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You’ve been a part of the agile world for a while. Why did you fall in love with it?
Alize: When I became part of ING’s core team, which led the company’s transformation, I started working towards an agile way of working. Pretty soon we realized that our classical approach did not work anymore. As a transformation team, we also needed to figure out what this new way of working and thinking actually was. So we started to organize ourselves in a multidisciplinary team. Our Agile Coach played a crucial role in this, challenged us on our blind spots and helped us see things in different ways. At a location, far away from our managers, we started to experiment, made failures, learned from it and improved. We began to trust each other, became a lot more creative and started to deliver faster. We felt the energy and flow as never before and reached our team purposes together. That was the moment I fell in love with business agility.
You work(ed) in a specific environment - banking. Can banks go agile and how do you approach it?
Alize: Well, I wish I could say that there is just one approach. Unfortunately, there isn’t. There is simply no ‘once size fit’s all’ approach. It’s like if you have 40 teams you probably will need 40 different approaches. I believe that every company can achieve business agility, but they first have to define what would actually work for each specific organization. How a transformation journey flows, which results can you achieve, how fast can you improve - it all depends on what are you willing to facilitate and what kind of bold moves do you want to make - in order to create an environment where people are able to change their way of working and thinking. As we know, people are motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose. So when you want to change your organization, you have to involve all people from the start. Make sure everyone understands what an agile way of working and thinking really means. People will be far more motivated by helping to build a new organization when you are able to involve them in creating the new why purpose and desired results.
When someone decides to transform a culture in a big organization - where should they start, what kind of traits, attitudes, and knowledge should they have?
Alize: Culture or put differently, the way we behave, is influenced by so many things, the way we grow up, our family values, religion, country culture, the way we see the world and so on. Even when you have created the purpose, values, and principles of the organization together with the people in your organization, you still have to make the desired behaviors come to life. It is not enough to put some slogans on the wall. So ask and listen to each other to create a common understanding. To become more transparent, less hierarchical and more collaborative is very nice and all, but what does that exactly mean for leaders, the team, employees and for you personally?
Unlearning old habits and learn new behaviors is very difficult. When the pressure is high, it is easy to fall back in the old behaviors, because that is how our brain works. You cannot easily reset it. It takes time, patience and a willingness of all people to create an environment to learn continuously and to move to a desired new way of thinking and different behavior. In the end, a hard and difficult process, unique to each organization.
If you would describe non-agile and agile companies with a metaphor of an animal, what would they be and why?
Alize: For a non-agile company, I like the metaphor of the big elephant who wants to compete with the fast-moving greyhounds. Regarding an agile company, I would say swarm starlings. If you watch those swarms, it seems as if each individual starling in the swarm knows exactly what to do and when. It looks like one natural moving organic system in which there is flow, energy, collaboration, and communication. It seems as if every individual is seamlessly connected with another small group of starlings in the larger swarm, without controlling what happens at the end of the line. They rely on each other, move in a natural way and have faith that they will reach new desired destinations together.
What is one main change you’d love to see in our work culture in companies in the next 10 years?
Alize: On our journey to the future of work, we face a lot of challenges, which we are not able to solve on our own. I would love to see that we could work from our individual purposes. That all our talents would be clearly identified and noticed so that we would be able to develop them instead of being caged in our narrow function profiles. That we would break down the silo’s further and help each other regardless of title or being the expert who knows everything. That we would be open to face our blind spots and fix them with the help of the intelligence of all the people in or outside the organization. I hope that when we will look back in 10 years, we will have a small celebration because we have created a learning economy and are happy that we achieved this purpose together.
What is on your bucket list for 2019 that you really want to do?
Alize: There are many things I would love to do, but no. 1 on my bucket list is finishing my book in which I describe the People Journey Circle©. A methodology that helps companies to create a differentiating employee experience, from top to bottom, on the journey to the future of work.
Which (business) book did you read in the last few months that you would recommend and why?
Alize: I read a lot of books but the one I would recommend is The culture map, written by Erin Meijer, professor of INSEAD. It gives valuable insights into how people in different cultures lead and think. A better understanding of different cultures and backgrounds helps you to create better and more meaningful work relationships: no #1 for purpose-driven and engaging environments.
We talked with Andrej Zrimsek and Omar Dalgamuni from NiceLabel, where they adopted agile methodologies over 12 years ago. At Agile Slovenia, they will share their experience through the years of growth that lead them to ISO 9000 and how they managed to align it well with their agile processes.
As an entrepreneur, founder of the People Journey Circle© and active member of several global agility communities, Alize now is a senior advisor for establishing company-wide ‘agility’. She helps companies to unlock the human potential in their organization and how to invite people to collaborate and connect.
Paolo Sammicheli, the author of the book "Scrum for Hardware", works as an Agile Business Coach specialized in Scrum, Kanban, Lean Startup, and Design Thinking.
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