Be a Lean, Mean, Agile Change Machine

by Michelle Reid-Powell

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Winter weight gain 2What month is it? I feel like I’m only just now waking up from a woolly Wintery hibernation, an extended season spent under blankets, sipping cocoa from an extra-large mug. With maybe more than one marshmallow, if truth be told. And perhaps some pound cake. Oh, and the sweetness and comfort of Messrs. Ben and Jerry. Lest you judge, may I remind you of the phrase – not long from our collective lips – polar vortex? These were desperate times. And do you know what desperate times call for? Well, I do, my friends. They call for a few dozen Oreo innards and a creamy glass of cold milk.

But now the icy days have melted into a bright and sudden Summer; no Spring to gently and slowly bridge the seasons. Oh no, I crawled out of the cave in April, blinking in the sunlight of the ACMP (Association of Change Management Professionals) conference in Orlando. What was one of the themes at said conference? Agile! Lean! Adjectives morphed into nouns, neither of which described me I can assure you, attempting to squeeze myself into last year’s shorts – mysteriously shrunken during their dark stay in my closet – my muffin top proof of the old adage, “you are what you eat.”

As is evidenced by the ACMP conference and articles from countless business publications, agility is the latest destination for those interested in change. If change were a high school, agility would be its homecoming queen. Given my desperate need for a personal and professional life workout, I wanted to jump on the agile bandwagon. But how?

In his presentation at ACMP, Chris Worley defined agility as “The ability to make timely, effective, and sustained changes.” When Prosci talks about organizational agility, they are talking about the organization having a streamlined system for change, as well as employees that are “constantly prepared and ready to respond to change with an inherent resilience that makes it more durable.” In other words, agility is a process thing, but it’s also a people thing.

Clearly there are processes that grease the skids of change. But what about personal agility? For instance, I know that I will have a better chance of losing the extra few pounds that found me last winter if I share my goal to lose them, explain why the goal is important to me (fit back into my shorts), ask for help (please stop putting food in the kitchen at work), and surround myself with everything from books to social events (at the gym) that keep me focused. I might track my progress and create some simple rewards for myself along the way. The more I do this, tweaking each success and improving, the more success I’ll have.

To make positive changes in our personal or work lives, we need to figure out how to be “individuals who are continually able to give up skills, perspectives, and ideas that are no longer relevant, and learn new ones that are.” This quote is from the The Center for Creative Leadership, which calls this “Learning Agility.” Korn/Ferry has also identified “Learning Agility” as a key skill of effective leaders, a component of which they define as “Change Agility.” Basically, both suggest that people who are agile are open to new ideas, think creatively about how to solve problems, take risks in order to learn, stay cool under pressure, and rather than becoming defensive in the face of challenges, move forward in spite of them. The metaphors are everywhere: employees as agents, as armies, as engines, as high-performing teams. If we could just figure out how to be open to change.

So here is my goal for 2014 (sooo much easier to achieve with only 6 months left): I will fulfill the legend of the agile. I will be both prepared and resilient! I will be more creative in the way I approach challenges, thinking not, “you’re nuts  I’m going back to bed,” rather, “what if?” and “why not?” I’m going to learn something new even if I have to risk looking foolish doing it. And just to clarify, I often look foolish even when I already know how to do something, so you’ll have to take my word for it that I’m in “change and learn” mode. I will go to my happy place under pressure, practicing deep breathing techniques worthy of a yogi or a Lamaze instructor. What the heck? I might even go to your happy place while I’m out and about! And I will not once sing along to that Billy Joel song, “Don’t Go Changin’’ – no matter what elevator it is playing in and no matter how cheerful I am when in that elevator. I will be neither defensive nor offensive. I will be like the Swiss – a very neutral, creative, open, unpressured agent of change. That will be me. Only not Swiss Miss, because that darn hot cocoa is what got me into this mess in the first place.