Executives—The Change Begins With You

change2It turns out transforming a team is actually relatively easy—dedicate and co-locate them, provide a continuous stream of bite-sized work, and have them complete it incrementally in short iterations. With that alone you are mostly done. To really transform the team encourage them to pair, write tests before doing the work, capacity plan, and demonstrate progress. Enable the team to construct their own work environments using modular and easily reconfigured physical structures. Now you truly are done.
If you have a good coach, the team should become good at these behaviors in a matter of weeks, and be sustainable in a few months. Within a year they should be actively improving the practices. So why are we so far from doing this in larger bureaucracies? Simple. Larger bureaucracies are not structured to support this method of operation.

Your structure is your strategy.


In large bureaucracies resources are matrixed and multi-tasked, not dedicated and co-located. Off shore and near shore labor pools are used for staff augmentation, when they should be used for outsourcing. Metrics are gamed, or worse, reward incorrect behaviors.

To transform a large bureaucracy it is not enough to change the teams. The teams are ready to change.

The executives and managers who control the system are the ones who truly need to change.

And, because we have become so good at creating matrix structures with razor thin responsibility, the managers themselves frequently feel powerless to change the things they know need to be changed. To pull off an organization transformation is a significant undertaking including executives, middle management, and front-line managers.

Transformation happens from the the top down, the middle out, and the bottom up—simultaneously.

Executive and managers must do their part. They must develop a profound knowledge of:

  • Process work flow, cycle time, and bottlenecks
  • Value creation and measurement
  • Design thinking
  • Solution anthropology

Do your executives and managers have a clear grasp of the process work flow? Can they identify constraints and bottlenecks in their organization? Do they understand their current value throughput and cycle times? Can they name ten impediments to shorter cycle times? Do they have an actionable plan to tackle and remove these impediments?

Without fundamental knowledge it is very difficult to make the trans-formative changes necessary for competitive advantage. Executives and managers need to understand the nature and importance of:

  • Safety, Transparency, and Dialog
  • Ceremony and Sets
  • Value and Vanity Metrics

Do your executives and managers know how to run extremely effective meetings—meetings people look forward to attending? Do they understand the value of transparency? Do they demonstrate emulative behaviors in how they interact with their direct reports? Do they foster safe communications? How?  Do they know the difference between vanity and value metrics? Do they have a profound knowledge of the nature of why the correct metrics are essential? Do thy know how to support them in their organization? Do they have an identified and trusted sources for growing their knowledge?

To increase enterprise agility requires an active plan for raising the game of the executives and the managers, including comprehensive training, education, and mentoring. Training is essential to have intelligent conversations about process flow and cycle times. Executives and managers need to master core vocabulary and basic concepts. They need to understand what needs to change and why.  They need to learn to ask ‘why’ five times! This takes only days to begin, but it requires a lifetime to master. Each manager and executive must be specifically challenged to make continual progress toward learning and applying core process flow concepts to their day to day operations—starting with their own meetings.

Executives should actively demonstrate the state they are driving the organization towards. The best place to start is their core meetings. Are they grounded in highly defined purpose and goals? Are they focused? Do they socially entrain multiple participants to achieve better conversations and outputs? Do they infuse the team with positive emotional energy? Are they good ceremony?

Executives must commit to Kaizen—the practice of continuous improvement.

It can being with small steps, it can progress incrementally, but it must always be practiced from the top down. Most transformations are entirely bottom up. People focus on transforming small teams. It is time to be honest with ourselves and admit this style of transformation is woefully inadequate and entirely unacceptable. It is an abdication of fundamental management responsibilities. True transformation always changes behaviors from the top down—if you are an executive, the change begins with you.

By Tom (Thomas) Meloche – www.TomMeloche.com

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