Why can Implementing Agile Working be so Hard?

The simple answer is that if you’re going to become more agile in the way you work and operate, people have to change their behaviour. Now, think about that word – CHANGE!

People say “change is hard” – but not all change is hard! Generally change that you don’t understand, that you can’t influence or from which you don’t benefit is hard (or impossible!). Trust me when I say the benefits of agile working are indisputable.

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People also say that these days, ‘change’ is the new ‘normal’. They are in a constant state of change – often poorly implemented and where one change is barely introduced before the next change comes along. No wonder they talk about change fatigue. Business change can be sourced from many new ventures or data, for example your organisation may be experience growth, or maybe its relocating across London? Perhaps your workplace utilisation study has reported that only 40% of your office space is utilised?

If someone asks you to change, then you want to know several things:

    • Why you should change


    • What it is that you have to do differently


    • How things will work in the future (and how we’ll get there)


    • When things will change


    • What you are expected to do / contribute


    • Who will support you to make this change


  • What’s in it for you?

If people don’t can’t easily get the answers to these questions, bearing in mind most people are already overloaded with work, then don’t be surprised if they are reluctant to get involved in the change, let alone commit to it. Many will simply keep their heads down and wait for this “agile working thing” to blow over.

The list of questions applies to each person in the organisation – to senior leaders, stakeholders, middle managers, project delivery team members and people at the coal face. Each person has a journey to make and we’ll look at that in more detail in a later blog in this series.

Changing Habits

For now, think about changing behaviour. Even armed with the answers to those questions, you are faced with doing things differently. How does that feel? You know instinctively that doing things differently means they will initially take longer, they won’t feel comfortable and they will take a lot more effort.

The way you behave is a set of habits that you’ve grown accustomed to over the years. They are comfortable and you know what you’re doing pretty much without thinking (a bit like driving a car). It’s easy and it doesn’t take much brainpower.

But when you have to do things differently, you spend much more mental energy, and it’s more tiring – at least until you’ve practiced those new habits/behaviours quite a lot (some people suggest at least 40-50 times – perhaps many more). So don’t be surprised that people can be resistant to change – they are facing a more demanding time as they adapt and form new habits.

Of course there are many other reasons why agile working can be difficult and we will consider more of them as we progress through this series. Next time, we’ll ask why we need to collect such a lot of data in order to plan our new ways of working. Stay tuned, and in the mean time, read more about agile working.

This article is part of a series written by Karen Plum, Director of Research & Development at AWA on implementing agile working.

Karen has spent the last 15 years helping organisations transition to different, more flexible and yes “agile” ways of working. More recently she’s trained many people in the fundamentals of implementing agile working, predominantly those from RE/Property/FM functions who need to up their game, know what to do, avoid the common pitfalls and see the best path to delivery and sustainability. If you would like to benefit from our 2 day, fast track Agile Working Bootcamp, please click here for more details.

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