The course is part of this learning path
This module looks at the ‘what’ of the AgileSHIFT framework. It starts by focusing on the complexity of an organization and investigates the role internal and external teams and stakeholders play in co-creating value. Then it looks at the importance of strategic organizational alignment in effectively implementing change and, within this, it investigates the critical and often conflicting role of middle managers in facilitating change across the organization.
Please note: this content was produced in the UK and may include the use of British English.
The objectives of this course are to provide you with and understanding of:
- Organization complexity
- Working in an agile way
- Organization strategic alignment
- The role of middle management
The target audience for the AgileSHIFT qualification is any employee of an organization that intends to adopt AgileSHIFT. This includes people who will become champions of the new working practice and employees from any part of the business who will contribute to the incremental improvements that will make up the wider change the organization requires.
There are no specific prerequisites to study the AgileSHIFT course or for entry to the examination.
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In smaller organizations with simple structures, the link between the overall goals of the business and the work being done is probably quite clear. Planning and communication is probably quite informal so it’s easier for everybody to see how they help to create value and can make a clear link between their job, customer satisfaction and the profitability of the business.
In larger, more hierarchical organizations, processes and work activities can become disconnected from the organizational objectives and it can be difficult for individuals to see a direct link. If there isn’t a link, the activity is arguably worthless.
Here’s Ady Dike, Principal Agile Learning Consultant at QA sharing some of the key challenges organizations face in enabling agile working.
There seems to be agreement from thought leaders in the business agility arena that the three most significant challenges to business agility are, one; organizational cultures that are at odds with agile values, two; a constraint in capability to respond to change and a general organization resistance to change, and then the third key area is around agile leadership – the capacity of senior leaders to support agile leadership within organizations.
In many organizations, authorization to work is passed down from senior management through middle management to the individuals doing the work – or ‘running the organization’. So, the organization invests to get the return and the individuals have authorization to do the work and deliver value.
If an individual doesn’t have authority to do the work and isn’t contributing value, then serious questions should be asked about what they’re doing and the activity should stop.
AgileSHIFT is about improving value through change – that means individuals owning their processes and the work they’re doing so they can bring value to the customer and the organization. This value is then aggregated through the management layers so, as each team achieves some degree of change, the department can achieve a bigger aggregated change which contributes to a degree of organizational transformation.
In a fast-moving environment the teams across the organization can become disconnected. Think of an organization which is introducing a large-scale change at the same time as local teams are making smaller process changes – it’s easy for these changes to become misaligned or work against each other and you might have seen this happening.
Here’s Ady again, outlining the importance of organizational strategic alignment.
Think of it like someone who tries to go uphill carrying a heavy load on their back. This is what it would be like for an organization where there is no strategic alignment. Organizations in today’s fast-moving business environment have an uphill challenge of achieving competitive advantage.
When you think of it, the organization strategy is like it’s ‘true north’ – it sets the direction, the way the organization believes that it can achieve its organizational aims; be more competitive, deliver value consistently. However, lack of alignment with its strategic goals effectively dilutes the focus of its employees which significantly increases the likelihood that the organization will fail to realize its organizational goals.
The whole business must be aligned to the primary goals and everyone needs to collaborate to achieve them. It only takes one department or senior manager to be misaligned and communication breaks down.
Stuck in the middle
Middle managers have an important part to play in supporting strategic alignment, and communicating and managing change up and down the organization. They need to ensure top-down communication is understood by the RTO level whilst, at the same time, provide feedback to the strategic leadership level.
Strategic leaders will buy into agile quite easily – they understand the organization needs to be more responsive. And the people who do the work are generally happy working in structured, agile or blended ways because they appreciate that it helps to deliver the best service to the customer. But it’s the middle management layer that faces the greatest challenge when they’re trying to change things.
They’re close to the senior people who need to support the new processes and behaviors created by the change whilst, in many cases, the changes can affect their work and position, and may be perceived quite negatively by their team. So, they’re stuck in the middle – having to support the changes and, at the same time, help their team members to adapt and realize the value of the change.
Middle managers might need to communicate with their teams in a more ‘agile’ way but continue to communicate with senior management in the same old structured, or legacy, ways – which is a difficult balancing act.
Given these demands what are the key skills and attributes middle managers need to help them successfully adapt to an agile environment?
What skills and attributes do middle managers need to help them adapt to an agile environment?
Some of the important ones include:
Being strong communicators, to transfer information about changes up and down the structure;
Offering support to their teams as they implement agile ways of working;
Educating their teams in the benefits of enterprise-wide agility – they need to be good trainers;
A collaborative approach to work with teams across the organization; and
Strong skills of persuasion to help manage resistance to new ways of working.
Middle managers need to work out how they can change the way they manage their teams whilst still delivering what the strategic leadership need. They must find ways to help their team play their part in major change programmes, support them working in agile ways and ensure that smaller-scale change initiatives are aligned with the strategic objectives of the organization.
Before you move on, why not try the Engaging Middle Managers reflective activity to help you think more about the key role of middle managers.
Tony has over 20 years’ experience in Business Development, Business Change, Consulting, and Project/Program Management working with public, private, and third sector organizations.
He has helped organizations to design and create processes and procedures to align ways of working with corporate strategy. A highly motivated and detailed solution provider, utilizing a wide range of methods and frameworks to provide structure whilst promoting creativity and innovation.
As a confident and self-motivated professional with excellent communication skills, Tony is able to bring people together and get them working as a team quickly.
Tony is an Agile and Scrum trainer with a vast knowledge spanning IT Systems, Business Change, Program and Project Management. With excellent presentation skills and a solid background, he ensures that all clients gain maximum benefit from his training. He has successfully guided those new to the industry through their initial training, helped experienced staff as they progress in their careers, and worked at the director level advising on best use and practice, as well as tailoring courses to fulfil the exact needs of clients.