106 Communications

6th Sense

Change management must become agile to succeed

May 2020 | Internal Communications

“How will change management change as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic?” is the question on the minds of many change and communications professionals and their clients at present.

Change management itself must change to adapt in the current environment where greater uncertainty, fewer resources and increased velocity of change is the norm. Organisations and practitioners must respond to emerging change where they currently find themselves, with agility to succeed. But what do we mean by agile?

Agile (with a capital A) is a method of project management with origins in software development, characterised by short phases of work, frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans. The Agile Manifesto was written by a group of software developers in 2001 and defines an Agile project process as follows:


  • Sprint 1 – discover – design – develop – deploy – release
  • Sprint 2 – discover – design – develop – deploy – release
  • Sprint 3 – discover – design – develop – deploy – release – sustain


Pros and cons of Agile

  • Increased speed in the delivery of a product
  • Closer alignment with customer/end user wants and needs
  • More efficient and flexible
  • Can be rapidly adopted by organisations as experts hired in
  • Iterative development of minimum viable product can be uncomfortable for some
  • Uncertainty can be uncomfortable for some who need to ‘let go’ of perfect and finished plans
  • Work needs to be done in less time at a faster pace

Agile (with a small a) is an organisations’ ability to move quickly and easily in response to changing circumstances.


Pros and cons of agile

  • Organisations can handle the speed of change
  • Agile organisations anticipate and plan ahead for change
  • Reduced silos as teams come together to solve problems
  • Fast decision making
  • Can be demonstrated by all team members, not just change managers
  • Takes time to develop as part of organisational culture.
  • Clumsier organisations may effectively have two changes underway as they need to become agile and implement the change programme
  • Bottlenecks may be caused by resistance from leaders or managers, or those with change fatigue.

Being agile can give your change programme the best chance of success.


Tips for success

  • Agree sponsor engagement and partnership up front. Your sponsor is a crucial advocate for the change and will be interfacing with senior stakeholders. Coaching them to tell the change story in a convincing way, and respond to stakeholder concerns, is critical. They also need to know exactly what you want them to do and when. Make sure you get this straight up front because you may find it difficult to get contact time with your sponsor once the change programme is fully underway.
  • A good narrative is like gold dust. Deep technical subject matter experts work on complex change programmes. It’s your job to contextualise the change and link it to the bigger picture, your company strategy, through a compelling change narrative. Think about neurodiversity too – different brains perceive things differently. A simple visual will be much more effective in telling a change story than a list of statistics.
  • Coach mangers and the programme team to tell change story. This creates deep engagement and motivation at an individual level, as managers guide and motivate their teams. Keeping the change vision in mind will enable the team to stay focused through ambiguity. Be prepared to adjust your narrative as it evolves.
  • Don’t try and eat the elephant all at once. Knowing which change communications are going to move the needle is one of your greatest challenges. You will have to convince your stakeholder of your choice. So choose your top three priorities for the first month, get your sponsor to sign them off and stick to them. Getting your change narrative right, identifying your audiences and articulating what the change means to them should be your starting point. Again, be ready to pivot these changes as necessary.
  • Become best friends with the change programme project manager. It’s her/his job to keep the change programme moving and if they are any good at it, will have an understanding of all the moving parts. Staying close to them will enable to you to respond with agility with changes on the horizon. They will be accountable for reporting progress against deliverables too, so ensure change communicated is well represented.
  • Be your own best advocate. The project team needs to understand the value that agile change communications brings, so it’s your job to coach people on what you do, how and why you do it.
  • Your sanity depends on being part of a strong, aligned change team. According to the Harvard Business Review, 70% of change programmes fail. You will need to build an effective support network – either in your immediate team or in a community of practise to see you through the tough times. Potentially you may be the only change or communications manager on the project so it’s important you have a safe space to test new ideas or just let off steam. Ensuring you are working to the same priorities is important, as it’s tempting to become siloed as you support specific areas of a complex change. Meeting daily for 30 minutes will help you respond with agility.
  • Agree the content sign-off process up front to avoid bottlenecks further down the line. All sponsors and managers will have different processes for signing off content so clarify yours early on. Be clear on which individuals are being consulted on iterations of content, or whether they actually have final say.
  • Agile meeting discipline will speed up decision making and save time and energy. Elon Musk’s three rules for meetings could be a place to start. Prepare an IPO (inputs, processes, outputs) or agenda before every change planning meeting, clarify who the right people are to be on the call and be ruthless with your time management.
  • Factor in continuous improvement at every stage. Asking yourselves what worked and what you could have done differently

If your change communications need to become more agile, talk to 106 Communications about our success criteria and diagnostic. Contact Shehra@106comms.com


Sign up for your weekly shot of Comms, Engagement and Employer Branding