Change for Agile coaches is challenging, no matter how widely publicized the benefits are. Agile / Business / The Guardian Podcast
Change for Agile coaches is challenging, no matter how widely publicized the benefits are.

Change for Agile coaches is challenging, no matter how widely publicized the benefits are.

Overcoming Resistance to Agile Process Roll-Outs. Jonathon Levene shares the insights he gained over years of executive coaching of cross-functional teams this week on The Guardian Podcast with Ryn Melberg. The podcast can be heard on iTunes ( introductions/id977764101?i=1000380138828&mt=2)

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Mr. Levene (Jonathon as he prefers to be called) drove top-line growth through new products and services to market among many other accomplishments during his career. Change is never easy, and change to Agile is always hard, but not impossible when following Jonathon’s coaching.

Change Communications

Anyone who has ever introduced any type of change or different process to any group of any size knows that the path between what was once done to the new and improved vision is difficult at best. Jonathon describes two types of resistance to change; organizational and individual. “For personal resistance there are lots of patterns of thinking, behavior and emotional reactivity to what is happening around us,” Jonathon said. “Just as ants follow other ants via pheromones, humans are likely to take the same path as before; to think and act a certain way, the we did before. Patterns like these are ingrained in ants and humans.”

Hindering Motivation

Jonathon also talked about the impact of the hindrance people perceive about not getting what they want as a symptom of change resistance. Jonathon mentioned three examples of that loss. 1. Forfeiture of affiliation. When someone sees that they are likely to be separated from their friends/colleagues or will no longer be part of a group, they will feel threatened. 2. Loss of power and influence. Just like the loss of affiliation leads to resistance, so too can the loss of power and decision making. 3. Scrutiny. Organizational silos provide cover to employees who are not interested in any type of examination or accountability. Plenty of people have never had to be accountable for their productivity or value. Agile demands accountability through democracy and transparency. While the benefits of Agile are written about widely and always sounds ideal, introduction of the practice can lead to confrontation and even failure.

Getting Past Resistance

Rather than fearing change communications, Jonathon allows that there is much to be learned from those who resist. “People who react emotionally to change are telling you something, and  that something is worth noting,” he said. “Strong emotions are tied to caring. So as a change leader, listen to learn what that employee cares so deeply about and try to understand more about the dynamics of the group.” 

Opinion Leaders

In every group there are formal, appointed leaders but there are also the informal leaders. These are the people whom everyone respects, and will turn to for advice. To identify these people, Jonathon suggests the following: 1) watch who talks during meetings and who is in agreement with them. Agreement is communicated through verbal affirmations, but also with non-verbal cues like head nodding. 2) Who do people go to for advice? “Just ask members of the group who they turn to for advice and see who they each have in common,” he suggested. “Those are the informal leaders. 3) Connect with the informal leaders. Once identified, getting the message about the needs for change to them is important. “Word of mouth communications from a known and trusted source is very persuasive,” Jonathon said. “Similarly, a negative word from that same source has the opposite effect.”

Why Should I Care?

The formula for change needs to articulate the reasons for dissatisfaction with the status quo. “Until people hear about what is at stake or what can be gained for them personally vis-à-vis change, they are less likely to want to change,” he said.  “Until people hear and feel anything about the upside, they are less likely to take action. So create a positive vision for the future and get a credible person to deliver the message. There are no guarantees, but there is a better chance of quicker acceptance.”

About Ryn Melberg

Ryn Melberg has a multifaceted perspective having served as COO, strategic advisor and CTO, helping organizations change their business model to support growth, respond to changing market conditions, and crisis management. Worked for global leaders including but not limited to American Express, JP Morgan Chase, and Credit Suisse. She combines her financial acumen, operations experience and people/culture leadership skills to operationalize strategic imperatives, often complex and cross functional. Expertise in mergers, acquisitions and successful integration. Change leader with experience identifying cultural obstacles and perception of threatened interests at time of change. (

About Jonathon Levene

Jonathan is a certified leadership coach, trainer, and facilitator with over 15 years of experience leading teams in product development organizations at small and mid-size tech firms. He helps technical executives and their teams to develop the interpersonal and team leadership skills to unleash their creativity, maximize innovation, and achieve outstanding business results.

At Harvard Business School, Jonathan coaches and facilitates in executive education programs on effective communication, influence & negotiation, interpersonal awareness, managing & developing teams, managing change, strategic management, and creating vision. He serves as a lecturer at the Harvard Department of Continuing Education, providing multi-day workshops on interpersonal communication, facilitation, and decision-making – and has served in Babson College’s Coaching for Leadership and Teamwork Program, and run several career development programs through the MIT Career Development Office. (


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