Cultural understanding is critical. Figuring out how we understand culture is a little bit more challenging. Models and frameworks help to understand the broad brush-strokes of culture. But if we want to understand the critical nuances, then we need to know the rules of how things get done. And that’s where things get complicated.
Culture shapes how things get done in organizations. It also defines what gets believed, and what we accept as truths. We create a shorthand for what’s acceptable, and we broadly understand where the lines are that we should not cross. That’s all well and good, until we actually need to challenge the truths, and consider crossing the lines. When we need to stand up and stand out, things get interesting.
It depends. It always depends. Figuring out how to approach situations, address challenges or secure decisions is some of the most difficult work that we do. We might know the outcome we want, but the challenge is successfully navigating the culture of the organization to secure the support that we need. Culture matters. Success in navigating culture means understanding how it works and figuring out how to respond. That’s easy to say, but harder to do.
Agile approaches are enjoying a very bright place in the sun. And that is to some extent deserved; they represent a very different way of working, especially when we are dealing with ill-defined problems and a need for experimentation and search. At the same time, we often define agile as needing to be different than what came before. The implication being that predecessor capabilities are inadequate, inappropriate and best relegated to the dustbin of history. The reality is very different.
Culture change is hard. And we would prefer not to deal with the hard stuff. All too often, we want to be able to define what we expect, and have behaviours and culture norms to line up behind that. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. Cultural transition is possible, but process doesn’t drive culture. Although culture will determine what process is possible.
Culture matters. That might seem obvious to say, but we tend to ignore that when it comes to process design and organizational change. We can see that when implementing process, what works depends upon context. But the challenge is reading context accurately, and making appropriate choices that work. We need to lead with culture and follow with practice, not the other way around.