Change Culture, Not Process
Updated: Apr 7
Usually, when people think of business agility, what comes to mind are processes, like Scrum or eXtreme Programming or some other IT methodology.
But agile isn’t a process or methodology. It’s a mindset. It’s about continuous learning.
That’s why we frame agile as a way of thinking, the values and principles behind what we do. If you approach agile as a process, that’s the only place your journey will take you—just another thing to do. But when you approach agile as a set of cultural habits, your organization’s journey of agile transformation can change everything.
Here’s the difference.
Process change < > Cultural change
Focusing on process and technology < > Focus on people
Cascading decisions < > Shared vision
Training < > Educating
Communication < > Buy-in
Compliance < > Commitment
So how do we transform our organization's culture?
Culture is the result of your entire organizational ecosystem.
First, think about culture as the result of our entire organizational ecosystem—the sum total of our leadership, people, strategies, processes, and structures.
Culture is both shaped by and shapes these elements. It’s the container that holds these elements in balance with each other. And an aligned culture is where this ecosystem works in harmony.
Say your organization’s leadership style is command-and-control and that this approach aligns with your strategies and measures of success. Then your structures are designed to promote this command-and-control style. Your policies, procedures, and processes support it. And the people in your organization believe that a command-and-control culture is best. Everything’s in harmony: Your culture’s aligned.
Now let's say this command-and-control culture tries to adopt agile as a process.
Teams adopt agile by introducing more collaborative processes and practices—daily stand-ups, group estimation, collaborative planning, and team rooms. But they’re only changing the process. This throws their organizational culture out of whack. Processes are pushing towards collaboration, but the remaining elements of the culture remain in command-and-control.
This often happens when leaders’ values and habits don’t change to become more collaborative. Or systems don’t encourage new collaborative processes. Either way, any change that doesn’t affect culture is unsustainable. Eventually, people’s cultural behaviors will push back on these new processes, and they line back up with the other elements.
If you try changing one or two elements but don’t bother changing everything else, except the same results. Your culture’s like a rubber band. It’ll snap back against any unbalanced pressure placed on it.
Successful transformations are cultural. Your organization’s culture needs to change. The only way to do that? Change all the elements that make up your organization’s ecosystem—together. As a shared journey.
More on that soon.