Agile Change Management with Katy Saulpaugh

Katy Saulpaugh

As the Agile Practice Lead for Enterprise Knowledge (EK), Katy Saulpaugh has helped a number of organizations to utilize key change management principles to develop agility and adaptability as part of improving business responsiveness. EK is a boutique consulting firm that focuses on knowledge management and agile coaching – two disciplines that Katy sees as both complementary and vital in creating learning organizations that can keep up with rapidly changing technologies and customer demand.

A fundamental part of an agile transformation is overcoming silo-based information and conflicting departmental goals to create a high-performing culture where there is a high degree of autonomy, mastery and purpose in the work performed. As part of this, the structure of an organization is often considered.

Katy, who is based in Washington, DC, sat down with me to explore a critical question when it comes to an agile transformation (and the reorganization that can form part of this): how DO leaders maintain morale when jobs might not be the same tomorrow?

“One executive I was working with said something that just got me: ‘We have to reorganize because of agile’. This way of wording spoke to all the emotions and fear around reorganizations that most people have”.
A key leadership task in an agile transformation is to inspire people to achieve the transformational goals and to effectively engage them in the process. Reflecting on the importance of change management as part of this, Katy suggests that it is absolutely necessary:

“Change management is about modeling and leading behavioral change. Often organizations only invest in change management after being burned by an adoption issue. In the future, change management competencies will be part of leadership job descriptions if they aren’t already. Leaders need to understand how to influence and affect change”.

Effective communication is key

Katy acknowledges that while agile adoption is hard, effective communication is key.

“Often, the responsibility to communicate messages about an agile reorganization falls to the agile coach”, says Katy.

“The coach is not the right person to give those messages. It makes people feel disenfranchised when they aren’t hearing directly from their leaders”.

“On the whole, executive communication is missing about why and what agile reorganizations hope to achieve. It’s not good enough to say that agile is something that everyone is doing and that’s why we need to do it. We’re getting beat by our competitors – that’s a good reason to go agile. Our customers are really unhappy with us – that’s a good reason to go agile”.

Including those who are impacted by the change is critical to implementing the change successfully.

“People need to be given the right tools and environment to come up with ideas. That’s why it’s important to have a community so these people can contribute and be heard. That’s what makes change stick”.

Agile change management – in practice

Once, Katy worked with a government agency that wanted to map its annual performance review cycle to a project cycle that the team couldn’t predict past the next quarter. It was important to create employee goals that would positively influence chances for advancement.

“We were working on multiple things and knew future promotions and reward structures would be impacted by the changes we were making”, says Katy.

In this instance, transparent, regular and consistent communication was critical.

“Helping people to self-organize – a good coach will do these things but it’s not enough. Good communication is the missing key”.

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