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Agile Leadership and Change Management

Jyothsna Bitra (JB)

Published on 06/15/2023


Change is an inevitable part of our lives, and in today's fast-paced world, it is more prevalent than ever. It's the undercurrent of our evolution and is the process of becoming different. As leaders, it is crucial to not only adapt to change but also embrace it with an agile mindset. In this blog post, we will explore the concept of agile leadership, its relevance in a dynamic marketing world, and how it can empower individuals and organizations to thrive amidst constant change. So, let's delve into the world of agile leadership and discover its transformative power.

Change creates a massive opportunity to have a clearer vision, become stronger, reinvent, grow, and thrive.

The Need for Agile Leadership in a Dynamic Marketing Landscape:

In today's dynamic world, where technology advancements, market disruptions, and global events shape the business landscape, traditional leadership approaches often fall short. The global pandemic has compelled us to swiftly adapt to new business practices and redefine social interactions. Companies promptly transitioned to online operations, necessitating prompt communication regarding changes in business operations.

Businesses that are stuck in old ways will become part of the past.

Agile leadership offers a solution to navigate this complexity and uncertainty. It enables leaders to effectively lead teams through change, foster innovation, and seize emerging opportunities. By embracing agile leadership, individuals and organizations can stay ahead of the curve and thrive in the face of constant flux.

Change can occur at four different levels of intensity:

  1. Minor changes: Simple adjustments that don't require process or behavior changes
  2. Moderate changes: Moderately complex changes confined to a specific group or process area.
  3. Significant changes: Highly complex changes that span multiple areas or functions, involving organizational transformations, new roles, responsibilities, reporting structures, and software. Successful execution demands preparation, planning, training, and time.
  4. Extreme changes: Highly complex, novel changes with broad impacts, impacting individuals, businesses, industries, and the global business landscape. They may be sudden and poorly understood, such as disruptive technologies.

Understanding the different levels of change intensity enables effective preparation and navigation, ensuring appropriate strategies are employed to manage change at each level.

Change and Transformation are often used interchangeably. Change may be planned or unplanned and has clear boundaries. Transformation, on the other hand, has no clear boundaries. It typically looks like a strategy, a vision for what the future would look like. It cuts across different departments and not just about the process as it also involves transforming the culture. While it's difficult to manage change, it's much more difficult to manage transformation. Transformation takes longer than change.

Agile transformation is a process of evolving from being change resistant, uncomfortable, fearful, and reactive, to thriving in the environment with high change saturation, and being proactive and embracing change. I have worked with multiple clients who have invested millions of dollars in tools and technologies but their lack of investment in change management hindered them from achieving the desired outcomes. An agile leader plays an important role in change management.

Key attributes of an agile leader include a flexible mindset, tolerance for risk, comfort with change, adaptability in problem-solving, embracing servant leadership, valuing team collaboration over individual contributions, active listening and asking questions, and empowering the team.

Understanding Agile Leadership:

Agile leadership is a leadership approach that embraces flexibility, adaptability, and responsiveness in the face of change. It is rooted in the principles of the Agile methodology, originally developed for software development but now widely applied across industries. Agile leadership focuses on collaboration, empowerment, continuous learning, and iterative problem-solving. It encourages leaders to be facilitators and coaches rather than traditional hierarchical managers. It’s highly beneficial and helps in enabling organizations to adapt and thrive in the dynamic and competitive market.

  1. Rapid Response to Market Trends: Agile leaders in marketing can quickly identify emerging market trends and customer preferences. They can swiftly adjust marketing strategies, campaigns, and messaging to capitalize on new opportunities and stay ahead of the competition.
  2. Agile Campaign Execution: In a fast-paced marketing environment, agile leaders can effectively manage and execute marketing campaigns. They embrace iterative processes, allowing for continuous feedback, optimization, and adaptation throughout the campaign lifecycle.
  3. Customer-Centric Approach: Agile leaders prioritize customer needs and preferences. They foster a customer-centric culture, encouraging teams to gather customer insights, conduct experiments, and iterate marketing initiatives based on feedback. This approach ensures that marketing efforts align with customer expectations and drive better results.
  4. Cross-Functional Collaboration: Agile leadership promotes collaboration and communication across different marketing functions and teams. By breaking down silos and encouraging cross-functional cooperation, agile leaders enable the exchange of ideas, knowledge sharing, and efficient execution of integrated marketing strategies.
  5. Agile Data-Driven Decision Making: Agile leaders leverage data and analytics to drive marketing decisions. They encourage teams to collect, analyze, and interpret data, enabling informed decision-making and optimization of marketing campaigns based on real-time insights.
  6. Continuous Learning and Improvement: Agile leaders foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement. They encourage experimentation, celebrate both successes and failures, and provide opportunities for skill development. This approach empowers marketing teams to innovate, adapt, and continuously improve their performance.

By embracing agile leadership principles, marketers can navigate the evolving landscape and achieve sustainable growth.

Developing an Agile Team:

Effectively guiding teams towards change-resilience is not as simple as knowing and understanding the psychology of individuals multiplied by the number of team members involved. It calls for a different approach.

Susanne, a Marketing Strategist at H2M, collaborated with John, a Solution Architect, to conduct an extensive 8-week evaluation of H2M's marketing tools and strategies. Through numerous discovery meetings and individual sessions with key stakeholders, they dedicated significant time and effort to this endeavor. Subsequently, they presented a comprehensive transformational strategy plan, accompanied by various recommendations. While most teams expressed their support, there was one team whose consent was essential for project advancement. Unfortunately, despite the investment of resources and time, the lack of alignment from this team rendered the efforts futile. Upon further exploration, it became evident that this particular team had exhibited resistance to change for the past two years. This incident highlights the significance of implementing a robust change management process and the need for agile leadership to ensure alignment across all teams, foster collaboration and drive continuous improvement.

Belonging and Understanding are foundational in change management. If they are properly accounted for during the design and implementation of change initiatives, they can contribute significantly to their success

The following techniques can help create and reinforce Belonging and Understanding within teams:

  • Create a signature core message: Develop a consistent message that emphasizes belonging, high standards, and belief in individual growth. Share this message during one-on-one meetings and team interactions to foster a sense of safety and confidence.
  • Solve challenges together: Give your team autonomy to solve meaningful problems. Shared challenges create a sense of belonging and unite the team. Encourage a shared purpose that transforms individuals into a cohesive team.
  • Seek input and demonstrate shared understanding: Ask for team members' opinions, ideas, and solutions. This shows that their input matters and fosters a sense of belonging and safety. Actively listen and use their words verbatim to demonstrate shared understanding.
  • Create opportunities for connections: Encourage non-work-related interactions and social bonds. Facilitate water-cooler conversations, virtual huddles, and non-work events to build a sense of belonging. Host team dinners or virtual discussions on thought-provoking topics to encourage collaboration and bonding.
  • Hold team non-work-related events: Host regular gatherings where team members can share a meal and engage in facilitated discussions on thought-provoking topics. This fosters personal connections and transcends work boundaries.
  • Facilitate team mission statement workshops: Conduct workshops to develop a team mission statement that aligns with organizational goals. Ensure agreement among team members and continually reinforce the mission to create a sense of contribution and understanding.

By implementing these techniques, leaders can cultivate belonging and shared understanding within their teams, enhancing collaboration, engagement, and overall team success.

A large real estate client has invested heavily in various marketing tools. They aim to optimize tool utilization by integrating their SMS efforts into Mobile Connect and eliminating two other redundant tools. However, existing team members resist the change due to comfort with the current tools. They fear the learning curve and the additional time that has to be invested. Agile leadership is crucial here to address concerns, provide support, and emphasize the benefits of consolidation, fostering shared understanding and a sense of belonging within the team.

Tools/processes that can help promote Understanding:

Team Working Agreement:

A team working agreement refers to a set of guidelines or rules that the team collectively agreed upon and follows to facilitate effective collaboration and achieve common goals. It serves as a foundation for how team members interact, communicate, and work together. It covers various aspects, including but not limited to:

  • Communication: How team members will communicate with each other, the preferred communication channels, and the frequency of communication.
  • Roles and Responsibilities: Clarifying the roles and responsibilities of each team member to ensure a clear understanding of who is accountable for specific tasks and deliverables.
  • Decision-Making: Establishing the decision-making process, whether it's through consensus, voting, or another agreed-upon approach.
  • Work Processes: Defining the team's approach to planning, prioritizing tasks, and managing workflow, such as using agile frameworks like Scrum or Kanban.
  • Collaboration and Respect: Promoting a culture of respect, active listening, and constructive feedback, encouraging collaboration and fostering a positive team environment.
  • Conflict Resolution: Outlining strategies and approaches to address conflicts and disagreements that may arise within the team, ensuring a swift and effective resolution.

The team working agreement is created and agreed upon by the team members themselves, often during the project kickoff or team formation stage. It is a dynamic document that can be revised or updated as needed, reflecting the team's evolving needs and circumstances.This agreement promotes transparency, accountability, and a sense of ownership among team members, leading to improved productivity and a more cohesive and high-performing team.

  1. Empathy Maps: An empathy map is a tool that helps design a collaborative process aligned with team members' feelings, motivations, and working styles. It allows team leaders to understand what drives each team member and the emotions they may experience during their work.

  2. Scrum framework: Scrum, a lightweight framework rooted in agile principles, is used to develop and deliver complex products. It focuses on people and enables teams to be creative, collaborative, productive, and adaptable to change. Scrum teams are cross-functional and adhere to five core values: openness, courage, commitment, respect, and focus.

  3. Servant leadership mindset: It's a mindset and philosophy embraced by exceptional leaders. It involves ten important attributes: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, mentorship, and team building. These qualities enable leaders to support and empower their teams effectively.

  4. Facilitation is the art of unleashing the intelligence, insights, and creativity of individuals within a team. Teams comprise individuals with diverse knowledge and incredible potential for creativity. Facilitation is a skill of a servant leader who helps the team reach its full potential.

Agile Organization

Knowing how to lead change in an organization is a critical skill for any leader to have.

Regardless of the scope, complexity, and size of a particular change, you must be able to create a clear path to get buy-in from others on your team and in your organization.

Two important models for understanding and managing organizational change: Lewin's three stages model and the McKinsey 7S framework.

Lewin's three stages model provides a simple yet effective approach to managing change. The three stages are unfreeze, change, and freeze.Unfreezing involves preparing the organization for change by creating awareness and a sense of urgency. This stage helps break down existing mindsets and resistance to change. The change stage is where the actual modifications and adjustments take place. It requires deliberate effort to manipulate the current state of the organization and implement the desired changes. Finally, the freeze stage involves solidifying and institutionalizing the new state, making it the norm.By following Lewin's three stages model, organizations can expect to gain a structured approach to change, increased understanding and support from employees, and the successful implementation and institutionalization of desired changes.

The McKinsey 7S framework examines seven interconnected elements within an organization that collectively shape its effectiveness. These elements are shared values, structure, strategy, systems, style, staff, and skills. The framework highlights the interdependencies and relationships between these elements. It emphasizes that all components need to be aligned and mutually reinforcing for the organization to achieve its objectives. When planning a project or change initiative, the McKinsey 7S model can be used to assess the impact on each element and identify any misalignments that require corrective action.

Let’s take an example of a retail company developing a new campaign on a new channel to compete with established market leaders. In this scenario, the company's strategy might involve adopting a lean startup approach. Instead of following a traditional development process, the company focuses on rapid experimentation and learning. The structure would involve cross-functional teams, self-organizing and empowered to make decisions. Systems would include marketing tools and frameworks. Skills would focus on training and developing team members. The leadership style would change to be more collaborative and servant-oriented, encouraging autonomy and trust among team members. Staffing would involve hiring or reskilling individuals. Lastly, shared values would emphasize the importance of customer satisfaction, continuous improvement, and embracing change.

By applying the McKinsey 7S framework, agile leadership can assess and align these elements to create a conducive environment for agile practices. It ensures that strategy, structure, systems, skills, style, staff, and shared values work cohesively to support agile principles, enabling the organization to be more responsive, adaptable, and successful in delivering customer value.

Kotter's eight-step model, developed by John Kotter, is a popular change management model that helps organizations effectively implement change. The model consists of the following steps:

  • Create a sense of urgency: Communicate the need for change and create a compelling reason for individuals to support and embrace it.
  • Build a powerful coalition: Form a team of influential individuals who are committed to the change and can drive it forward.
  • Develop a strategic vision: Create a clear and inspiring vision that outlines the desired future state after the change has been implemented.
  • Enlist change advocates: Identify and empower change agents who can influence and motivate others to embrace the change.
  • Enable action by removing obstacles: Identify and eliminate barriers that may hinder the progress of the change initiative.
  • Generate short-term wins: Create and celebrate small victories or milestones along the way to maintain momentum and build confidence.
  • Sustain change acceleration: Embed the change into the organizational culture and ensure that it becomes the new norm.
  • Institute change: Make the change a part of the organization's systems, processes, and practices to ensure its long-term sustainability.

By following these eight steps, organizations can navigate through the change process more effectively and increase the likelihood of successful implementation.

Another well known theory, ADKAR theory, developed by Jeff Hiatt, provides a road map for addressing the business and the people's side of change. ADKAR is an acronym and stands for awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement. For change to be successful, each of the elements of the model must be addressed in order.

Let’s consider a use case and understand how Agile leadership is effective in overcoming challenges related to market dynamics, cross-functional collaboration, tight timelines, and customer-centricity

Use Case: Implementing a Marketing Campaign Across Multiple Channels

Scenario: A retail brand is planning a marketing campaign to promote its new product line across various channels, including social media, email marketing, and influencer partnerships.


  • Channel complexity: Managing multiple channels simultaneously can be challenging, requiring effective coordination and alignment of messaging and creative assets.
  • Real-time adaptation: The marketing landscape is dynamic, and campaign strategies may need to be adjusted based on market trends, competitor activities, or customer feedback.
  • Measuring campaign performance: Tracking and analyzing campaign results across different channels can be complex, requiring the ability to gather and interpret data effectively.

Agile Leadership Solution:

  • Cross-functional collaboration: Agile leaders foster collaboration between marketing, creative, and data analytics teams to ensure a cohesive campaign strategy. This involves regular communication, sharing insights, and aligning efforts across channels.
  • Agile project management: Adopting agile methodologies allows for iterative campaign development, testing, and optimization. Agile leaders facilitate shorter feedback loops and enable quick adjustments to maximize campaign effectiveness.
  • Data-driven decision-making: Agile leaders emphasize the importance of data in driving campaign decisions. They encourage the use of analytics tools and dashboards to monitor performance, identify trends, and make data-driven adjustments.
  • Continuous improvement: Agile leaders promote a culture of continuous improvement by conducting post-campaign analysis, capturing learnings, and applying them to future campaigns. They encourage experimentation and innovation to stay ahead of the competition.


With agile leadership, the retail brand successfully executes the marketing campaign across multiple channels. Agile methodologies allow for real-time adaptation based on performance data, resulting in optimized campaign strategies. Cross-functional collaboration and a data-driven approach contribute to improved campaign performance, customer engagement, and brand awareness.


In a dynamic world of constant change, agile leadership is crucial for individuals and organizations to thrive. By embracing adaptability, empowering teams, fostering collaboration, and promoting continuous learning, agile leaders can navigate uncertainty and seize opportunities. So, let us embrace the transformative power of agile leadership and embark on a journey of growth, innovation, and success in this dynamic world of change.

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