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Are your executives up for it?

What do you think is needed to get executive buy-in to agile transformation?

This question often crops up as teams work to carry out agile transformation. Transformation is constrained without buy-in, support and willingness to change from all parts of the business, customers and third parties.

Business executives are in a high position with responsibility for making decisions and putting them into action. A lack of buy-in from them is a significant constraint. This can lead to frustration, low morale and lack of engagement in those trying to make the transformation successful.

A system is never the sum of its parts, it's the product of their interaction.” Russell Ackoff

Of course there can be many reasons for lack of buy-in from executives: “real world” business pressure, bonuses based on personal or team targets and hero culture to name but a few.

In conversations I’ve had with people working on agile transformation in different businesses, there seems to be something fundamental happening: a lack of mission and vision of the business that all executives support, advertise and work towards. It seems like there's no consistent, unified answer to the question, what does success look like?

We’re not talking about visions of financial success and return on investment; we’re talking about why the company exists.

Tesla has these mission and vision statements:


"to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass market electric cars to market as soon as possible."

Vision statement:

create the most compelling car company of the 21st century by driving the world’s transition to electric vehicles

Now I’m no judge of whether all parts of Tesla buy into and are fully focused on this mission and vision; there are still big challenges to making this real. They do however, make the intended aim of Tesla clear.

“A system must have an aim. Without an aim, there is no system.” W. Edwards Demming

Without an aim, why carry out a transformation of any kind?

Why spend time learning, understanding and questioning transformation?

Why experiment?

Why encourage, engage in and learn from conflict?

Without an aim, transformation becomes a box-ticking exercise.

Imagine being in a company with a clear mission and vision that all, including executives, question, support, advertise, work towards and buy into. This becomes something everyone can think about together.

With this happening, collaboration increases and questions spring to mind, including:

What do you think we need to change to accomplish our mission and vision?

What successful transformations have other companies experienced that we might learn from?

What experiments do you think we can run to learn more?

What do you think we could stop doing that isn’t supporting our mission and vision now?

With this in mind, the question:

What do you think is needed to get executive buy-in for agile transformation?

is one where it’s easy to hand full responsibility over to the C-suite and executives to make it their responsibility to advertise and support the mission and vision.

But what if we change this question to:

What do you think you can do to get executive buy-in to agile transformation?

While it’s not easy, I wonder what would happen if you and your colleagues showed curiosity about the mission and vision. If you thought together about how agile transformation might steer the company in the right direction. In my experience, curiosity has a way of spreading.

As I said at the start of this post, many factors can prevent executives from buying into agile transformation; however, lacking a shared aim and having ineffective interaction across the whole system is a fundamental blocker to success.

I leave you with this incisive question:

If you knew that widening support, advertising and working towards the mission and vision will get executive buy-in to transformation, what would you do?

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