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The Deadliest Sin of Change Leadership

InfoQ just published a wonderful interview with Sanjiv Augustine and Arlen Bankston on the 7 deadly sins of agile adoption. While I agree with everything Sanjiv and Arelen said, they missed the deadliest sin of all. Without getting this one right, you condemn your initiative to failure. Here's why I don't talk about change management and my own list of 7 deadly sins of the change process.

I like their list of sins - I've seen all them, and have probably committed a few them in my day (but that's OK - we learn from our mistakes and try to do better next time):
  1. Inappropriate scaling
  2. Lack of organizational change management strategy
  3. Lack of demand management - funnel projects to portfolio management, then bring projects to teams
  4. Lack of engineering discipline
  5. Siloed or tiered implementation
  6. Lack of tool sophistication
  7. Outdated HR policies
What did they miss? They missed a the fundamental reality of change: People don't mind changing. Most people want to learn and grow! But they hate being changed! People need to be an active contributor to the change.

What does this mean for the change agent? S/he cannot manage the change. Management implies control, like with strings on a marionette. As a puppeteer, you can make the marionette dance, but as soon as you stop pulling, what happens? The marionette stops dancing. If your change initiative is to be successful, you need your people to want to dance. In other words, you have to leave the destination open, without forgetting the purpose of the trip, so people can adopt your vision, make it their own, and carry it forward as "our" vision.

You are catalyzing the change and leading the change, but you are not managing the change. The change should take on a life of its own. This is why I call it change leadership.

Here is my list of change leadership sins:
  1. Not activating the people involved to co-create the change
  2. Considering the change process to be a defined route from A to B. 
  3. Change leaders themselves investing insufficient time and presence in the transition
  4. Training people to apply a framework before creating desire for the framework
  5. Focusing on practices without embracing the underlying values and principles
  6. Trying to apply the change too quickly with too little support from experienced practitioners of the new approach
  7. Relying too heavily on external coaching to fix leadership failures at the operational level.
Number 1 is the deadliest sin of all. If you do not activate the people involved to co-create your change, your change will fail. How can you activate them? Invest time and effort in the marketing process. Engage in adult to adult conversations, rather than issuing top down directives. Leave the outcome open (even if the vision is crystal clear). Get the people to figure out how to realize the vision themselves and give them room to adapt it to their needs. 

How can you tell if you change initiative is going well? Ask the concerned people the Net Provider Score question: On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend a friend or colleague to apply our approach? If your net promoter score is negative, you will probably fail. If it is +50% or more, you are probably in good shape. The closer you get to 100% the more likely your change is going to be a lasting improvement!

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