Why C-levels might refuse Agile and Product-oriented approaches?

Dim Blinov
6 min readAug 29, 2023

Refusals by top management to implement organizational transformations can stem from a variety of reasons, which often interplay and vary depending on the specific context of the organization and its leadership. There can be several reasons why CEOs and C-level directors might agree with the need for a product-oriented approach, discovery cycles, and hypothesis validation but fail to demonstrate their support through real actions and behavior.

  1. Risk and Uncertainty — the fear of potential negative consequences.
  2. Possible reputation risk in case of failure.
  3. Lack of Visible Results and Quick Wins. Unrealistic Expectations.
  4. Negative Impact on Productivity.
  5. Skepticism from Past Failures and Change Fatigue.
  6. Perceived current industry fit and Lack of Role models.
  7. Lack of Vision or Clarity of the Need.
  8. Agreement in theory but No support due to Lack of Understanding.
  9. Perceived Complexity of Implementation.
  10. Fear of Losing Control and Influence.
  11. Lack of Alignment with Personal Goals.
  12. Personal Interest and Politics.
  13. Organizational Inertia and Status Quo Bias.
  14. Resource Constraints.
  15. Cultural Barriers and Inertia.
  16. External Factors and Pressure.
  17. Managers’ Lack of Time.
  18. Communication Breakdown.

18 impediments

Risk and uncertainty — the fear of potential negative consequences.

Large-scale transformations and implementing a product-oriented approach with iterative cycles and hypothesis validation involve changes to an organization’s structure, processes, and culture, and can disrupt existing processes. Leaders might be unwilling to take on the associated risks and hesitant to embrace approaches that might not guarantee immediate success. They might fear disruptions to ongoing projects, potential financial losses, and the unknown outcomes of the transformation.

Possible reputation risk in case of failure.

Executives could be worried that a rushed or poorly executed agile transformation could damage the company’s reputation, both internally and externally, if it leads to project failures or employee dissatisfaction.

Lack of Visible Results and Quick Wins. Unrealistic Expectations.

  • Agile transformations are often long-term endeavors, often require a significant upfront investment of time, resources, and effort. The benefits might not be immediately visible.
  • CEOs and C-level directors are often under pressure to deliver short-term financial results and meet immediate business goals. Thus, they prioritize activities that offer quicker returns over longer-term strategies like product development and discovery.
  • If top management is primarily focused on short-term results, they might hesitate to commit resources to long-term initiatives that might not yield immediate returns.
  • Expectations for rapid and immediate results from agile transformations might not be aligned with the reality of the process. Executives might need education on the gradual nature of agile improvements.

Negative Impact on Productivity.

  • The initial stages of an agile transformation can lead to a temporary decrease in productivity as teams adjust to new ways of working. Executives might worry about the short-term impact on outputs and financial results.

Skepticism from Past Failures and Change Fatigue.

  • If the organization has attempted transformations in the past that didn’t yield desired results, there might be skepticism about trying again. Past failures can lead to a “once bitten, twice shy” mentality. If the organization has recently undergone other major changes, executives might worry about overwhelming employees with yet another transformation. Change fatigue can lead to decreased morale and resistance.

Perceived current industry fit and Lack of Role models.

  • In some industries, traditional hierarchical structures and processes might still seem like the norm.
  • Executives might hesitate to adopt Agile practices if they perceive that such practices are not well-aligned with the industry’s standards or practices.
  • If there are no successful examples of these approaches within the organization or in the industry, executives might be skeptical about their effectiveness and hesitate to champion them.

Lack of Vision or Clarity of the Need.

  • If top management lacks a clear understanding of the need for transformation or a well-defined vision of what the future state should look like, they may resist making changes. Without a compelling rationale or a clear roadmap, the benefits of transformation might not be apparent to them.

Agreement in theory but No support due to Lack of Understanding.

  • Agile methodologies can be quite different from traditional management approaches. While executives might intellectually understand the importance of these approaches, they might lack a deep understanding of how these methodologies work, how they will impact the organization, and how to implement them effectively.
  • This could lead to a disconnect between their agreement in theory and their ability to support these practices in practice.

Perceived Complexity of Implementation.

Transformation can be perceived as complex and difficult to implement, especially in large organizations with multiple departments and teams. Management might resist due to concerns about its feasibility.

Fear of Losing Control and Influence.

  • In some cases, executives might want to maintain a sense of control and authority over decision-making.
  • A product-oriented approach can empower cross-functional teams and distribute decision-making authority, which might challenge the traditional hierarchy that some executives are accustomed to.
  • Some executives might hesitate due to concerns about losing a degree of control over project outcomes and team activities.

Lack of Alignment with Personal Goals.

  • Even if the executives agree in principle, there might be misalignment in terms of their personal beliefs, priorities, or incentives. If they don’t see a clear link between these approaches and their personal goals, they might not prioritize them.

Personal Interest and Politics.

  • Existing power dynamics and personal interests within the top management team can play a role. If some leaders feel that the transformation could threaten their positions or influence, they might resist it to maintain the status quo.

Organizational Inertia and Status Quo Bias.

  • Organizations naturally develop routines and ways of doing things. Organizations that have been successful with traditional methods might be resistant to change due to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.
  • Executives might question the need for agile if things have been working reasonably well. Change can be met with resistance simply because it disrupts established norms and habits.

Resource Constraints.

  • Transformation initiatives often require financial, human, technological resources, and additional training, coaching, and new tools.
  • If these resources are already stretched thin or are committed to other projects, management might be concerned about the financial and time investments and resist taking on more.

Cultural Barriers and Inertia.

  • Agile transformations often require a shift in organizational culture. Cultural change takes time and effort, and rushing it could lead to negative consequences.
  • If the proposed transformation contradicts the existing culture or values, the organization has a history of traditional, top-down decision-making and a lack of emphasis on experimentation, it can be challenging to shift the culture towards a more product-oriented mindset.
  • Employees and even middle management might resist these changes, and executives might worry about managing this resistance effectively.

External Factors and Pressure.

  • Economic instability, industry trends, or competitive pressures can influence management’s decision-making. Stakeholders, including investors and customers, might prefer stability and predictability.
  • If the external environment is uncertain, executives could feel pressure to maintain the status quo to satisfy these stakeholders and might be reluctant to embark on transformations.

Managers’ Lack of Time.

  • C-level executives often have demanding schedules and numerous responsibilities. They might acknowledge the value of these approaches but struggle to allocate the time required to actively participate and support them.

Communication Breakdown.

  • Sometimes, the communication between different levels of the organization breaks down. The executives might not fully understand how their actions (or lack thereof) are perceived by teams on the ground. Similarly, the teams might not be effectively conveying the importance of these approaches to the higher-ups.

Conclusion

Overcoming these hesitations often requires a combination of clear communication, education, piloting, clear alignment on the benefits and goals of the transformation, involvement of key stakeholders in the planning process, addressing concerns about risks and resources, fostering a culture that embraces change and innovation, and demonstrating the value of these approaches through small-scale successes. Help executives understand that agile transformations are not just about adopting a new methodology, but about creating a more adaptable, collaborative, and customer-focused organization. It’s important to create an environment where the leadership team sees the tangible benefits of these practices and feels comfortable supporting them wholeheartedly.

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