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Real-world lessons to jumpstart an agile culture shift

These four lessons, drawn from real-life success stories, can give your organization’s agile transformation a boost.
Nikola Jurisic

As a senior expert in culture and change, a facilitator, and a coach, counsels public- and private-sector leaders on building values-driven systems

Michael Lurie

Helps global organizations accelerate growth and performance through enterprise agility, top-team leadership capability building, and organizational transformation

Ollie Salo

Leads global efforts in agile organization, applying experience in leading many large-scale agile transformations

A growing number of organizations are embracing agility to improve delivery, increase speed, and enhance customer and employee experience. However, when starting an agile transformation, our research shows that the people dimension—culture especially—is the most difficult to get right.

The following lessons from organizations that have successfully made this shift can give others a head start on their own transformation journeys.

  1. Define the from–tos

    Each organization is unique, and its unique culture should power the new agile operating model. Use the current culture as a starting point to articulate specific mindset and behavior shifts that would make the biggest difference.

    One of the first steps a digital-services and telecommunications company took was to launch an effort to articulate cultural from–tos. The company identified the behavioral shifts that teams would need to thrive in the new agile operating model. To help inform what changes were necessary, they sought to understand the underlying thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that were driving behaviors.

    The from–to aspirations were then distilled into key themes that resonated with colleagues across the organization, were both practical and achievable, and were specific to the company. The resulting articulation of from–to behaviors allowed the company to understand and compare its existing cultural reality with the desired end state.


  2. Make it personal

    Leaders should give their people the space and support to define what the agile mindset means to them. This will differ among senior leaders, middle managers, and frontline staff, and have different implications for each.

    To build an agile culture, a biotechnology company facilitated a deep, personal change process among senior leaders. More than 1,000 were invited to learn a more agile approach to leadership through a four-day immersive program that introduced the mindsets and capabilities needed to lead an agile organization.

    Throughout the program, leaders came to recognize the ways in which their individual mindsets, thoughts, and feelings manifested in the design architecture and culture of the organizations they led. Within six months, many participants had launched agile experiments with their own leadership teams and organizations.


  3. Culturally engineer the architecture

    To sustain a new culture, redesign structures, processes, and technology to support behavioral expectations. Hardwire the desired culture change into all elements of the organization and transformation.

    A telco invested to ingrain agile mindsets and behaviors throughout the transformation it started in 2018. To ensure formal mechanisms supported this shift, the company used structural changes on an individual and organizational level, aligning people, customer, and business processes as well as working environments to an agile culture.

    Within weeks, the telco’s work spaces—both physical and digital—turned into collaborative incubators of the new agile culture.


  4. Monitor and learn
  5. Successful agile transformations have shown the value of monitoring progress, evaluating behavioral change and its impact on performance, and running regular retrospectives to learn from successes and failures.

    A leader of agile transformations in banking used multiple approaches to track impact on productivity and several dimensions of performance, time to market and volume, and employee engagement. It also tracked the progress of culture change and its impact on the overall transformation.

    Data from its tracking initiatives was used to produce practical learning. The bank also teamed with INSEAD’s Maria Guadalupe to study and improve the quality of tracking efforts and the resulting insights. The company established the correlation between culture and performance and used culture data to bring its agile operating model to life.

Enabling a successful agile transformation requires a fundamental shift in culture. For more, please read “Doing vs being: Practical lessons on building an agile culture.”

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