Gervais (Jay) Johnson is a first generation Agilist with 20 years of implementation experience within large to small companies across multiple business sectors. Currently serving as Director, National Agile Practice at MATRIX, Jay has more than 31 years of business and technical experience utilizing cutting-edge technologies to deliver innovative ideas, products, and services. Jay is currently working with several companies and associations to introduce and evolve Agile. His 16-year tenure at IBM provided insights across organizations and industries that led to transformative outcomes using Agile.
5 Ways to Get Executive Buy-in for Agile
If we ask leaders today, “what makes the most effective leader?’’, we may hear many traits, but this one resonates the most: “I need to deliver results.” In today’s volatile world where the customer’s expectation is “everything faster, better, and cheaper”, it is difficult to sustain continuous relevance. This is where using Agile for the Enterprise is becoming more relevant. The notion of an Agile Leader is being discussed, researched, and implemented. So, what is an Agile Leader?
We have research results of actual organizations and individuals that provide insight into the notion of an Agile Leader. One of the most current and insightful research studies was with Google and Project Aristotle that indicated effective leaders create a psychological, safe environment for high-performing teams to evolve. The “Team” was everything. The common characteristics of high-performing teams included: “equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, high average social sensitivity, clear goals, and creating a culture of individual dependability”.
Another interesting research result from Gallup indicates that “one in ten possess the talent to manage”, and in the Agile vernacular, we do not “manage” but we “lead”. I think our life experiences may indicate the same statistic: that one out of ten people make good leaders. We all have experienced the nine out of ten leaders.
Lastly, research by Hay/McBer found six distinct leadership styles within the executive ranks: 1) Coercive Leaders, 2) Authoritative Leaders, 3) Affiliative Leaders, 4) Democratic Leaders, 5) Pacesetting Leaders, 6) Coaching Leaders.
So, the research and our life experiences would indicate an effective leader in today’s complex world would possess the ability to create a psychological safe environment, empower teams to be successful, exhibit the right mix of authoritative + affiliative+ democratic + coaching styles, and nurture new leaders. The Agile Leader gains results by forming and nurturing hyper-performing teams, while encouraging everyone to be a leader. The Agile Leader is people-oriented and perceptive, focused on the right results, an outcome-based visionary, and emotionally transparent.
However, the Agile Enterprise and Agile Leader are relatively new and slowly becoming the norm. For many organizations that are starting their Agile Journey, we need to sell the rationale to executive leaders that are straddling between the old organization and culture, and the target Agile Enterprise. In order to help leaders join our journey and assume their key responsibilities, we need to show empathy and allegiance to their worldview.
Here are some tactics that may help with the conversation to ease the anxiety of change while embracing Agile:
- Talk the executives’ language.
If you are talking to the CFO, discuss how Agile will help the finance of the company in reducing OPEX and improving CAPEX and tax considerations. If you are talking to the CMO, discuss how Agile will improve speed to market, Net Promoter Score or customer satisfaction, and how it can help with delivering marketing campaigns. If you are talking to the CEO, discuss how Agile will improve customer acquisition and retention, business value, optimize operations, and attract and keep the best people.
- Use data and facts.
Provide a rich but concise set of data points with insights from the existing company operations coupled with how similar organizations improved implementing Agile across the organization. For example, what are the top investments for the company and how will Agile improve your probability of success? Give them real-world examples. Use key company metrics to provide insight on the impact and how Agile can improve the lower-than-desired metric.
- Change is hard and success is based on how we tailor the implementation.
Be honest and transparent about the difficulties that lie ahead. Create a living and breathing implementation roadmap with executive leadership. Change Strategy practices are critical; include them within your implementation roadmap. Clearly articulate what success looks like and how we measure it. Alignment of vision and execution is key – nudge the change, but be careful of doing too much too fast.
- Define “what’s in it for me (WIFM)” for the executive.
Be personable by truly understanding the person you engage in conversation. Listen more than you talk and demonstrate empathy by behavior. Have a conversation around how you can help the executive be successful; that is why you are here.
- Align on the executive responsibilities of leading teams and people to the new world.
There may be need for organizational structure changes, people changes, technology investments, consultant expenses, and other challenging decisions. Help create a decision governance structure that it is simple and lean, deep in common sense, and outcome result based.
Do not be alarmed if these tactics do not work. Some people and organizations are just not ready; the urgency or compelling moment has not occurred. It will eventually. There are many out there that are ready and they will be the next innovative rock stars.