Culture eats strategy for breakfast. – Peter Drucker
If this is the case, why is Change Management, an effort to address the Cultural underpinnings of Change Initiatives, often seen as wasteful?
We think about the technology, battle over price and then completely ignore that the technology being introduced is the “strategy” part of Drucker’s statement. What about the Culture?
Perhaps one of the reasons we have to re-learn this lesson is because we constantly forget. Remembering the last implementation that lost out to Culture is like remembering the first two years of your child’s life.
Everyone generally remembers that it sucked, but no one can point to the details. They have somehow vanished.
As for why implementations often fail, it is certainly possible that the solution may not have met the success criteria. It’s possible. But a more plausible explanation requires us to dig a bit deeper — the success criteria was a mask for a foundational blocker preventing new technologies from being introduced. In all likelihood, the implementation probably challenged some cultural norms. What often happens is that Culture refuses to take on something new, and instead of blaming itself, it blames technology.
So knowing this, it’s time to look at the cultural norms. How often are new technologies or innovations embraced in your Organization? When was the last time a new technology challenged the norms – the way things were or are in your Company – and won?
To dive deeply into Cultural norms, I would suggest the following steps before taking on a Culture-challenging change initiative.
Step 1 – Identify Your Hostile Architecture
Hostile Architecture is an urban design strategy that purposely guides or restricts human behavior. You’ve likely seen completely unnecessary metal brackets added to anything a Skateboarder might attempt to use to prevent Tony Hawk from lingering too long in the neighborhood.
I haven’t met an organization that doesn’t have some hostile architecture – things intended to inconvenience Change in an organization. What is the Hostile Architecture in your Organization?
Do structures in your Culture keep innovation out? What foundational pillars or organizational structures are in place that prevents new technologies and new ideas from entering your Organization? Are teams built to promote “siloed thinking” and an unnecessarily competitive landscape? Are people kept too busy to help coworkers in different lines of business? Do Executives (accidentally or not) create a Culture where teams try to avoid selection on Cross-team initiatives (and instead protect their teams exclusively)?
Step 2 – Identify the Ghosts in the Machine
Since the dawn of computers, there have been random strings of code. Occasionally, these random strings cause errant issues; no matter how hard people try to remove them, they remain. These random strings are referred to as ‘Ghosts in the machine.’
Simplify it when looking at your company culture and assessing what ‘Ghosts in the machine’ might have to do with cultural norms. Undoubtedly, lingering ideas and beliefs are slowing you down — baggage from the beginning of your Company’s creation.
What is the thinking in your Culture built to keep innovation out? Are new employees shown the ‘right’ way? Put another way, are new employees meant to feel “less than.” What systems or beliefs have you held onto that block new technologies and new ideas from pushing the Culture forward?
References and Resources
Reboot by Jerry Colonna
Originally Posted September 5, 2019