I was reading an article the other day from one of the big consultancy firms about organisational culture and why cultural change efforts fail.
Honours degrees get you the prestige, but they don’t buy the experience: I swear these big consultancies haven’t ever been on the ground in the workplace because a lot of what is said is nonsense.
Their number 1 reason why cultural change fails was “Leaders lack commitment”.
I hear similar comments from the agile community when I ask why agile isn’t working in certain organisations.
The people don’t buy into the change, they’re not committed.
I don’t buy any of that. To me, that’s just not true.
Leaders want to make change, they want things to improve. They want a thriving culture that people want to be a part of.
If those leaders aren’t following through with their commitment to change that culture their intuition is telling them something.
Just like the people who challenge agile ways of working - something isn’t aligning for them.
Let’s step back a second.
What is culture?
If we go by the dictionary definition its the collection of beliefs, values and methods of interaction that create the environment.
So when we talk about agile culture we usually talk about:
Trust, empowerment - the ability to make decisions.
The ability to pivot and respond to change.
To be adaptable and emergent.
To work collaboratively as teams and have a psychologically safe space for people to say what they want.
For work to be fun.
This is all great stuff and no good leader is going to disagree with any of this.
But there’s a problem.
All of these values and beliefs aren’t what sell agile to the Exec.
That sales pitch is more about how the organisation can build the right things, get faster feedback, increase the quality of their products and deliver earlier and more predictably.
It’s the other side of culture:
Results and performance. Commitment, ownership and accountability.
Because at the end of the day, that’s what pays the bills.
So the real question is, how can we build systems that optimise for both sides of the cultural equation.
We want a culture where people love coming to work, and we need to balance that with building a business that is economically viable.
In our experience at Agilicist across a wide range of clients from different industries, the biggest impediment to creating this type of balanced culture is the presence of dependencies.
We don’t believe that Agile transformations should be about large scale process adoption - just because everyone runs scrum won’t make the problems disappear.
We don’t believe that Agile transformations are about wide-spread culture change - everyone having the ‘right’ mindset won’t manifest high performance.
Agilicist believe that successful Agile transformations are about breaking dependencies at scale. It’s about understanding the end to end flow of value and cultivating an environment that allows teams to operate with agility.
It’s a systems approach that leads to organisational agility.
So when you feel Leadership aren’t committed to changing the culture, perhaps ask yourself why?
It’s probably because they don’t see the kind of uplift in performance that would allow them to relax the compensating controls that have been put in place to ensure the stability of the business.
The number 1 reason why culture change fails isn’t leadership’s lack of commitment; it’s a failure to implement the right kind of change, one that encompasses both trust and results.
Agility is a journey and culture comes last.