In An Organizational Change, Culture Comes Last

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In An Organizational Change, Culture Comes Last

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Here at LeadingAgile, we have a specific cycle for achieving organizational transformation. In short, to make real substantive change, you need to attack the following dimensions

  1. Organizational Structure: 
  2. Processes, Practices, Policies
  3. Cultural Beliefs

…in exactly that order. That’s right, when you go to change an organization for the better, you need to do the culture part last.

“But wait, Jesse. Isn’t culture the most important ingredient of an organization? What about the phrase ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’? Why not do the most important thing first?”

I’ve been coaching this to my clients for a while, but in the past few months it has become painfully evident to me that Rule Number Zero for “going agile” is to have stable team rosters. One of my clients has the habit of shuffling people from one project to another, with no notice. When I started talking to them about the mechanics of user stories or other such details, they simply couldn’t care less; they were overwhelmed and tired from getting yanked around. A different client actually KNEW they had to re-organize their teams to be more focused. But while senior management was busy socializing the new org chart for 4 months, the teams were thrashing, fully convinced that management didn’t have the fortitude to effect any kind of real change.

Some of my colleagues think that if you go straight to modifying the cultural mindset of the leadership team, you will get the momentum you need for lasting results. But the problem is you can’t get there from here. There is a known, methodical process for changing people’s mental models. Specifically, consider that the same process applies for people struggling with personal dysfunction. Think about it. To achieve behavior modification,

  1. First, get out of the environment that enables the dysfunction, and get into a support structure
  2. Then, leverage that support structure to work through a 12-step program
  3. ONLY THEN, can you introspect and self-actualize yourself as the new person

Granted, it is an iterative cycle:

  • Change one small environmental thing =>
  • to create the space to change one small process =>
  • which slightly shifts my confidence based on a known track record =>
  • which motivates me to make another environmental tweak…

But the point here, is that the iterative cycle of behavior modification is that you can NOT change a belief system, until you first have some positive behavioral evidence, which only happens after you create a safe and stable operational environment.

What about you? Have you seen the latest mission statement, management fad, or feel good effort yield zero results in your day to day work?


Published at DZone with permission of Mike Cottmeyer , DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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