Lately, I have often been asked about strategies for changing the company and how agility can be carried into 100% of the company’s areas. My first answer, of course, is: 100% agile is unlikely to exist, and agility doesn’t really need a particular change strategy. Agility can be seen just like the introduction of a product or introduced classically according to Kotter’s change strategy.

Each model has its origins in the deliberations of Kurt Lewin, who in 1943 classified a change into three phases. Basically, there are two forces in organizations:

  • own security aspirations and habits that demand the preservation of the status quo
  • new technologies, executives new competitors who demand change

Kurt Lewin then discovered in 1947 that a change only takes place when the force of the need for change is stronger than that of habit. Richard K. Streich then noted that there are seven phases that employees go through when they learn of a change:

Change model prank
Change model according to Richard K. Streich – 6 phases (own representation)

Phase 1: Shock

The need for change creates a shock from fear of a new situation. This leads to an inability to rationally reflect the change. My recommendation during this time: communicate the change and then let the employees digest the shock for 1-2 weeks in peace. They are simply announcing that new changes are being introduced.

Phase 2: Rejection

After the shock, there is a strong rejection. You notice this phase because employees start talking negatively about the change. At this stage, as a leader, you should help employees understand why the change is being made and thus prepare Phase 3. Explain the drivers of the change. See yourself as a lawyer for change.

Phase 3: Rational Insight

After realizing that rejection against change does not help, employees start to deal with the change rationally. They start weighing up benefits, including initial information on change and want to take the first short-term steps to implement them. However, at this stage, you will not communicate initial information about how to implement the change, but you will not communicate the entire plan.

The difference between rational and emotional insight can be illustrated very well by the example of a gym. I realize I’m too fat because of data like body weight (rational insight) but I don’t go to the gym because I don’t want it (emotional insight).

Phase 4: Emotional Insight

Emotional insight is the real turning point and it means staying tuned as a leader. Employees begin to become familiar with the change and are open. It is important to grant concrete project plans and initial test access to possible software tools at this stage.

Phase 5: Learning

The employees have accepted the change and are starting to test the new software tools and virtual working methods. Share initial training on software and methods, as well as initial written guidelines for employees. Also, let first teams work with the new processes or software tools.

Phase 6: Knowledge

If the employees in Phase 5 have fast achieved successes with the software tools, they will very quickly make the changes gradually into their everyday life. Hire a nice administrator for assistance with the use of the software and ask for feedback new processes by a process manager.

Phase 7: Integration

Now the new software tools and working methods are taken for granted. Your task as a manager is now like a kind of “super-teacher” to monitor whether the new working methods are still being adhered to after 2-3 weeks and to avoid relapses into old behaviors.

Model by Rogers

Every employee goes through these phases. Some of them faster (even in a fraction of a second) and others in many years or never. Now my idea in agile transitions is always: I start with employees who have already gone through these phases (at least up to phase 4). But how can you see that?

I like to take the model of Rogers (1992). “The diffusion theory of the communication scientist Everett Rogers explains the development of innovations and especially their spread on the market. Diffusion occurs because innovations such as new services or products are usually adopted with a delay.” (Source: onlinemarketing.de). I would now like to apply this theory to my last agile change. An introduction based on the Kotter model can be found in the article on organizational rebels.

Another reading tip: Agile change according to Kotter’s change model

Rogers Theory - market share of a product over time (own presentation)
Rogers Theory – market share of a product over time (own presentation)

Phase 0: Management

For me, the “go” (yes we want to become agile) from top management is the most important prerequisite and I assume that you already have this. If not, it will be difficult to impossible to start.

If you don’t have this go yet then you should show through presentations, workshops and much more the management the need, change plan and opportunities of agility. This can be a very long and tough process and requires long breath.

Phase 1: Innovators

In the first phase, it is recommended to establish the first agile pilot teams. Hardly any change is necessary. The tip is: Just ask: Who wants to work agile and want to be in the first pilot teams? According to the theory, you will be able to win 2.5% of your employees without any change effort. Now it is important to monitor compliance with the agile methods.

Your company is 2.5% agile at this time.

Phase 2: Early Users

Now, on the one hand, ask the innovators to tell others about the project and also communicate in the blog etc. about the successes of the agile teams. You will notice that without a lot of change effort, another 13.5% (according to the theory) also want to work agilely. Now it is also necessary to conduct intensive coaching and to adapt processes in the company due to the higher number of employees. This phase should last several months. As a manager, you have to monitor the observance of agile processes and behaviors almost like a headteacher through coaching, role model function and long breath. During this time, the eyes of the entire organization are on the agile teams.

Your company is 15% agile at this time.

Phase 3: Early majority

Now we have to take the early majority with it. This can be influenced by innovators. So you have to keep your opinion leaders on the one hand “on a whim” and, on the other hand, go into discussions with the early majority. This allows you to win over employees piece by piece – employees for employees. This process takes several months and according to the theory you will be able to win another 34% for the new agile way of working. This phase can easily last more than 1 year.

Your company is 49% agile at this time.

Phase 4: Late majority

Now almost 50% of your company is largely agile. It is now necessary to attract more employees. This phase should last at least 1-2 years. My experience is that you won’t win all 34% at this stage, but with the help of conversations and agile coaches you can certainly win half, i.e. about 17%. Why you don’t win all of them, I’ll show in Phase 5.

Your company is 66% agile at this time.

Phase 5: Stragglers and late majority

Unlike innovations, not everyone will want to work agilely. Especially in small and medium-sized enterprises, if you build up too much pressure, they will simply cancel. If professionals simply don’t want to be agile, they will also find an employer who doesn’t work agilely.

But don’t worry: not all areas need to be agile and flexible. So create customers and teams that don’t need agility. Sure, you still win a few% at this stage, but a lot won’t move. The cost/benefit effort is simply too high for a further transformation here.

Your company is 68% agile at this time.

Conclusion: 4 years of agile transformation in brief

In this blog article I summarized 4 years of agile transformation very briefly. I don’t think a company has to be 100% agile and I don’t know if the % values are true, but I wanted to be based on the theory. I think that a change after 4 years to 50% – 60% agility is an absolute success and is absolutely sufficient for the current time.

Genderhinweis: Ich habe zur leichteren Lesbarkeit die männliche Form verwendet. Sofern keine explizite Unterscheidung getroffen wird, sind daher stets sowohl Frauen, Diverse als auch Männer sowie Menschen jeder Herkunft und Nation gemeint. Lesen Sie mehr dazu.

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I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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