Leading Change? Shift Left.

It’s a strategic directive. Not a political one.

Because the struggle with change is real. And this advice holds the key.

Borrowed from the land of Product Development – “left” simply means “earlier” in the planning process.

It’s a mantra. Reminding the dreamers and designers of product to engage the builders and tinkerers earlier in the process. So all possibilities - and limitations - are factored into the design.

Change is the new product.

Leading change today has effectively become an exercise in Product Development. And the discipline has a lot to teach change leaders.

Fifty(ish) years ago, developers used the Waterfall Methodology. Linear and certain. And worked until it didn’t. Because, according to Isaac Sacolick, “Waterfall’s rigidity became its downfall as we entered the internet era, and speed and flexibility were more prized.”

Enter Agile circa 2001. And it changed everything. Turning instructions into dialog. Turning straight lines into circles of experimentation. Turning certainty into curiosity.

In the realm of change, we’re at a watershed moment.

What the internet did to product development, these past 5 years have done to change management.

There are too many factors swirling at any given moment. And no one leader – no matter their experience or intelligence – knows everything about how to move forward in the face of GenAI, hybrid working, DEI, ESG, and on and on.

Change leaders of the future will be the ones embracing the principles of Agile.

  • The ones offering vision but asking great questions of right people rather than issuing directives and anticipating compliance
  • The ones prioritizing curiosity and tolerance to test and fail and learn over accuracy out of the gate
  • The ones ready and willing to engage their teams as meaningful contributors – collaborators – rather than just “victims” of yet another change.
  • The ones who recognize true communication as an open, ongoing dialog moving in all directions, rather than a series of memos stating the facts.

Change, today is constant and pervasive. It no longer lives in a box. The path forward isn’t linear. And a new approach to leading change is deeply in demand.

Like designers and architects of product, designers and architects of change, too, should be bringing left the voices of builders and tinkerers.

This is how we’ll win at change. At least for now.

Related: Leaders: You Want It our Trust? Earn It