Learning how to deal with resistance, excuses and setbacks when leading a change in an organization.

Hundreds of thousands of flickering oil lamps lit during India’s biggest holiday, Diwali, cast a mellow glow over the streets, steps and city squares to mark a year of rebirth, triumph, and new beginnings.

But this October, the joint prayers, gift exchanges, and mouth-watering feasts won’t be accompanied by firework displays; their sale during the five-day festival has been restricted by the government amid environmental concerns.

The ruling, which follows last year’s public health alarm when some 50,000 tons of fireworks wrapped New Delhi in a thick blanket of smog, was naturally met with some resistance from ardent revellers.

‘’Diwali without fireworks is like Christmas without a Christmas tree,’’ they said, complaining the festival won’t be the same without the crackers.

Despite some pushback, the majority of Indians embraced the decision. 

For them, this wasn’t an assault on a decades-long tradition – it was a much-needed change that will safeguard public health. Come late October, this new way of celebrating will feel like a breath of fresh air for millions across the country.

When Change is the Only Way Forward

Change is difficult. You may be familiar with the phrase ”old habits die hard.” This is particularly true in business organizations trying to change the way they do and think about work. 

It’s no wonder, then, that so many organizational transformations end in failure. Even when external pressure calls for a desperate need for change, the right leadership is lacking, the resistance is insurmountable, and there’s a superlative tree called culture standing in the way.

But, to paraphrase Elon Musk, a change needs to be embraced if the alternative is a disaster. Sure enough, disrupting the status quo is no easy task. Neither is recovering from the short-term setbacks stemming from experimentation. But, if executed right, change ensures sustainable growth. It ensures survival.

Luckily, there are consultants armed with the right mindset, knowledge, and tools who can coach and lead successful change in organizations.

These are change agents who will stand their ground and delicately avoid resistance by confronting those stuck in an archaic but comfortable way of doing things with confidence, patience, and purpose. They are called Accredited Kanban Consultants.

Coaching Change the Kanban University Way

‘People don’t resist change, they resist being changed,’ – Peter Senge

Understanding the psychology and sociology behind this resistance is vital to driving a successful agile transformation. 

This summer, I flew to Bangalore, the center of India’s high-tech industry, to attend a five-day Kanban University masterclass that equips consultants, coaches, change agents, and managers with practical, evidence-based guidance on leading a successful change initiative.

The leader of the Kanban movement, David Anderson, covered a lot of ground – coaching and leadership practices, social and identity strategies – all of it illustrated on a good deal of real-life case studies, anecdotes, and vignettes.

And while Kanban University’s longest-running class was rigorous, it’s safe to say it completely changed the way I see relationships inside and outside the workplace, teaching me how to positively influence people. Let’s go over the Change Leadership Masterclass, day by day. 

Day One:‌ Rethinking the Way You Do Work

The first day of the masterclass lays the groundwork for implementing a successful change initiative. 

It explores key change management principles and practices of the Kanban Method, linking them with case studies and even the Oscar-winning animated movie Happy Feet. It’s astonishing how much you can learn about sociology and behavior from a colony of penguins.

David Anderson moves the conversation away from large executive restructuring – something most organizations are struggling with. There’s no need to postpone the transition. You can take away the practices and guidelines from the Change Leadership Masterclass and apply them to your daily routine the next Monday. 

The first day in large part teaches you to see things differently before you attempt to make any changes. To start where you are now, discover the problems you’ve got in your organization, and evolve from there with small evolutionary steps.

It does so by building upon an evidence-based framework called the Kanban Maturity Model (KMM). The model lists more than 130 practices against seven maturity levels, serving as a tool for appropriate application of Kanban practices as well as a roadmap for achieving sustainable business agility. 

Because of its transparent and codified nature, KMM also prevents common failure modes seen in Kanban implementations, including the ‘’too much, too soon’’ approach. Once you know your maturity level, you can take predefined steps to progress without the risk of overreaching or underperforming. 

With each level-up, an organization becomes more transparent, efficient and aligned. As the organization matures, the business outcomes improve avoiding the risk of regressing to the old way of doing things.

Day Two: Identity, Sociology and Evolutionary Change

The second day of the masterclass is all about pursuing meaningful, lasting change within an organization. 

There’s a lot to be learned from nature – the process of assessing and evolving solutions to better fit the environment can be applied to change leadership in a similar fashion living organisms adapt and evolve to withstand climate changes, evade predators and avoid extinction. 

The class exposes the formula for motivating evolutionary change – using stressors, reflection mechanisms (cadences) and different styles of leadership to help an organization successfully embrace change.  

Armed with this understanding, a change agent would be better able to determine a group’s identity and anticipate how it will act when exposed to change. We learn to ask key questions that impact the severity of change resistance.

Day Three: Taking the Path of Least Resistance

The sun rose early on the third day, its beams shining upon the ancient temples and palaces, revealing the glorious side of India. The gentle amber and gold hues radiate hope, promise new beginnings, and bounce off the subtle smiles of the passing crowds going about their business peacefully and respectfully. It is an invitation to a new day, a desire to learn.

Change Leadership Masterclass - Taj Mahal

The atmosphere in the class is exalted and inspiring, with the attendees discussing topics revolving around change management and business excellence.

Day three starts with exploring the deepest and strongest human motivators, seeking to equip students with skills and mechanisms of detecting and taking advantage of inherent tribal traits concealed at every organization.

As you begin to realize that members of an organization are socially, emotionally, and psychologically defined by their tribes, you are more likely to uncover tribal identities.

Working closely together, the class takes part in a tribal assessment of each case study explored in the past two days, mapping 22 attributes of a tribe to each organization, from the common enemy to external measures of success. 

By knowing which dimensions of the tribal behavior hinder change adoption, you are better able to build a more focused, motivated, and encouraging culture. 

The class is taught to ‘be like water’ and flow around the rocks (resistance)‌ to make progress with little friction. You understand how to deal with pushback, and learn to avoid it or negotiate around it. 

And while day three is loaded with information, David Anderson’s approachable charisma and a small class size capped at 12 attendees make retaining knowledge incredibly easy and there’s no shortage of engaging discussions and collaboration. 

Day Four:‌ Leadership Maturity

What do Virgin’s Richard Branson, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, and IBM’s Lou Gerstner have in common? 

They are all mature leaders who understand business outcomes and aspirations will always be constrained by culture and values. 

It’s interesting how some of the biggest modern-day and historical leaders can be assigned to different maturity levels, and the qualities of top-level leadership can be sourced from an unlikely example – a 2009 sports drama Invictus.

As is the case with other movies played during the masterclass, you learn to watch the scenes from an entirely different perspective, recognizing leadership behaviors and attitudes and linking them to your own organization. 

Organizational maturity will always be limited by leadership maturity. The patterns you start recognizing in management behaviour turn out to be incredibly powerful as spotting them early helps you make better decisions and catalyze change more efficiently. 

Day Five: Coaching Practices 

Structured as a guide to overcoming barriers at different maturity levels, the last day of the masterclass focuses on a range of targets required for a successful progression on the KMM.

Successful implementation of Kanban roles aids the cross-organizational transformation by creating a shared sense of responsibility, improving decision-making processes, and optimizing workflow efficiency. 

On day five, everyone sits down to watch Moneyball, a baseball film starring Brad Pitt who plays Billy Beane, the General Manager of Oakland’s A, a bottom-tier team struggling to remain competitive on a tight budget. 

The film perfectly sums up the major takeaways of the masterclass: meeting resistance with solid leadership, not giving in to the status quo, helping others realize the benefits of change, and persisting in the face of difficulties.

Moneyball is packed with scenes relatable to endangered business environments in desperate need for change. Take baseball out of the equation and you’ve got the backbone of any change management discussion.

Change Leadership Masterclass - India, Bangalore

Upon completion of the five-day masterclass, students have to prove their capability of leading an evolutionary change in an organization with at least 150 people before they earn the Accredited Kanban Consultant (AKC) credential. 

The credential demonstrates a person has the necessary skills and experience to lead a large-scale agile transition.

In addition to five days of intensive training, students are required to:

  • Complete at least 6 months field experience leading an agile transition 
  • Write up their experience in an essay
  • Undergo a period of mentoring from an existing accredited professional 
  • Stand in front a panel interview of at least 3 existing accredited consultants

The AKC credential is the hardest Kanban University certification to achieve, but it vouches for an exceptionally high level of skills and experience in leading a successful organizational change. You can see the upcoming classes close to you and book your attendance with a 15% discount code SoSide15.

What makes Accredited Kanban Consultants different to other change agents and coaches out there is their tested ability to lead successful organizational transformations by overcoming resistance. They know how to lead evolutionary change without forcing disruptive changes upon an organization. Instead, they work with what they have and slowly move forward, taking small, incremental steps to drive improvements. 

For anyone looking to change the way they approach change in their business agility initiatives, this is the masterclass to take.

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