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The success of any new technology hinges on whether people actually use it as part of their everyday lives. Major operational process changes are no different. Engaging people at all levels is essential for making the switch to an agile operating model. In order for a cultural transformation to occur in the workplace, executive sponsors need to be visibly supportive, if not champions, and employees should be educated on why the change is taking place.

Here are eight ways to ensure that company stakeholders are engaged from the outset.

1) Directly address your skeptics

One of the most common refrains around an agile operating model is the classic “it can’t work here” mentality. Fortunately, most skeptics will be won over when they see value delivered more efficiently and earlier throughout the organization.

2)  Make sure you have a business-side sponsor

Agile must not be relegated to the IT department alone. The historic challenge is that Agile is still relegated to a method instead of a mindset. It needs to be adopted by as many divisions and departments as possible in order to have the greatest positive impact on an organization.

3) Get buy-in from all of your stakeholders

This may require some additional education at the senior level on why the current model is flawed by design. Generally, top-level executives don’t enjoy being told they’re “doing it wrong,” so be prepared to demonstrate how an alternative (agile) model will benefit the company and make their lives easier.

4) Use easily-understood metrics

The results you measure should be meaningful to team members at every level, from interns to C-level executives. Employees need to be able to see how current behavior and ways of thinking are getting in the way of progress. This means that an understanding of what metrics are most useful for a particular audience is important.

5) Provide early wins

This one is really a cornerstone of an agile operating model’s success. If you can demonstrate tangible benefits of agile to your team early on, you’re far more likely to have a wider range of supporters (and ultimately adopters) throughout the organization. This is where “actions speak louder than words” is most effective. One of the great tragedies of unsuccessful agile transformations is that the emphasis on demonstrable outcomes comes too late.

6) Executive sponsors need to be seen

The top-level management involved in an agile project can’t simply tell the rest of the organization what to do and then disappear. The best results occur when executive sponsors spend time with their teams. When executives demonstrate this level of engagement in how agile operating principles are benefiting the company, it has a profoundly positive impact on adoption. Conversely, if the executive sponsors are nowhere to be seen during the transformartion, it sends a clear message that making the transformation is not really a priority and is not well understood. Executives should be prepared to lead by example during the transformation and instill confidence in their employees.

7) Make decisions

All too often the decision-making process becomes overly long due to a failure to prioritize. Management must not be afraid to take action when they know which options will best align with the company’s strategic objectives.  Management must not be afraid to push back when team members are not clearly able to demonstrate strategic alignment.

8) Get your stakeholders talking with industry peers

Implementing an agile operating model provides a great peer-to-peer learning opportunity. Encourage stakeholders to talk with people in their network who have experience with agile and discuss what worked well. Hearing the benefits from a peer is often the best way to get stakeholders meaningfully engaged in the change.

The takeaway from all of these points is that regardless of how to encourage engagement between company stakeholders during change, the support needs to be unwavering and highly visible. Agile is a long-term, multilevel cultural transformation, and a half-hearted engagement effort is likely to result in poor adoption rates and abandonment.

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