Being Agile


This is quickly becoming the management buzzword of 2015. Just another magic pill for industry to improve what they do with what they believe is little work.

Agile, as a process (yes folks, it is normally a process), usually starts in an organization with IT in software development. Soon after companies get the “agile bug” and they want everything to be agile. Lean quickly becomes the Agile way to be.

Agile, by itself, is just a word describing a state of being. I’m sure there are many definitions, but in its basic sense, Agile is being able to adjust, change, or respond quickly. It’s being resilient and flexible. Agile approaches are based on quick incrimental iterations. Agile, at its core, is organic and a state of being, not a program.

How do you become Agile?

Look at how you are organized and how you make decisions in your company. Is your company fairly flat and accepting of risk or do decisions need to be collaborated up through many levels and do they take a long time to obtain approvals?

Does your system, to get things done, have to go through annual processes with multiple approvals and significant roadblocks, or are employees empowered at the lowest levels to embark on projects when needed to make things happen?

Do you focus on managing change (I e., reactive) or are your employees ready and actively looking for change opportunities and making them happen?

Agile cannot become the way you are without significantly addressing your culture and operating models. If you are slow to make decisions and change as a company and if you are reactive to changes after they occur, then you are not Agile.

Employing Agile methodologies like Agile Software Development or Lean are only programs…they do not make you Agile as a company.

Being Agile means fundamentally changing everything about your company…

Will that work for your company’s culture?

Kickstarter Project: Overcoming Organizational Myopia

Overcoming Organizational Myopia, stovepipes, sandboxes, short sightedness

At 2:30 pm, Central Time, on June 27, 2015, KS Project, Overcoming Organizational Myopia lifted off.  Overcoming Organizational Myopia will be a new nonfiction book about successfully breaking through stovepiped organizations to obtain organizational effectiveness.

The Short Story: I discovered that it really does not matter what company or organization I work with, they all have stovepipes.  What I learned is that they are a product of human nature.  The problem is that everyone wants to “break down the silos” as the typical management response. Unfortunately, this NEVER works! All you do is cause confusion and drive unproductivity as the people in your business seek to rebuild the stovepipes that make them feel secure.  This book is about breaking through the stovepipes to become an effective and efficient organization.  It respects the stovepipes and teaches you how to navigate through them using a consistent and systematic application of full-spectrum strategic and organizational methods.  The book is designed to provide you with situational examples so you can self-diagnose your organization.  Across nine areas, the book helps you identify problem areas and, like a business doctor, treat the root causes with solid business solutions.

When You Need A Swiss Army Knife in Business

Lately I have met several organizations that are at a crossroads in their own evolution. Many companies realize the importance of things like strategy, change management, process improvement, strategic communication, and employee engagement. However, these organizations are making tactical decisions on the direction of these areas versus truly looking at this from a strategic perspectives.

Instead of hiring several different individuals or creating separate teams all focused on doing the same thing, companies today should should focus on bringing all their Operational Excellence activities under one team working directly for the CEO or President of the company.  This group should be led by a senior leader that sits at the same table as the companies other leaders.

This Swiss Army Knife professional–SVP/VP, Operational Excellence–should manage things like:
– Strategy development, execution, and change
– Performance optimization through process, product, and functional continuous improvement
– Strategic communication inside and outside the organization
– Strategic human capital management to include education, training, and development and employee satisfaction, commitment, and engagement
– Information and innovation engagement

This team does not need to be big…depending on an organization’s size, it could be as small as three or four people.  However, it should leverage other support areas throughout the organization, like Human Resources, Finance, IT, etc. These organizations would not report to the position, but work with the position.

Today, some organizations have some or all of these activities occuring, but they are scattered across the organization and have very little singular direction. By bringing the functions together into a small effective team, an organization is equipped to deal with the challenges of today and the future.

Of course, the leaders of these types of organizations have to have a solid understanding of all these functions at strategic, operatiomal, and tactical levels and not focused on creating some massive sandbox of people with various skills. They need to be highly skilled with a focus on lean and mean.

Ready, Set, Change

Recently, someone asked on LinkedIn, “How do you build change readiness.”

In today’s business world if you are managing the change, you really are too late. A successful business in today’s market must be able to change quickly and change often. They need to view change as part of their daily lives.

If you are still focusing on managing every change that impacts your company, you are probably complaining about things like change overload and saturation. More than likely, you are prioritizing change efforts based on available resources and prioritizing the changes where possible.

If this is you, more than likely, your communication channels are overloaded with change and your employees and customers are numb to your constant change efforts to the point that they’re tuning you out.

This is because the world is changing too fast for the old way of doing business–managing change.

In today’s world, you need to put the change managers out of business by building a constant state of change readiness.

It’s too hard…

I don’t know how to do that…

No one is ready for that…

Those re just some of the arguments I would expect. The fact is, change readiness is a change in itself and it’s led by the change managers themselves. This is one of the reasons it is so difficult–the ones who lead the change now have to change their approach and they are having trouble changing themselves.

It really is pretty simple. For those that understand the ADKAR approach, I will use that model to explain. You can apply any model here to he the same effect–no need to relearn anything yourself.

First, your case for change needs to evolve from the project-focused case for change to the strategic-focused case for change. Instead of developing a new case for change for every change effort, take a look at the last several reasons for your change and you will probably find a higher set of the same reasons.

Perhaps your company is growing too fast or it’s bleeding money? Perhaps technology is changing quickly and your company needs to constantly keep up. Maybe regulatory compliance is constantly changing and it has been driving your need for change. These are the strategic reasons that your company needs to change so often. The project reasons are simply tactical responses to these change drivers.

Define these strategic reasons for change and then share them constantly with your employees. Instead of constantly creating new cases for change, develop one and make employees and customers aware of why you must enter a level of constant change. To be able to change on a dime.

Now that you have your burning platform, as they say, talk to you audiences about this need. Listen to them, encourage them, show them how being ready to change is better than the constant start and stop methods of the past. Build management and communication routines into the daily operations that actually make change the norm instead of something you do when change comes along. Everyone will eventually move to the new operating model because this is the way you do business now.

If you build the awareness for the need, but don’t change the way you operate every day, then your audience will see the need as just words. Also, the stakeholders for this change are all employees and all customers. You are not targeting a group of just those affected like in a tactical change. No, you are making ready everyone I your company–even your supply chain needs to be ready to change.

This new operating model designed for constant retooling caused by incremental change will build the desire for the employees.

Last, comes the skills of those who work for the company–employees and suppliers. You need to focus on ups killing in areas that they may not normally work today. Building skills in analysis, change, process, and relationships can help them be more nimble and agile. Teaching project management and process improvement basics to everyone, not just the select cadre of leads in these areas gives them the tools they need to make changes themselves and constantly improve what they do everyday.

You also need to engage your learning systems to be more resilient to provide quicker training delivery on new processes and tools. Almost moving to a just in time training development and delivery model.

This give the company that knowledge edge that they need to implement the immediate changes at a rapid pace.

If you have the employees this ready all the time, then change can happen much faster and in tighter circles than ever before. You can relax communication around specific changes and simply beat the strategic change drum to a constant pace and weave in the tactical activities as a constant stream of examples of how effective you are at meeting the new demand.

This is an organization that is ready for change.

Are you ready?

Leaders set the environment for a culture of continuous improvement

Everyone always wants to blame the failure to set a culture, or a bad culture, on leadership.  Leaders are responsible for setting the culture, but it takes more than leadership.  That being said, learn how leader set the environment that allows for a continuous improvement culture.

Change Agents need to learn to Embrace Change

I have been dealing with major changes most of my life. This blog is dedicated to those who work in the world of change and are not themselves ready to accept and implement changes happening to them. Yes, they exist.

When I was in elementary school (my second to last year) my parents moved from Berkley, MI, to Beverly Hills, MI. That moved me from one school district to another. The new school was further ahead in studies, which significantly put me behind my last year of school. One of the things the new school had already adopted that my old school had not was New Math.

The next year I went to Junior High and then to High School, but of course, the changes affecting were now starting to occurring with frequency.

My parents also traveled/camped a lot when I was a kid and I travelled all over the United States in everything from popup campers to truck campers to fifth wheels to motor homes.

I went to college for a year to Northern Michigan University and then moved back home and went to work. I wasn’t very dedicated in college. I went to a few classes at night with Oakland Community College. These were my first two colleges that I attended up to this point. All total, I attended 11 colleges since graduating high school.

At home, for about three years, I worked seven different jobs. After jumping around from job to job, I finally decided to join the Air Force at the age of 22. Basic Training was only four weeks then and I was over to technical training for another four weeks. At least those two trainings were at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, TX. Then I was in a month of pipeline training at Fort Dix, NJ–Ground Combat Skills Training.

My first real Air Force assignment was in Ft Worth, TX, at Carswell AFB. There I worked the longest in one job–three years. Even though I spent six years at Carswell, I had five separate jobs, to include being one of the last 30 active duty members that closed the active duty portion of that base. In the two years I was at my next assignment in the states, Vandenberg AFB, CA, I worked on the flight line for six months and then as the Staff NCO for a year and a half.

It was then off to an undisclosed location in Turkey for a year–at least there I only did one job, although I did try to get on the staff while I was there, which would have been two different jobs in one year.

After Turkey, I ended up in Germany in the USAFE Elite Guard at Ramstein AB, but I was only there for eight months and retrained from Security Forces to Manpower and Quality and moved from the headquarters to the wing staff. In another less than three years, I was up at headquarters staff again, but not after having two very distinctly different jobs on the wing staff (running the wing’s quality training program to being a dedicated manpower and quality consultant to four units). In the two years I was at the headquarters, I also did a year in two jobs…one running competitive sourcing and privatization and the other managing the major command’s strategic planning activities.

My last assignment was here in San Antonio, TX, at Lackland AFB–specifically Security Hill and Air Intelligence Agency. In my six years there, until I retired, I did two years in plans and programs as the senior war planner for Air Force Intel, two years as the superintendent of a speech writing and special projects staff for the general, and two years running their premier enlisted awards program.

Even after retirement, I was only in Booz Allen Hamilton for three years before I ended up at USAA, where I have been for two years and I’m now working a totally different job there then I started.

All total, I attended 11 different colleges, lived in 8 different cities, visited to 14 countries and 43 states, and I’ve lost count of the number of jobs I have held.

That’s a lot of change. When I was really young, I wouldn’t say I handled or embraced the change, but by the time I was in the Air Force, I actually started to look forward to the change. Today, I find myself uniquely suited for my job as a change agent.

Now I know my experiences are not typical, but if you have chosen a role in work as a change agent–you work in strategy, change, process, performance, project managent, or the like–you should be expected to not just accept change, but champion it.

When change affects you…how do you handle it?

As a change agent, let me apply a little Prosci ADKAR questioning to you:

Are you currently aware of what is going on in your organization strategically that has fully prepared you for possible change?

Do you recognize that in all change, there are great opportunities and have you built your desire to change by examining the positive aspects of any potential changes, versus dwelling on the negative?

Have you spent the time ensuring you have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to accept and embrace whatever change comes your way, giving you the ability to make the change quickly and step up to whatever opportunity is presented?

Do you recognize that all change is good if you focus on the positive and not the negative?

If you are a change agent–you exist in a line of work that drives changes to others and you should be able to answer yes to all of these questions.

If you cannot answer yes, or you are going through a change that you are negative about and other change agents have to do everything in their power to lead you through the change, you need to reconsider your role. It is your job to devise and implement change. You, more than anyone, should be fully prepared to accept and implement change that affects you.

I have seen people that are not ready, but are in the role of a change agent.

To those people–you know who you are because of how you answered the questions above–either change how you react to change or change jobs. It really is that simple. As a change agent, you need to always be ahead of and ready to implement any change that impacts you in the same way expect it from others. This will help you better understand how to help others implement change and become more change ready.

I know that many people out there might have not had such a change-filled life as I have. However, you have chosen a field that is built on change–embrace it or get off the bus.

Blogging Weekly with National Graduate School

john knottsHappy Cinco de Mayo!

I am now a weekly guest blogger with National Graduate School.  Please check out my blog there.

Follow us as we explore how to build a culture of continuous improvement.

Building a culture of continuous improvement isn’t easy and can take a considerable amount of time.  However, it’s very possible and results can be felt within weeks of embarking on the journey.  Over John’s 25 plus years of experience, he’s developed a model rooted in strategy and designed to build this culture in any organization.  Join John and National Graduate School as we weekly explore this model and ways to drive this type of culture.  We look forward to your thoughts and inputs along this journey, so join us and watch for our future blogs about once a week with the tag line “CIC.”

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