Change Management in an Agile Environment


Change management refers to any attempt to transition individuals, teams, and organisations using methods intended to re-direct the use of resources, processes, budget allocations, software or other modes of operation that significantly reshape an organisation.

What's Changed?

In the “good old days” life was comfortable, earnings growth was largely predictable, labor was immobile, markets were closed or under-developed, prices were stable and jobs promised long-term careers. Consequently, only modest adjustments to strategic plans were required.

How things have been transformed! The digital world of instantaneous communications has created a new world of fierce global competition focusing management’s collective mind on a new imperative – change.

In an age where organisations are facing constant change, the biggest risk is losing employee engagement. It is not enough that management expect employees to blindly accept the upcoming changes; they must take them on the journey of change and find a way to create open two-way communication with their employees.

This free flow of information within an organisation is one of the critical elements designed to facilitate a smooth digital changeover, and an on-going vital “watching brief” to monitor and promptly address the inevitable challenges that will arise as the organisation continues to grow.

It goes without saying that challenges are inevitable, however, the crucial issue is, how the organisation is able to create a plan to meet these challenges as they arise.

Building trust

Absolutely critical and vital to achieving a successful change process and sustaining a long term dynamic organisation is creating and nurturing trust and a sense of belonging at the personal level. What will be needed is an ongoing process that has the following characteristics:

  • Informal, confidential meetings between individuals and someone they trust. It will be essential that the individual perceives the leader as trying to help him, not acting as a representative of upper management whose purpose is to police the individual.

  • The leader must be able to convincingly convey why it is in the individual’s interests to support the change by answering the WIIFM question (“What’s in it for me?”). Appealing to do things because they help the organisation is notoriously ineffective in getting people to change.

  • The proposed change in behaviour must be incremental, with small and definite targeted accomplishments and specific, short-term deadlines. People participate in change if they can see a realistic chance for an early success, whereas large transformations tend to not enjoy support.

  • The leader must visit each individual to help with any roadblocks and to provide further encouragement.

There is nothing magical about this process. It is just fundamental practice to help another human being improve, and applies to all avenues of life involving human endeavour.

Things to keep in mind

At the practical level, these thoughts may help:

  • Normally, standard practices are effective, but managing the uncertainty of rapid growth or changing environments requires a different mindset. Accept that your expectations must be lower and focus on another key issue – progress, not perfection.

  • Long term visions are fine but in an uncertain environment, the planning focus needs to be shortened. All planning sessions have long-term, medium-term, and short-term targets. In an uncertain climate, discussion is concentrated on the medium and short term and less on the long term.

  • Many leaders will go into “command” mode when things get uncertain – not recommended.

  • Where the uncertainty is sustained it will require robust discussions.

  • Uncertain environments require more frequent discussions.

  • Allocate extra time to blind spots by inviting the opinion of others.

  • Original plans are rarely realised. The key is to react promptly when problems arise. Why not have a plan in place for what is determined to be the top three contingencies?

  • The least desirable situation is when an organisation has no contingency plan and has had no discussions about a rapid response

Everybody talks about managing change and change management. If you look at the tools, they’re trying to minimise disruptions, trying to make sure changes are done efficiently in the sense that “you don’t go over budget”.

It’s done with change management groups inside corporations and sometimes external consultants that are good in training change management.

It’s done with task forces that are given the goal to “push it” along, but keep it under control. It’s done with various kinds of relationships that are given names like “executive sponsors,” where the executive sponsor watches over it to make sure that it proceeds in an orderly way.

Leadership is key

The world thinks about and does change management, but doesn’t do much change leadership, since change leadership is associated with:

  • Bigger leaps, at

  • faster speeds, requiring

  • larger commitments, and

  • windows of opportunity that are appearing faster, and

  • staying open for less time.

Change leadership is going to be the big challenge of the future and big challenges open exciting opportunities. The best leaders will cry “carpe diem”

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Agile, ChangeClive Morley