The subject of agility does not currently stop at any type of company. In addition to startups, a large number of large corporations and SMEs are now also taking care of the restructuring of work and organization. But regardless of whether it is about a modern start to business, the change to an attractive employer or the competitive advantage over the competition, the workforce does not always pull along. But how does that come about?

Why do many employees initially close themselves off to agile methods?

In the beginning it is mostly about the well-known problem of “change”. Employees in particular who have been working for a long time according to a certain and fixed principle and who have also coped well with it are less willing to leave their comfort zone. Because even if agile methods promise real added value and give employees more freedom to develop and organize themselves, not everyone is ready to invest the necessary effort. In addition, all workers are different. While one employee likes to organize himself and take care of tasks, another needs significantly more leadership. It is not uncommon for companies to have parts of the workforce who want to work according to predetermined to-do lists in the classic top-down principle. These employees in particular are usually difficult to convince of a change.

In addition, agility commands in many companies often look like this: “Be agile now!” or “the department has to become more agile!”. Employees are therefore ordered to completely change their way of working without implementation tools and without a background. The workforce often has no idea what exactly these statements mean or how they can actually be implemented. While some finally show enough curiosity and motivation to face the new challenge, other parts of the workforce ultimately lead to complete rejection and unacceptance.

But what can a leadership do against this resistance?

Can you command agility?

Of course, companies can simply present their employees with a new work and organizational structure and arrange for it to be implemented and adhered to. The question that is much more likely to arise here is:

Does it make sense to want to command agility?

Definitely not. Because agility lives above all from commitment and conviction. Commanding agility and thereby going against the will of the employees is more likely to meet with resistance in the end. And ultimately lead to a rudimentary implementation or complete failure of the change in strategy, as the following graphic shows.

Agility is a mindset – not an order!

Because much more than a new and modern form of organization, agility describes a mindset. So the attitude of each individual employee as well as their convictions and, most importantly, their experiences. And this often results in one problem above all: Companies that compulsively want to put the stamp of agility on themselves. Because they often accept bad experiences of their own workforce with agile methods. As a result, employees are often denied the opportunity to put off their own initial shyness all by themselves. So you don’t get the chance to make friends with agility and the associated methods. But this is the only way to ultimately develop a mentality in the company. And one in which each individual employee ultimately also recognizes the added value of agile methods.

But if agility doesn’t work, what are the options?

First and foremost, it is certainly very important to communicate agility and not to present the workforce with a fait accompli. In addition, agile methods should finally be introduced slowly and gradually. It can make sense to get support from an expert during implementation. Employees should also be appropriately and promptly prepared for the changes in the form of training courses and meetings.

Managers should always be in contact with their workforce during this implementation phase in order to obtain feedback and to identify and resolve problems or resistance as quickly as possible. Because when the manager manages to relieve their employees of the often strong fear of change, the first step in the right direction has usually already been taken.

Ultimately, as a manager, you can also support you by acting as a role model yourself and also practicing things like a culture of error. With the right orientation and tolerance of errors, it is often much easier for the individual employee to get involved in the change.

So that everyone can pull together, it is also extremely important that goals and mission statements are communicated clearly and transparently in the company.

Tip: Read my book: SMEs in digital change at Springer Gabler or book me for a talk .


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I blog about the influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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