Why Agile Transformations Are So Hard
This might be the most important unheard-of lesson for any Agilist.
Many people — like myself — have made careers out of guiding big changes in organizations. Most of us have bumped into brick walls and glass ceilings that have derailed that process. A lot has been written about why change is hard. Perhaps the most famous business-related book is John P. Kotter’s Leading Change — the professional ‘Bible of Change Management’. But even if you follow Kotter’s eight-step model to the letter — or any other change model for that matter — there’s still a good chance that the sought-after change will fail in at least some areas. There is one huge aspect of Agile Transformations in particular that is usually overlooked yet is crucial to the success of the endeavor.
The most common argument to explain bumps in the Agile Transformation road is the fear of change that lives inside many people, especially — it often seems — in higher management. Tolstoy’s words, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself”, are apt in many organizations. While the hesitation to change might indeed be a contributor to Agile Transformation troubles, it might very well not be the biggest problem to face. A highly common predisposition towards authoritarianism could instead be the highest — and most unheard-of — hurdle.
Perhaps it seems like worlds apart, but the field of political psychology offers a clear and well-founded explanation for failures in Agile Transformations that is generally not addressed by Agilists. In 2005, Australian political psychologist Karen Stenner published her investigation into authoritarian personality types. In The Authoritarian Dynamic, she took a radically novel approach to the research. Until then the prevalent studies into authoritarianism were dominated by tests that asked people about their opinions about fascist or right-wing statements.
In 1950, for instance, German psychologist Theodor W. Adorno (1903–1969), together with others, published the highly influential book The Authoritarian Personality, in which they describe a methodology to measure people’s inclination toward fascism. Using what they called the F-scale — with the F for fascism — they distinguished nine personality traits that defined…