Waves of Change

Driving sustained change requires matching culture with execution. Behaviour is a reflection of culture but it is also reinforced by culture. Culture is the memory of the organisation of ‘how things are done around here.’ Culture is embossed in in the methods we use in meetings, the language we use to succeed in a pitch and the behaviour we think we can get away with. As we relate to the culture in our organisations we find our behaviour aligns with it. We act in order to be successful as we are caught up in the evolutionary tide of the organisation. This is a dialectical relationship where the ground of successful action is laid by past …. And contradictions are resolved by collective sense making.

In organisations driving DevOps transformations there is a great deal of focus on culture change. However, often the work on culture trumps everything else. As we work with our teams and evangelise the idea of creating real customer value, seeing the product of our labour in live production and operating at high velocity, we spend so much time getting change weary professionals to believe in the change that we can ignore execution. Remember this: without execution the promises we make in changing the culture (to a new way of ‘doing things around here’) are broken. This lack of credibility of management action, a lack of alignment between promises and execution is what created change fatigue that we find in so many large enterprises.

Does work on culture come before execution or after? Which is culture and which is execution in the diagram below? In other words, do we start preparing the organisation with inspirational discussions of what is possible before we start actually doing it?In my experience, both approaches can work, but the gap between culture and execution must be small if culture precedes execution.

In this context execution refers to putting a full stack team together and starting to create an example of what a high velocity organisation actually looks like. This approach is described using my ELSA model here.

Too often, ‘work on culture’ can begin and end as a communication strategy, complete with posters and videos, or be an exercise in corporate storytelling that never finds its ground in the company itself.