Bulletin 4 January 2019. A culture of change, or a change of culture?

The more that things… oh never mind


It’s happened again. There I am, on a call with a well-recognised technology company in its space, with a solution to a problem faced by numerous organisations. We’re talking through the challenges it solves, how simple it is to deploy, the benefits it brings… and then I ask, perhaps naively, a question about what else needs to be in place in order for it to, well, work. 

“It does require a change of culture,” says the spokesperson, to my complete lack of surprise but immediate thought of, yes, what was I thinking? Of course it does — require a change of culture, that is. And of course, that is the hardest thing of all. 

We shouldn’t blame ourselves. Humans are creatures of habit, and in these complex, ever-changing modern times, life can be more about coping strategies than any level of progression. We do the jobs we have always done, not because we want to but because there barely seems to be time to think about doing it any other way. 

And, when the going gets tougher, we try to take (back?) more control. I remember how, as an IT manager in the early Nineties, I decided it was a good idea to log out anybody who had left their workstation switched on over lunch. That’ll show them, I thought, and never mind if they lost unsaved work, at least we were more secure. 

In hindsight, I was both increasing business risk (which I think I’ve written about before), and reacting in a knee-jerk manner to the fact I was struggling to manage everything in front of me. Many of the things I did in that period were beneficial: setting standards, implementing processes and so on, but logging people out wasn’t one of them. 

I’ve also written about just how complex businesses can be. You don’t have to work for a massive company for it to be (seemingly) overburdened with conflicting information, multiple ways of doing things, minor disagreements, politics and fire fighting. But any one of these things can slow any efforts to change to a standstill. 

Which is where cognitive dissonance and bias come in. I have not experienced childbirth but I can only assume, given just how painful it is reputed to be, that our capacity for denial is second to none — otherwise the one-child policy would need no enforcement. 

A similar mechanism may be at play for any individual who has worked through the trauma of organisational change. We can come out with platitudes and mantras about communication and collaboration, but any facilitator who has experienced getting people to actually talk to each other will know just how much of a wonder it can be.  

And so, be it data-driven decision making, or agile development, or continuous learning, or digital-first, or any other term that consulting firms spout, each can be hamstrung from the outset by a lack of ability to actually change. 

The strange thing is, that’s not how it’s presented. What we should be doing is leading with this, fundamental cultural aspect. “Can your organisation change?” we should ask. “No? Well, don’t bother reading further, don’t install any new software or engage anyone until you feel you can. Then, once you’re confident, we shall talk.”

Makes perfect sense, yet again and again, we start from the point of view, nay forlorn hope that this time, things might be different. We read the white papers, we engage the consultants and we find, yet again, that we can’t be like Jimmy or Jill down the road, you know, that person who seems to be able to do everything. 

And, meanwhile, organisations that are able to change keep on doing so, and wonder what all the fuss is about. At least until they reach a certain point, having believed they would not be susceptible for so long they took their eye off the ball. At which point, they become much like any other. And round we go again. 

No articles this week, as normal service is still being resumed. A very happy new year to you, and thanks for reading. 

Jon

Bulletin 4 January 2019. A culture of change, or a change of culture?

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