What role do executives and leaders play in championing agility?

What role do executives and leaders play in championing agility?

It is crucial that executives and leaders champion agility because any form of change requires support from the top down and the bottom up. I would also argue that it requires support from the sides too because we often have a supplier ecosystem.

Often, we expect that suppliers will simply do as they are told but those suppliers are often larger than we are, with their own distinctive and unique culture, and as such, we need their commitment and support to bring about meaningful change.

It is incredibly challenging to change an organization so we need the people on the ground to actively believe that we are serious about this change, deeply invested in making that change, and to know that this isn’t a fad that will blow away when it hits the first few challenges.

Research that supports organizational change

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) did some research into organizational change and found that the executives need to overcommunicate as many as three (3) times before the people on the ground will believe that the leadership team are serious about change.

It isn’t just about the words that are used to communicate intention, it is also about the actions that reinforce the commitment to change.

I’ve witnessed organizational change programmes where 70% of the people on the ground believed that executives knew what the problems were and were actively going to do something about those problems at the start of the programme, and yet nine (9) months later, only 20% of people still believed that the executives were serious about change.

So, executives need to be careful that their commitment to change extends further than simply congratulating the team at sprint reviews and demonstrating lip service rather than real, tangible contributions.

Agile leaders fix problems

In my recent video, Walk the Gemba, I speak about the importance of agile leaders actively walking to the team environment and learning what the impediments to progress are. Actively spending time with individuals and learning what frustrates them, what changes need to be made, and what problems need to be addressed immediately.

Being an agile leader is hard because it means that you need to focus on fixing problems.

You need to simplify a great deal. Declutter systems, processes, and workflows to empower teams to have the autonomy and problem-solving capabilities they need to be truly agile.

A great example of agile leadership in action

I was in a big company in the Middle East a few years ago where I worked with 35 teams and was asked to work with an additional 2 teams. It was my role to inspect the environment, identify and understand the problems the teams faced, and make recommendations for overcoming those impediments and problems.

Each of the teams had their own scrum master and I was acting as an Agile coach across the organization to help cultivate, nurture and grow business agility within the environment.

One of the teams I visited were using Microsoft Excel with complex macros to perform their work and track their progress, but every six weeks those macros would be blown away as the organization received updates.

Serious, complex work within a system that blew up every 6 weeks.

In addition to this, Microsoft Excel simply couldn’t handle the complexity and intensity of the work and so at times the Macros would run and at other times, they simply wouldn’t. It might work for an hour, 24 hours, or 36 hours and then simply stop working.


This system wasn’t simply delaying one team, it had a knock-on effect when working across multiple teams and creating significant delays and frustration within the environment.

This was going on for seven (7) years.

I calculated that the total cumulative delay caused by this ineffective system was one (1) year.

The team had escalated the problem several times over several years and yet not a single executive or senior leader within the organization addressed the problem or authorized an alternative solution.

The executive team believed that the local team were empowered to fix the problem and yet they weren’t empowered to fix the problem at all. Fixing the problem lay outside of the control and influence of the team and yet no one on the leadership team committed to helping them.

The team had come to accept that this was simply ‘how things work around here’ and had given up trying to fix the problem or escalate the problem to executive teams for resolution.

One of the first things I tackled was this problem and used my influence within the organization to identify and implement a different solution. I quickly achieved buy-in to resolve the problem and gained the support of executives to provide the teams with an effective, efficient solution.

Focusing on the problem, compiling the evidence necessary to justify the action necessary, and then actively fixing the problem is what executives and agile leaders need to do to champion agility.

About John Coleman

John Coleman has deep experience and expertise working with executives, #leadership teams and product development teams to achieve increased #businessagility and create environments where creativity and collaboration produce high-performance teams.

https://linktr.ee/johncolemanxagility – social and podcast links

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If you are interested in helping your team or organization achieve greater agility and want to explore agile training options, visit our training page.

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Agile,Agile Leadership,Executive Agility
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