile Coaches were against it. We know that individual performance management is a fad, it doesn’t work for knowledge workers and can be counterproductive for the company. However, neither CEO or HR Director where aware of this.

But the thing went even worse, when HR development manager ask ATO to deliver the trainings of the new performance management system.

This created a huge disruption in ATO, some Agile Coaches wouldn’t do it and some would. But, there was nothing they could do, because they were below in the power hierarchy.

The moral:

  • If your CEO doesn’t get Agile nothing is going to happen.
  • Head of Agile has to report directly to the CEO as part of the executive team

Next sin, The Bottleneck is at the Top

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