SAFe Explained: Lean-Agile Leadership - The 6 Tasks of an Agile Manager

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Sohrab Salimi

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When an organization becomes agile, there is an exciting question: “What is the role of the manager in an agile organization?

In the Scrum Guide there is nothing about the role of the manager, and so these people – especially middle management – are left alone with the question: “Am I still needed in the agile organization? Unfortunately many agile coaches and consultants do not give a meaningful answer to this question. And so the managers feel left out. They build up resistance because they see their achievements and their position endangered.

The SAFe® Framework answers the question about the role of the manager. The short form: Managers are still needed. They are still valuable. But their responsibilities are changing. Gone are the days of watermelon reports, annoying jour fixes and endless meetings. The highly qualified people who have taken on the challenge of managing knowledge workers are embarking on a new journey full of growth potential – both for themselves and their company.

Now we take a look at the new tasks of an Agile Leader:

  1. Lead the Change
  2. Lifelong Learning
  3. Develop Your Employees
  4. Inspire, Unite and Empower
  5. Decentralise Decisions
  6. Unleash Intrinsic Motivation

Lead the Change

The second of the famous 14 Deming points clearly states that management must personally accept the challenge and lead the change. It is not enough for teams to become agile – management must lead the way to agility. Every management action must be a clear signal that times are changing. Without your cooperation as manager, there will be no change. You as manager are the key to success!

Lifelong Learning

Yesterday’s knowledge is good for mastering the challenges of yesterday’s business world – but you need today’s knowledge to survive tomorrow!

Knowledge workers learn something new every day. As an agile leader, you have to set a good example. Pick up a book, attend seminars or training sessions – go to an Agile Leadership Meetup and experience how the world of work is changing. Learn how to be part of that change. Encourage your employees to follow your lead.

Develop Your Employees

There’s an age-old joke:
CFO to CTO: 
“What if we invest in training our people – and they leave?”
“What if we don’t do that and they stay?”

To survive in today’s market, you need employees who are up to modern standards. And the bar is rising daily. You have to continuously invest time, money and energy so that each of your employees is up to date.

Inspire, Unite and Empower

The days of Command+Control are over. No single person has the collective intelligence of many knowledge workers. The best you can achieve is to make your employees go further than you could ever dream of. You have to do three things:

- Inspire – Give your employees reasons to do what is needed. Focus on motivation instead of control.
- Unite – The challenges of commercial innovation are beyond the capacity of each individual. Make sure that your employees have a common line.
- Empower – Your organization was probably set up to optimize the workload of people. However, this often goes hand in hand with a framework that restricts your employees so that they cannot develop their potential.

Your new responsibility is to break down all barriers that prevent your employees from achieving their potential!

Decentralise Decisions

Intelligent people can make the right decisions. And those who do the work know the consequences of a decision better than anyone else. If the experts can make a decision themselves, blockades and obstacles in their processes dissolve. Change is accelerated.

In many companies decentralization is a long and rocky road. That this can happen is your job as a manager!

Remember: Not every decision can be meaningfully decentralized. You will have to try out a lot and for a long time until you find out which decisions are best made centrally – and which are best made decentrally.

Unleash Intrinsic Motivation

Probably the most difficult challenge of an Agile Leader is to unleash the inner motivation of the employees. Dan Pink’s “Drive” is a great entry point, but after that the journey begins. You’ll soon learn that it’s extremely easy to demotivate employees – but extremely tricky to help them get motivated. The first step of the journey begins with the realization that as a manager you cannot intrinsically motivate your employees.

The keys to unleashing intrinsic motivation are: Elimination of demotivating factors, coaching, freedom, empowerment and trust – and above all: Don’t be in the way!

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