By Anton Rossouw.

I enjoyed the 1995’s semi historic and mostly fictional Epic movie Braveheart starring one of our favourite Autralian actors namely Mel Gibson originally from the Mad Max post apocalyptic smash hit.

Playing William Wallace he epitomises the inspirational, energetic, passionate and “brave-at-heart” leader who with passionate resolve and action starts a deep movement of change.

In William Wallace’s case he paves the way for the liberation of Scotland against the tyranny of King Edward “Longshanks” of England. At the end of the movie he is offered to submit to the English King but he remains stalwart with a last cry of “Freedom” that rallies emotions and energy that leads to liberation.

Movie poster :

Movie poster :

The movie also brought notions of what Agile leadership may look like  as a response to changing oppressive traditional culture, with focused alignment, surgical change, stealthy guerrilla thinking, quick delivery, rapid learning and finding new ways to attack the problems of the past. So I wondered if I can think of examples of corporate leaders that bravely face systemic and cultural challenges and remain focused to push through to enact an almost impossible transformation to an Agile culture.

I think one such leader is Partrick Eltridge, the Chief Information Officer of Telstra who embarked a couple of years ago to turn their ICT services towards Agility.

Telstra is Australia's largest telecommunications services provider as well as a huge consumer of ICT technology and labour. Many Agilists including myself have been watching Telstra's journey to Agility with frankly, a bit of skepticism.  After all, how do you get an elephant to pirhouette?

As CIO he took on the task to transform the IT services divisions to embrace an Agile mindset and practice it at the core of its culture. This was a big challenge because Telstra was commonly considered as a slow moving command-and-control driven dinosaurian like bureaucracy that told their customers what was good for them. The old IT adage ”Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” did not apply to the Telstra of yesteryear. How wrong I was!

Telstra has been on an Agile transformation journey initiated in 2010 by the then CIO John McInnerley (now at NBNCO) and implemented by his successor Patrick Eltridge, formerly the CIO of SEEK.

The change is stark because the Telstra of today is vastly different to the one of the past. It is now infused by Agility that puts customers first. However as with any enterprise change of this nature and complexity, it will take more time to perfect, but it is well on the way to achieving Agility.

How do I know this ? Because much of the intricacies and learning’s from this journey was presented at the last few Agile Australia conferences where Patrick featured as a prominent thought leader.

The 2013 Agile Australia conference offered us updates on the latest Telstra insights where Patrick contributed in an on stage interview. His leadership team (Lalitha Biddulph, Em Campbell-Pretty, and Jenny Wood) also presented inspirational stories about their journey and achievements at Telstra. 

During his interview he articulated his total focus on aligning the IT organisation with the business and their customers, changing to a culture where teams are less fearful of risk taking, and comfortably adapt to changing conditions, and feel empowered to develop their own skills and expertise. This changed the management culture to an  embracing style of leadership characterised by collaboration, openness, inclusion, and a diversity of thinking. Management is now less about control and more about leadership that foster collaboration, and trusts their teams to innovate and deliver. The approach is now all about being curious, receptive, a generalist, and ask first what the customer may want, then deliver it.

The IT press also offered articles on how focuseds Telstra approached the cultural transformation, particularly making way for a no-blame culture that encourages experimentation and learning. 

What I gained from following Patricks and Telstras journey is that if you are really passionate about Agile transformation because you know and trust deep down that it works best, and you are passionate and brave about it and put yourself forward as a leader, then you will change practices, minds and hearts at deep cultural levels which will delight your  stakeholders and customers.

And as a bonus you get the elephant to pirouette!