Culture and Vision form an Indelible Bond
How culture and vision lead each other to success or failure
Vision is an essential element of organizational agility. Culture is the organization’s personality. While vision is intentional, culture isn’t always so; however, the culture and vision must be consistent in order to successfully realize the vision. That frequently means that cultural changes become necessary. But what to change, and when? Let’s explore.
Culture and Vision
The idea that every organization has a culture would surprise very few people; but culture’s impact might be quite surprising. Let’s start with a fundamental understanding of culture — which consists of shared attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors within an organization. Culture is a reflection of how people interact within the organization. That interaction determines just how effectively people get things done. Culture may or may not be intentionally created, but it always exists.
Vision, on the other hand, is intentional. Vision describes how the organization sees itself in the future. So, to create a vision, someone with authority has to take the time to envision a future state, commit to that vision, and communicate it consistently throughout the organization. Vision can be localized to a team or department, or it can be large and encompass every aspect of the organization. Typically, vision comes to life as stated objectives or projects.
Culture and Vision: The Wedding
The relationship between culture and vision is symbiotic. Vision cannot be realized without an adequately supportive culture; and vision directly influences culture. To overlook this relationship can create a blind spot that jeopardizes the vision. Why? Because the vision is a relatively fixed objective, but culture is malleable and abstract. Therefore, if anything has to change in implementing the vision, it must be the culture; and changing culture is very hard.
Imagine you are on a sailboat. You’ve been out on the water all morning, and now it’s time to head back to the pier for lunch. You’re pretty hungry, so lunch is your vision and it’s at the pier. Now envision the wind and the water current are the culture. To get to lunch, you have to navigate within the wind and current, so you adjust your sails as needed to use the wind and the current to get to lunch. But, if at that time, a hurricane comes through, then nothing you can do will get you to the pier and to lunch. So we want to prepare for hurricanes in our culture.
Nothing can change until it is acknowledged. So let’s examine how to work within the Cultural Vision relationship and identify opportunities to navigate, adjust, or work around aspects of the culture in order to keep in line with the vision. The result of this alignment is that you will increase the likelihood of successfully realizing the vision. Project dysfunction tends to be quite extensive in environments where the culture is not consistent with the vision.
Agile frameworks provide an advantage in that they prescribe a value system that should be an essential part of the culture. These values are grounded in three principles: Trust, transparency, and openness. This can help to identify incompatible aspects of your culture that might be change-worthy. A great benefit of the Agile value system is that it represents two decades of proven success. The complication; however, is that these values can represent significant, even opposing values to the organization.
Addressing this complication is no small task, but progress is possible. Agile provides a foundation to help identify what might need to change within the culture. A properly executed tactical adjustment, based on a solid understanding of the Agile Manifesto, may make a significant difference in your environment with minimal resistance.
The Agile Manifesto
· Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
· Working software over comprehensive documentation
· Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
· Responding to change over following a plan
Always remember that the Agile Manifesto acknowledges value in the items on the right of each statement; but values the items on the left more. It is not meant to exclude the latter part of each statement, rather it is meant to weigh importance.
Young vs Legacy Organizations
Younger organizations tend to have an advantage over more established, legacy organizations. Since the established organizations have been around longer, they have experienced success and had time to deeply embed some characteristics into its culture. This further complicates change for established organizations, but change is possible.
Microsoft is an example of this change. When faced with serious threats from younger companies like Google and Amazon, Microsoft underwent a Culture Renovation. The company successfully re-created itself to better compete with companies that were eating into their business by radically changing its culture. Microsoft’s leadership credits this success to humility, openness, transparency, and trust.
Young companies and legacy companies do learn from each other. Wal-Mart and Amazon learn from each other. Verizon and T-Mobile learn from each other. And unfortunately, those unable to break out of their established culture increasingly find themselves shrinking each year. Agile, sometimes reduced to a flavor of the day, now has an established track record which has led to its wide regard as a model for the future.
The transition is quite hard. Like adopting any new habit, humans have a tendency to resort to the familiar when trouble arises. One of my greatest challenges as a Coach is convincing teams to resist that urge. As teams overcome new challenges, it becomes easier to keep moving forward and less appealing to fall back on past practices.
Change Agents define, design, and implement the vision. However, “Change Agent” is not a title — it is a responsibility. A Change Agent will identify aspects of the culture that impede progress toward the vision. In an Agile organization, everyone is a Change Agent.
Change Agents will confront cultural impediments throughout their work. Ideally, they address the impediment as it arises. However, a more valuable approach is to identify the cultural impediment before it arises. This can be particularly problematic when team members are embedded in the organization, or “in the weeds” so to speak. That close relationship makes it difficult to see behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes that will have an inevitable effect on the vision. So, a common strategy is to incorporate help from an experienced outside advisor who can help foresee some problems.
An Agile-Driven Culture and Vision adopts the value system defined within the frameworks to take advantage of proven success factors and give the organization a head-start when executing on a new vision. Millions of organizations around the world have experienced the benefits created by embracing trust, transparency, and openness, along with the four principles of the Agile Manifesto. Agile framework value systems have a proven ability to increase the likelihood of long-term success, improve competitiveness, grow customer satisfaction, and turn visions into realities.
Does your organization’s culture clash with its vision? How does that affect your success? Let me know by leaving a comment.