Céline Heinl
27 October 2021 7 min read

Agile solutions come from the world of technology and are now developed in all fields. The reason is simple: they are perfectly suited to markets’ increasing fast developments.  

In the financial institution sector, implementing new tools for the sales team can sometimes create frustrations within the teams. Faced with this challenge, a series of strategies can be put in place to promote dialogue and build trusting relationships. The aim is to facilitate the change phases introducing latest generation tools as much as possible, like phygital solutions for example.  

In this aim, the following article presents the different causes of resistance to change as well as the strategic responses that can be given.

Agile approach

Based on the collaboration between self-organised teams and their clients, the agile approach has become established over the past two decades. Popularised by the Manifesto for agile software development published in 2001, this method is more pragmatic than traditional methods and highly responsive. It leads to profound organisational changes, requiring a change in mentalities. As a result ‘agility’ creates inevitable resistance. It’s therefore crucial for organisations to understand and anticipate reactions of defiance or rejection for the long term success of projects not to be affected. 

Resistance to the agile approach: individual and collective reasons 

Misunderstandings and received ideas

A lack of information is one of the primary causes of opposition to agile methods. 

Transformation through agility cannot be fully effective if the participants do not have a clear idea of the methodology used.  

Too often, training for the interested parties is limited to agile framework presentation sessions. They do not highlight the added values in relation to team cohesion and individual development. In this sense, the values and mindset specific to the agile approach must be explained gradually. If the people don’t understand the personal and collective interest in implementing a methodology, the resistance is only greater. 

Received idea: agile methodology only concerns specialist IT teams 

Markets are constantly changing. It’s therefore crucial for organisations to find the best ways to adapt and stay in the race. Agile methodologies are part of this effort of adaptation and strengthen a company’s competitiveness. 

Although it’s true that the agile approach arose through software development, its effectiveness now extends to all fields. Originally, IT companies relied on the linear ‘waterfall’ management model. The latter divides development processes into successive project phases. Test phases, iterations and product improvements took much too much time, as did client feedback. 

In this way, the agile approach met client needs more quickly, with easy project orientation and reorientation. The products developed, whether digital or not, are capable of matching market developments very quickly. The key is to react immediately to client feedback, in order to offer the optimal product or service. 

It’s important to take the time to explain this macro-economic vision to the agile approach. Your employees will see a positive transformation of their company, and will also make the connection with their skills development.  

The pitfalls to avoid at organisational level 

The implementation of an agile approach can give rise to organisational decisions which are far from being optimal. Several under-anticipated aspects may impair the company’s effort. Here are the pitfalls that are most often listed: 

  • Adopting an agile approach, without the need being understood, articulated and accepted. 
  • Not involving all the people concerned. 
  • Not taking all the changes necessary into account. 
  • Neglecting the social factors. 
  • Presenting the agile approach as the only one that can be envisaged. 
  • Implementing the agile methodology on projects of an inappropriate size. 
  • Presenting the agile approach as a ‘pilot’ project (consequently indicating that it cannot be extended in time). 

 Strategies exist to handle all these obstacles. They are focused on specific fields of communication, in order to be effective in relation to the different negative reactions. 

Processes and strategies to put in place 

Knowing how to listen, to explain better  

Listening and incorporating feedback in your change processes

‘Active’ listening, meaning not passing judgement, is not an easy exercise. Giving each person the possibility to really express themselves about important changes to their workplace requires a considered approach. Therefore, certain fundamental principles must be observed: 

  • Being aware of our propensity to judge in a conversation (and avoiding any hasty judgements).  
  • Rephrasing what has been presented, to be sure of having understood. 
  • Recognising the emotions of the person talking to you.  
  • Following the conversation, without leading it.  
  • Taking the person’s feedback into account in implementing an agile process. 

Explaining the reasons for change 

Taking a step back to explain the reasons behind the implementation of agile methods is essential. This is necessary to involve all the employees, so that they understand, accept and take part in collective action. In this perspective, you must explain the limits of the current methods and how the agile approach enables you to overcome these obstacles to remain competitive. 

Offering suitable communication for each party concerned

It’s important to present the advantages that the actors in a company will find in implementing new methods. It’s just as crucial to take into account the concerns arising in this change phase. Several categories of people concerned by organisational changes can be determined: 

The directors’ team  

Advantages: best position on the market, competitive advantage and client satisfaction. 

Concerns: possible failure, implementing new practices without a guaranteed result and sometimes counter-intuitive agile approaches. 

 The managerial team 

Advantages: capacity to implement positive changes, reduced risk, team morale and improved workload. 

Concerns: reduced control, managerial role sometimes less obvious. 

The product development team 

Advantages: more effective practices, reduced bureaucracy, professional and personal balance. 

Concerns: fear that this change phase is being imposed on them. 

Each team will have specific reasons that will mean it approves or rejects agile methods. Identifying all the reasons, to then build a constructive dialogue turns out to be an essential step in the smooth running of operations. 

Understanding the levels of resistance to respond to them better 

Social psychology studies indicate that people who are resistant to change come in three categories. It is therefore possible to adapt your communication to each level of resistance. 

Level 1: confusion due to a lack of information 

This low level of resistance can be explained by the little information provided. This obstacle can be removed with information campaigns. These can take the shape of a newsletter, discussions on forums, informal conversations (for example at lunchbreak) or by offering a dedicated website. It’s important that each information medium includes the possibility of giving feedback.  

This level of resistance is higher, because it directly concerns the practice of change. It can be explained by a fear of losing an environment that has been valued up until now. Facing this problem, several strategies are recommended: 

  • Building strong professional relationships with resistant people. 
  • Understanding and accepting arguments against change. Recognising this opposition officially. 
  • Offering attentive listening and regularly recognising opposing arguments. 
  • Maintaining a constant dialogue without losing sight of the solutions that can be envisaged. 

Level 3: Tenacious resistance, beyond the change itself 

This level of resistance is surely the most difficult to confront, because it responds to personal arguments. It does not relate to the change itself, but often concerns people how have taken the decision to change practices within the company. This type of reaction is luckily quite rare but if you encounter it, the best is to prepare for lasting confrontation. In this case, here are a few recommendations to follow: 

  • Build strong professional relationships on a continuous basis. 
  • To start with, keep to micro-changes. Find themes that can lead to common understanding, in order to make initial progress. 
  • An honest confrontation, presenting the differences, is important to move forward. 
  • Involve resistant people in the new approaches that affect them. 
  • Be prepared to experience setbacks. It's not always possible to convince all employees.

Understanding these different levels of resistance enables you to adapt communication within the company, in order to remove obstacles concerning the implementation of agile methods in the company. A constant dialogue and the possibility open to everyone to give their feedback are key conditions to move forward in the dialogue.  

The agile approach and organisational changes in general require more than training and advisory phases. Those well-known soft skills will be essential. These skills enable us to tactfully gain support, while promoting cohesion between teams.  

Financial institutions are experiencing a sales and marketing revolution due to mobile applications and the phygital approach. This is a real challenge, where change shuffles the cards among newcomers and long-standing competitors. In this competition at all times, the results provided by agile methods in terms of productivity and responsiveness say a lot about a company. The latter is therefore able to adapt to constantly changing markets.