Posts tagged culture
The Advice Process

Last time we looked at some of the problems organisations face around decision making using traditional top down or consensus based techniques. We also introduced the idea of collaborative non consensus as a decision making technique - where everyone can discuss the decision but not everyone has to agree to the decision for it to be ratified. These can range from fairly simple systems where people can say “yes”, “no” or "can live it it" which allows them to raise an objection but not veto the whole decision, right up to fairly involved systems based around the idea of principles and objections - objections based not on just not liking an idea but on violating some fundamental principle that the organisation lives by.

While principled systems work well for organisations that are deeply in touch with their principles, other organisations may need a more structured approach. One such approach is the Advice Process which was developed at an organisation called AES many years ago and was documented in Frederic Laloux's wonderful book Reinventing Organisations. The Advice process is a simple, structured decision making process that involves 4 steps -

  • Deciding who decides

  • The Proposal

  • Seeking Advice

  • The Decision

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Agile Culture Part 5B - How To Enhance Safety

Last time we started to look at safety and what that could mean for your organisation. We looked at some historic disasters (and there are many more than those BTW, I wasn't short of examples) and how a lack of safety played into those. We also started to look at what we could learn from those disasters about the sorts of safety issues that could be lurking in your organisation. Today we'll continue looking at safety and how we can start to build a culture based on respect and trust. Before I do though, I should show you just how prevalent safety problems are in the workplace, because you may well be thinking "that can't be my organisation". Guess what, it probably is.

In 2018, The Australian Workplace Psychological Safety Survey canvassed 1,176 Australian employees and found that: 

Only 23 per cent of lower income-earning frontline employees felt their workplace was “psychologically safe” to take a risk, compared to 45 per cent of workers on significantly higher incomes.
A “psychologically safe” workplace is characterised by a climate of interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people feel comfortable being themselves to make mistakes or take risks in their work.

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Agile Culture Part 5 - Enhancing Safety

So far we have looked at four of the five aspects of agile culture:

  • Supportive leadership

  • Striving for quality

  • Becoming a Learning Organisation

  • Enabling people

If an organisation can embrace those four they will truly be an agile organisation. So if all they need are those four, why is there a fifth? The fifth aspect, Enhancing Safety, is in the list because without it none of the others can happen. Without a sense of safety, you won't get supportive leadership, you won't get a focus on quality, you won't get learning and you certainly won't get enabled people. What you will get is what you probably have now - people doing exactly what they are told, not asking questions, not challenging, not pushing boundaries, not setting challenging goals and escalating all decisions upwards. You will get an organisation that is risk averse (that's not a good thing BTW... a lot of organisations brag about being risk averse, what they really mean is that they manage risk carefully; being risk averse means being afraid to take any risks at all, like new products, innovation of any kind, process improvements...), ossified and incapable of change.

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Agile Culture Part 2 - Strive For Quality

Last time we looked at supportive leadership and how that can really let people in an organisation become empowered.That feeling of empowerment will vanish pretty quickly if they feel that they just aren't achieving good results. Nothing is more demotivating than feeling that you have worked all day and achieved nothing, or made things worse. This is where quality comes in. People need to feel that they are doing a quality job to be really happy. Pride in your work is one of the biggest motivating factors out there. Quality is also great for an organisation. After all, if it's not producing quality, how likely is it to stay in business long term?

Now, when I mentioned quality, I'm betting a bunch of you immediately thought about things like defects, and testing, That's what most people associate with quality - building the thing right. But that's not all there is to quality. By itself, building the thing right only ensures that what you build is defect free. Is it the right thing? Building the right thing is an even more important aspect of quality. And what about the way we build it? Is it quality if our processes are bad so that what we build is late to market or too expensive? An organisation needs to consider all 3 aspects of quality before they can really say that they are producing a quality product. 

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Agility Culture

Over the last few posts we have looked at the four key things that organisations need to do in order to become agile - Distributed Decision Making, Execution Efficiency, Measure what Matters, Inspect and Adapt. In each of those I make brief mention of an "agile culture" that enables them. It's now time to take a deeper look at that agile culture and see what it is.

What is an agile culture? To me the culture is a set of organisational behaviours that enable agility to flourish. If you think about two garden beds - one has poor soil, little sun and get no attention. The other has good soil, plenty of water and lots of sun. If you plant identical plants into each bed, which one will do better (and it's probably best not to ask my wife about flannel flowers at this point - a lovely Australian native plant that flourishes on neglect in rocks by the side of the road but curls up its toes and dies when lovingly tended in our garden)? Agile culture is the well tended garden bed that lets agility thrive. All too often we see agility struggling - thin and weedy, straggly yellow leaves. That's because the culture wasn't there to support it.

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Changing culture is easy - just change what you measure

As an agile coach I am always pushing for cultural change. That's what agile is really - it's not a delivery mechanism, it's a fundamental change in the culture of an organisation. What do we mean by organisational culture? There are many definitions but the one that I like is that culture is a shared understanding of values. It's the understanding everyone has of what the organisation thinks is important. Culture drives behaviour - people will seek to maximise what is considered important in the culture and will behave in ways that do that.

The problem of course is that, as anyone will tell you, cultural change is hard. CEOs are tasked with changing culture and spend years failing to do it. People say that the only way to change culture is to change all the people. Or that cultural change only happens when a generation of employees retire. I don't agree. Cultural change is really easy. You just need to let people know what the organisation values. "Hang on", I hear you say, "Just wait a minute. Organisations have been putting out statements for years about what they want in their new culture. People can often quote chapter and verse from the CEO's latest values statement. Millions are spent on flashy communications. And nothing changes."

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