Recently, we were approached by a company asking for support and inspiration on how to get a more agile company culture. They had ambitions to transform their organization and implement agile ways of working. They figured they had the organizational and governance structures in order, working well already. What they did want though was to better understand what measures to take in order to get a real change towards a more agile culture and mindset.
The message they conveyed was: “We have come quite far when it comes to structure and steering and there is usually no more than two people you need to convince in the organization to be able to start an initiative. So, we don’t have the same problems as others regarding, for example, slow decision making or unclear mandates.”
Hence the focus for us was to address culture and mindset more isolated. But we asked ourselves – is that even possible? What is it that actually builds up the company culture and create agile mindsets?
Characteristics of an agile mindset
So, first thing first – what do we mean with a more agile culture and mindset? What is it that we are aiming to achieve? Well from our perspective, an agile mindset has a number of characteristics; a strive for continuous improvements, openness to try new things, high focus on learning, and the will to embrace challenges. This is the opposite of having little desire to change or improve, sticking to what you know, having a desire to look smart, and trying to avoid challenging situations and ideas.
We see it as a shift from a fairly static, command, and control type of culture to a business agility culture that constantly challenges the status quo and seeks to learn and evolve.
But how do we get there? How do we change the culture? Since the culture is tightly connected to the people within the company and their behaviors, you could assume that this would be a good place to start. We all know that changing behaviors takes time, so can we shift the company culture by replacing some of its people, bringing in people with the “right” attitude?
But from our experience, the culture is not a direct result of the personality of the people in the company.
One CEO that we talked to reflected: “Half of our employees & leaders were recruited to us in the last three years and we were expecting the new people to come in, do things differently, and create a change in our culture. But instead, the new people soon started to act like the employees already there.”
So, eureka! Culture isn’t primarily a result of which people you have in an organization. Nor is it a result of the company expressing in words what it wants the culture to be like. Neither is the culture built up by people reading and understanding the company values.
An operating model designed for business agility will shape the culture
Our conclusion: it’s not the people, it’s the system! The culture of an organization is foremost a result of people’s behavior, driven by a system of four very concrete and tangible areas of an operating model. In the end, this is what really drives people’s behavior every day in an organization, thus shaping the culture.
Governance and steering – moving away from top-down steering where managers set strategies and targets that are cascaded down into functional silos, towards autonomous teams driven by shared values and principles where all teams collaboratively develop overarching strategies and objectives.
Leadership and roles – moving away from functional managers as the only decision-makers, micro-managing and delegating tasks, towards servant leaders that are available for the teams, removing obstacles and providing vision, direction, and purpose to the organization.
Organizational structure – moving away from traditional functional silos making it hard to collaborate, towards an organization fully made up of a network of teams that have the ability to reshape itself to maximize value delivery.
Common Ways of working – we want to evolve from a lack of common ways of working, with a high focus on the individual and functional delivery, towards fully established lean-agile ways of working with established routines for continuous improvements.
How to move the needle and get a culture and mindset effect
Evolving within these four areas will make wonders with your culture. You can see it as a mixer table where you can tune in the best music – with yourself and your transformation- or the leadership team as the DJ’s controlling the levers. The areas above are the treble, base, and equalizer of your organization and the concrete actions you take in each area are the levers you push and pull. If you do enough changes and move the levers in harmony with each other, towards business agility, you will see an effect in the culture and mindset.
But the culture is just that, the result you get from elevating the maturity within the other areas - not a lever itself. You will not see a lasting effect on the company culture if you only do activities and initiatives with the sole purpose to affect the culture, such as team discussion exercises or rolling out new company core values. Without changing the concrete mechanisms that the employees live with and have to navigate through on a daily basis, those kinds of actions will fall flat.
So, bring out your inner DJ spirit and start moving the levers towards business agility in your company. But do it as a real DJ and keep a headphone to your ear, to make sure the music plays out as intended. As always when applying an agile mindset, you need to adhere to the core principle of testing something out and then learning from the results and feedback - build, measure, learn.
Agile Transformation Consultant
Connect with me: Linked In
Agile Transformation Consultant
Connect with me: Linked In