How to Sell the Change to Agile Working

The question people often ask us is how they can “sell” agile working within their organisation. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone wanted to “buy” so that you didn’t need to sell the idea to them? Well essentially that’s the essence of Advanced Workplace Associates’ (AWA) approach – to help people to buy.

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Really it’s all about change. And as the pundits like to tell us, a very high proportion of organisational change efforts fail most often due to a failure in communication. A study reported in Psychology Today in 2014 indicated only 25% of change management initiatives are successful long term. In our experience, people are suspicious of change they don’t understand; they are worried about change they can’t control; and resistant to change that appears to have no benefit for them. This applies just as much to leaders / stakeholders as it does to all the staff involved in the change. Leaders want to know “what’s in it for me / my team” before they will be persuaded to undertake the upheaval associated with anything new. Similarly, members of staff want to know “why should I change – what’s in it for me?” before they will give the initiative the time and attention it deserves, to see how they could benefit.  Most of the time, your employees may feel as though the change is unnecessary.

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We believe there are two journeys that people need to undertake, as shown in our diagram. By gradually communicating and explaining the change to people, you enable them to really understand what the it’s about – rather than what they (or the rumour mill) thinks it is about. People can get very animated and worked up about something they don’t really understand, causing a lot of wasted energy and time. If you take time to explain:

  • WHY the change is happening
  • WHAT the change really is (what you are changing from and to)
  • HOW things will work in the future (and how the change will take place)
  • WHEN the change will take place

And what you expect of people, they at least have a fighting chance of getting on board – to explore the options and possibilities, and to find something that is “IN IT” for them. Without building that ‘rational’ picture in their heads, the efforts put towards managing change can be long and exhaustive, this is because employees commonly fret, debate and argue against the change. That perception and resistance to change can be very powerful and difficult to shift the longer people spend believing that it is the correct one. They can be suspicious of people trying to persuade them otherwise – so they will need a trusted person to lead them along the journey and they will need to hear the key messages from the “right” people (usually, but not always those in senior, powerful positions in the organisation).

Seeing Agile Working as a threat

The term/buzzword ‘agile’ is thrown around a lot, with little meaning to support its methodology. It is also important to realise that new ways of working are likely to impact people’s perception, more specifically ofTheir status and relative importance to others

  • Their certainty about the future
  • The degree of control they have over future events (i.e. how much autonomy they have)
  • Their sense of safety and trust when interacting with others (called relatedness)
  • The fairness with which they feel they are being treated

These can manifest as threats (or potentially as rewards). This thinking comes from David Rock’s SCARF model and makes absolute sense in terms of the behaviour we often see in response to agile working changes. Check out David’s video on YouTube where he explains the thinking and the evidence. As an example, if people see agile workplace methodologies as a challenge to their status in the organisation, or they feel the implementation is unfair, they could perceive this as a threat – in the same way as they would a threat to their life. It sounds dramatic, but research shows that similar brain networks are activated under these conditions. And if people are feeling threatened, this will consume cognitive resources, meaning that their work is impacted.

Agile Working - Advanced Workplace Associates

Helping people to buy agile working

This is a big subject, so we will return to it in another blog – suffice to say that the model helps us understand why people can seem very resistant to the change or to engaging with it. Finding ways to reduce the perceived threat in the way we communicate and engage is therefore very important. So, when you are embarking on an agile working journey, be prepared to tell all parties involved (including your project team) a coherent and honest account of the change. Share your evidence and your rationale, explaining the why, the what, the how and the when, as outlined above – and recognise that their perceptions will take a while to move on as the story unfolds. Most of the time your employee require the support of their team leaders in order to work more confidently and make the changes. Over time, invite them to find the “what’s in it for me” for themselves – as they are the only people that can. We can help, encourage, provide examples, answer questions and essentially clear out as many obstacles as possible to facilitate their journey to acceptance and a willingness to “give it a go”. Next time we look at why you can’t use your BAU process when implementing agile working – you need an integrated multi-disciplinary team, working to an integrated process.

This article is part of a series written by Karen Plum, Director of Research & Development at Advanced Workplace Associates 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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