One of the classic change anti-patterns from time immemorial is the pronouncement from on high that “we are going to be  _____” — you fill in the blank. I have seen this pattern repeated over and over across my career.  I will even admit to having been a participant in programs based on this antipattern. Reflecting on pronouncement driven change, I would suggest that most of these changes have no long term staying power. Almost every change in this category declared “done” failed as soon as leadership attention moved on. The force of the pronouncement that “we are agile” was never enough to sustain change. Legitimacy is a critical component for why change programs or transformations flame out or survive after the victory party.

Legitimacy is a term I have been familiar with for most of my life; I collected coins, comics, and beer paraphernalia. The term legitimacy is used when talking about whether a piece is what its owner claims. Recently I began to consider a different definition of legitimacy. In political science the term has a different or at least more nuanced meaning. Legitimacy is the popular acceptance and recognition of a regime’s right to govern. C Level executives often have an intrinsic belief that authority confers legitimacy. Part of my research was listening to an episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History, The Limits of Power. The podcast discussed the impact of legitimacy on the troubles in Northern Ireland. In a nutshell, the British Commander at the time did not establish his legitimacy across the whole population and relied on a theory that force would suffice to effect change.  In Gladwell’s analysis, force exacerbated the problems. Without legitimacy change is difficult at best. While an agile transformation or an implementation of the TMMi does not rise to the level of the Troubles we can reflect on the impact of a failure to establish legitimacy and an over reliance on top down edicts.

According to the UN Commission on Human Rights publication, Good Governance Practices For The Protection Of Human Rights, legitimacy requires the presence of several key attributes:

  1. Transparency,
  2. Responsibility,
  3. Accountability,
  4. Participation, and
  5. Responsiveness.

Organizational change management is a governance process. It is the perspective of most agile practitioners that Governance, in corporate environments, no longer works well when based on top-down command and control methods. Change programs, such as agile transformations, have to either establish or leverage the legitimacy of a leader and then must help sustain it.

Current Projection of the Legitimacy and Agile Transformations Arc:

  1. Key Attributes of Governance Leading to Legitimacy
  2. Establishing Legitimacy
  3. Leveraging and Sustaining Legitimacy