Digital CIO inspiration session: Behaviour: accelerator or barrier in building Business Agility?

Every year, we organize several CIO dinners to share inspiration and insights around successful breakthroughs in Business-IT transformations. This time around we hosted two digital sessions, in which we discussed both a way to understand behavior and a concrete case (RTL Videoland) where it has been applied.  

In our experience, increasing Business Agility is, at its heart, a change in people’s behaviour. Culture and leadership can make or break your agile journey. It requires us to build new habits and let go of old ones. Many organizations have intensified their efforts towards agility and a more cohesive Business-IT model, but they get stuck in persistent behavioural patterns which are difficult to change. These patterns can be very persistent and because of this, it becomes a real challenge to accelerate innovation and digitalization and disrupt your traditional business model. 

We believe that when you aim to change behaviour without taking into account the organisational (i.e. steering, goal-setting, governance) and social (i.e. social norms, informal networks, team dynamics) drivers, the seemingly changed behaviour jumps right back into old behaviour. That is why we really want to understand the drivers of desired and undesired behaviour.  

We successfully applied this method in our collaboration with Videoland. This is a story about the leading commercial broadcaster in the Netherlands who entered the Video-on-Demand (VoD) market in a very early stage in the battle for the future eyeballs. At the time, RTL was still a traditional linear broadcasting company and the Next-gen VoD platform was being developed by the digital guys in a different building. This required a major transformation where both Business and Tech needed to become fully aligned in both mindset and behaviour. And the results are impressive. While growing the number of subscriptions significantly, Videoland managed to exchange large parts of its platform and add new features, achieving an increased customer satisfaction 

This story energized us which is why we would like to share the 4 main insights:   

  1. When you aim to change behaviour without changing the fundamentals of the system, behaviour will be a barrier in building Business Agility 

To make the change and deliver on the Next-Gen platform that could facilitate future growth, there were deeply rooted causes in the system that we needed to overcome first. An analysis of the system identified there were changes to be made in both the formal and informal organization: structure, steering, governance and collaboration, social networks and also mindset.  

  • We worked on clarity in direction: with clear goals, assignment and an aligned B2C Tech strategy and a mindset and behaviour supporting this direction. We created clarity in roles & responsibilities 
  • For quick & integral decision making and steering, we really made a steering room: starting with the vision, customer and platform KPI’s, sprint performance and impediments together with the Tech en Product guys to really create this alignment 
  • We changed the teams structure to create more focus and build new high-performing teams with aligned mindset & behaviour  
  1. Create cohesion through an integrated Business-Tech steering of the change  

“The mother of all fuck-ups” is assuming one understands the other perspective. Although Business and Tech were driven by the same KPI’s, they were interpreted differently, resulting in two camps. So there seems to be alignment, however when really taking the time to listen to each other we found out we were on different tracks. This realization was a breakthrough for the change.  

Mutual understanding of the consequences of both Business and Tech decisions on landscape, strategy, people etc. is key and needs undivided attention and listening to each other.  

One example is that from a Technology point of view the platform was nearing the end of its lifecycle illustrated by a high number of incidents, but due to the commercial success and steady growth in viewers, the business didn’t perceive this as a problem. It really took a while to understand, from a business point of view, the enormous risk of keeping the landscape as is, while hosting the growth. To prevent such misalignment in the future, we went for an integrated steering model, supported by the steering room in which both Business and Tech stakeholders aligned on vision, KPI’s etc. 

  1. There is a large difference between autonomy and aligned autonomy  

Starting with building business Agility, there is a tendency to provide full autonomy to the teams. Agile is perceived as a bottom-up movement where the teams should have the freedom to create their own way of working. Yet, this often leads to anarchy and chaos. The teams are not mature enough to carry the load and the leadership team fails to intervene and create alignment on the long-term vision.  

Here the concept of aligned autonomy comes in to play: creating a mutual understanding of the strategic priorities for the long-term roadmap. Have alignment on this future vision and make sure to define and break down the strategic topics in user stories together with a clear business value and make sure the POs really own them.  

Then Tech becomes a shared pool of capabilities that work with the POs that run the value creation and there is a synchronized debate among the POs as to who gets what resources. This synchronization should happen at all different levels to ensure maximal value creation independent of business units.  

  1. Transform with the believers  

When changing the system, you want to invest your energy in the people that really believe in your vision. In fact, those not believing in the direction are actually slowing down the change you want to make. Not everyone may be a believer from the very start, but for those willing to change, take them along and make it a combined effort. In order to transform, we developed a clear vision for our Next-Gen platform. Then we started talking to key players: are you behind this and do you want to go for it? Or do you not believe in it?  

Quotes from participants:  

‘I really recognize the struggle of assuming there is alignment on the direction but then finding out in practice that everyone has their own interpretation. That is why I believe strategic alignment on top level and PO level is crucial. Don’t just think you are aligned, really make sure you are aligned’  

‘Building a new business model next to your traditional business model really requires fundamental changes on all aspects of your organization; your way of working, steering, mindset and behaviour’