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Learning Change from Martin Luther King

What MLKs words can teach us about navigating change in the enterprise

By Chris Mills

Senior Solutions Engineer, BreakFree Solutions

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an agent of change. He understood that society was not prepared to face the next century. For a brighter tomorrow, this nation and its people had to adapt and conquer racial prejudice to establish norms that would reflect equality in the future. Because of their principles, connection, and timelessness, his words are as valid today as they were when he first spoke them.

Dr. King’s efforts on racial equality cannot and should not be diminished. We value his efforts, the strength of his beliefs and all he did for the U.S. While celebrating his memory on Martin Luther King Day, I noticed how his teachings can be applied not just to social change but all areas of life, including change within businesses.

To draw inspiration from Dr. King’s efforts on racial equality to how we enact change within the enterprise, organizational approaches to change must also be principled, rapport-inducing, and long-lasting.

Here we look at five inspiring quotes from Dr. King to deduce what we can learn about organizational change in business—as well as provide some tools and techniques for generating that positive momentum.

“The ultimate measure of a [wo]man is not where [s]he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where [s]he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

All change is inherently challenging and controversial. Stagnation is the acceptance of comfort and convenience to an organization’s detriment. Organizations that are prepared to meet change, and the controversies that come along with it, are better prepared to deal with risks, issues, and problems. The ability to observe, orient oneself, decide, and act on the basis of one’s experience and adaptable technology is the ultimate test of any company.

To prepare, organizations must adopt DevOps principles and patterns to their build and release process, focusing on optimizing workflows, constant feedback, and continual experimentation through repetition and practice. Proactively encouraging failure through constant yet measured experimentation allows organizations to practice and prepare to respond to environmental and technological change.

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”

Inevitable tasks are not something you plan or prepare for; you know they will happen, and nothing is unique about them. Instead, inevitability is ripe for automation to remove the repetitive, tedious actions and focus on what is important — change.

Failure rates are high even among successful organizations because they refuse to accept inevitability. They fail to quickly exhaust potential dilemmas and find the right solution. Rather, they recognize that adaptation necessitates continuous effort from both people and resources to meet new challenges and explore new ideas. Successful organizations do not shy away from change but prepare for it by removing the tediousness and rising to the challenge.

Automation and utilizing commoditized services are essential to eliminating inevitable, repetitive tasks in your organization’s processes. Inevitable tasks are not simply tedious; they entail known effort, predictable timing, and can be scheduled. These tasks can be automated or completed using external, commoditized services. Your teams will be relieved of monotonous work and allowed to redirect their attention to your company’s goals. This also allows your teams to expend effort on value differentiation, creating the most return on investment.

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

Change may occur rapidly or gradually. Regardless, within organizations, the aim is not necessarily the speed of the change, but to always be improving. Businesses harness change to increase their value-generating capabilities, outputs, and efficiency. If an organization supports rapid change but is not able to move it forward, other organizations that gradually improve are still better off (think: the tortoise and the hare).

It’s critical to use Agile processes for value creation, not only to initiate but also to maintain and strengthen support and innovation for rapid change. Agile processes enable your team to incrementally introduce new change and value within smaller intervals of work, referred to as ‘crawling.’ As teams practice the Agile approach it improves in speed and structure, creating more incremental value over time. Finally, Agile principles and practices are embedded not only within but between teams, which is called ‘running,’ to accelerate and increase value.

“We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”

Use the history of proven success to leap ahead of your competition by benchmarking other organizations and utilizing commoditized services.

The organizations that use existing, commoditized services are enabled to expend their efforts to provide differentiated and unique value rather than spending valuable time and resources on establishing duplicative systems that require separate support and risk budgets. Instead, leverage the expertise available within service providers at a lesser cost.

Commoditized services allow organizations to focus on their value differentiators and leave the common tasks to subject matter expert providers. For example, cloud computing services such as AWS, Microsoft, and Google provide necessary products and services at competitive prices. Hosting your own infrastructure is an option. However, it should only be done as a last resort or when required by law.

“We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.”

Even using the right people at the right time for the right goal combined with providing the necessary tools and processes won’t stave off uncertainty, but it will enable organizations to meet uncertainty victoriously.

To find the right people, establish hiring and training plans based on clear, understood requirements centered on entry skills and progression. The ability to forecast future product demands and rapidly onboard both employees and contractors with vendor knowledge offers numerous chances to address concerns and opportunities as they arise. The ability to remain focused on business goals while pivoting as the business and technology environments change must be an understood and repeatable objective. Only then, when the right people, timing, and objectives are flexibly managed, will the organization adapt rapidly, without fear of change.

The work environment should be flexible enough to support rapid onboarding for both internal and external team members with understood training pipelines. Given the challenging technical skills marketplace, it’s dangerous to assume that internal employee retention and expertise will remain constant. Rather, your organization must cater to not only staff attrition but also the hiring of external consultants to help you accomplish your objectives. Rapid onboarding using clear, simple documentation and mentoring practices allows new staff to quickly become productive. Coupled with Agile practices and the ability to pivot within short time frames, productivity within teams and across the organization does not drop. Understanding the type of skills required and establishing an expected baseline of expertise ensures that recruiters and internal HR focus on your requirements, leading to better employment or contract success.

Thank you, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for your tireless efforts in promoting change and equality. Your words continue to inspire people around the world to work towards a better tomorrow.

If you want to discuss your organizations objectives and how better to prepare for change, please reach out to BreakFree where we can introduce you to a suite of service techniques including:

  • Value Stream Mapping to optimize workflows and improve efficiency.

  • Team formation and kickoff to establish the requires skills and work expectations to meet the statement of work.

  • DevOps Incubate Workshops to introduce and plan for DevOps principles and patterns.

  • Scrum workshops to create iterative product opportunities to meet business goals while continually experimenting.

  • Product backlog management aligned with business goals and translated into actionable steps for your teams.

  • Lead then transition Sprint planning and review meetings to guide, pivot and deliver according to customer requirements.

  • CI/CD pipelines to automate and alleviate tedious toil and concentrate on producing value differentiation.

  • AWS and Microsoft infrastructure and tooling experience, (however we remain free of any agreement tying us specific providers).

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