Implementing Lean or Agile? Prepare Yourself for Culture Change

Posted by Paula Alsher on Wed, Aug 15, 2018 @ 01:25 PM

Several years ago it was Quality Assurance. Then it was Lean Six Sigma. Now everyone wants to be Agile. The allure of these bright, shiny business protocols is understandable. They are solid programs that promise to improve operational efficiencies. And who doesn’t want to improve business results? shutterstock_624431810

We’ve seen these business trends come, and we’ve seen them go. As Don Harrison, President of IMA and the developer of the AIM Change Management Methodology, says, “Protocols like Agile, Lean, or Quality don’t fail because of their techniques. They fail because people don’t recognize they are transformational changes that completely alter how an organization operates.”

Are you prepared for that?


Culture is Powerful and Reinforcing

Implementing Agile or Lean requires an organization to do different things, in different ways. It requires a complete shift in mindset. In other words, it is transformational change, which inherently is culture change. Transformation can’t be done incrementally, and it can’t be made totally safe. An investment of time and resources is needed to make the cultural adjustments to create an Agile mindset, or a Lean mindset. This is not simple, easy work. If the implementation of your new business protocol directly conflicts with your current culture (and it will), your culture is going to win. Every. Single. Time.

pacman-151558_960_720Why? Because culture quickly swallows up change. In our AIM Accreditation sessions, Don Harrison often compares culture to the yellow Pac-Man from the 1980’s video game. The Pac-Man eats the dots on the screen with the same voracity as your culture will eat your change.

Not only is culture as powerful as a Pac-Man… it is also self-reinforcing; leaders will always be inclined to reinforce the culture that made them successful in the first place! It’s why we say your culture is perfectly designed—it is perfectly designed to get the exact outputs you are getting right now, and to maintain the status-quo!

When you come across a change that goes against the grain of your culture, you have two choices; you can change the change, or you can change the culture.


How to Drive Culture Change

If culture change is the path you choose, a series of training classes that describe the new culture, or a vision and values statement from the top, won’t make culture change happen. This needs to be treated as a project with a solid implementation plan that includes specific strategies for building Sponsorship, Readiness, Reinforcement, Communication, and Change Agent Capacity.

Here are a few best practices from the AIM Change Management Methodology for when culture change is on the table:

  • Use a structured change management methodology—AIM-- to build an Implementation Plan to manage the human elements of the culture change with rigor and discipline.
  • Re-define what success looks like by identifying the behaviors “you seek to see” as you move to the new culture. Remember culture change can’t be accomplished through a list of corporate-speak platitudes— the new behaviors must be identified for each Target group impacted by the change.
  • Make certain you have visible, active Sponsors who demonstrate their personal commitment to the change (not just giving you lip-service of "support") and who are prepared to lead differently.
  • Develop skilled Next Generation Change Agents who have responsibility for implementing the culture change. You need Agents with trust and credibility with both Sponsors and Targets in the right numbers, and in the right places.
  • Change the Reinforcements. Reinforcement is the most powerful weapon you have for implementing a new culture. The new reinforcements need to be radically different from your current reinforcements, because those are what have gotten you where you are today.

The implementation of a bright and shiny new business protocol involves changing your organization’s current operating structure. It’s a complex, enterprise-wide change that significantly alters processes, people, and often, technology. It’s not quick, and it’s not easy.

The only way to implement real culture change is to integrate the behavioral elements of the new culture into the daily business activities, with new expectations and appropriate reinforcements. It requires sustained, active commitment from leadership.  If your leaders aren’t prepared to be active participants in the change and to lead differently, the implementation is at a huge risk for failure. Is your organization prepared for this journey?

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Topics: Transformational Change, Culture, Enterprise-wide Change, Lean/Six Sigma, Project Management