Effective Senior Management: a One-Minute Summary

A CEO asked me: “I can see how the teams and the product lines will operate with an Agile mindset, but at my level, how do I manage differently? How do I work with the other executives?”

Here is my quick (“elevator pitch”) summary:

“The key premise is to have the company’s systems of work mostly operate themselves, instead of being controlled by management and powerful stakeholders. In each system, people have a high level of autonomy and they collaborate toward outcomes. Everybody sees the work and follows the same criteria for choosing what to do next. They clear blockages to the best of their abilities.


“You and the other senior leaders ensure that each system ‘points in the right direction’ in terms of the organization’s priorities and constraints. For that purpose, you work as a team on vision, strategy, capabilities, and alignment; you review them frequently and adjust as needed.


“This system is the result of the humans that create and operate it. Therefore, you also help them grow, increase their independence, and operate from a place of greater responsibility. You do that through frequent touchpoints with individuals and with entire groups. You make it safe to fail, to learn, and to collaborate, and you model these behaviours. You keep watching the systems for problems and opportunities, and lead organization-level changes to improve the systems.


“And never refer to anyone as a ‘resource’ again.” (Well, I didn’t say that, that was for another time.)


This question came from a client CEO who wished to establish Agile across the entire company. It’s the same conceptual answer if the scope of Agile transformation is a single system, such as product development (where most companies start). This is the essence of senior Agile management.


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