The #1 Challenge with Agile is culture – Industry Research has consistently reported for years. Adaptation of a new way of working often doesn’t blend into “business as usual”. To succeed with Agile we need to understand culture and how to navigate it. And the key question is: Are you using the right culture model? Or less provocatively: How effective is the culture model you are using? Let’s examine some commonly used models and see how they compare.
The Schneider Culture Model? Nope.
Back in 2011/2012 I started to experiment with the Schneider culture model, to understand and shift organizational culture. My work and my blog post How to Make You Culture Work had a huge impact on the Agile community. (Just see how many other people use this image or have made their own version by copying the words and symbols in my diagram).
What I love about the model:
- It’s easy to understand.
- It doesn’t judge culture systems, so is makes it safer to talk about what is going on.
- It can be introduced in a workshop to create great discussions about what the culture actually is.
Why I stopped using it:
- It makes it OK to be in any given culture system – even though there are actually very clear differences in the performance of different culture systems.
- It is challenging to make a clear case for changing the culture.
The Competing Values Framework? Nope.
At a very high level one can understand this as more or less the same as the Schneider Model and has similar characteristics. My colleague Pete Behrens has a good explanation of the Advantages Competing Values Framework has vs Schneider Model. One of the advantages is that it links leadership behaviours to culture quadrants.
There is a very powerful insight shared by the authors Cameron & Quinn in “Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture: Based on the Competing Values Framework”:
“The highest performing leaders have developed capabilities and skills in each of the four quadrants.”
High performance comes from transcending and integrating these culture quadrants. Which means there is no single definition of high performance culture … it is a transcendent property with integration of all cultures. Surely there is a model that provides a clearer path…
The Laloux Culture Model? Yes!
The model comes from Reinventing Organizations – a landmark book in the development of organizations that unleash the talents of people to get astonishing results. It is a simplified and modified version of Spiral Dynamics. The book is grounded in case studies from around the world of organizations that are succeeding in a new way of working. In the diagram above, I show my variant of the model which is simplified and has a more relatable definition for Teal. Please read here for an explanation of the Laloux Culture Model.
When we map out the research findings and data we can observe very clearly that all culture systems are not actually equal. In fact, there is a clear relationship: Organizational results and worker engagement increase as trust and consciousness (or mindset) increases.
The Laloux Model is very powerful – it shows leaders very clearly that the organizational system they are responsible for is not high performing. It requires a great deal of compassion and understanding to relate this way for leaders to actually hear. But when they do hear, it activates a great deal of motivation.
Why does it work so well? One is that it is based on real company research. The other and more important one is that everyone wants to “Go Teal” after looking at the model. It sparks a desire for greatness that is needed to sustain investment in growth. It helps leaders understand that their Red/Orange culture is actually low performing. In contrast, people can walk away from Schneider or Competing Values models and feel like they are doing OK.
Note: I am not advocating that anyone “Go Teal” – that is a trap. For further insights and guidance on this, please see: How To Change Your Organizational Culture
The Sahota Culture Model? Yes!
It turns out that using the Laloux Culture Model on it’s own is not sufficient to navigate the complexity of working with organizational culture. It is great to provide motivation and desire, however, effective change requires a deeper understanding of how to understand the concept of culture itself.
The Sahota Culture Model provides a clear understanding of culture through identification of the interconnected elements that shape culture. It also highlights the need to focus not just on Structures but also on the Consciousness (or Mindset) of a system. We often fall into the trap of focusing on structures (especially process) rather than focus on the people and how they are working together. This model reminds us that it’s really about the consciousness (or mindset) and the people, not about the structures or process.
I have written extensively on organizational culture change. There are two good starting places to explore my blog posts:
You will learn How to Change Your Organizational Culture. Yes. How to Change Your Culture. It requires effort and focus. And it is possible. I have done it and leaders around the globe have applied this same information to change their culture. What follows below is an outline of the proven steps. I also include pointers to supporting resources.
1. Desire for Growth
The starting place for culture change is desire – a powerful urge to create change. Nothing less than this will result in success. So that is the starting place. Anyone interested in shifting culture needs to look inside to see what is driving them and make sure they have motivation to do the work needed. I used to subscribe to Kotter’s “Sense of Urgency” and even advocate this. I no longer do. It turns out that Urgency linked to fear and a lower level of psychological safety. This inhibits personal and organizational growth. For this key reason, “Desire” is a better choice.
Strong Desire for Growth is Essential
Organizations that have sustained organizational growth over decades see improving as part of everyday work. They invest in growth because it is important. It’s the right thing to do. Not because of urgency.
2. Understand Existing Culture
The next step is to understand your existing culture. But what is Culture? We can define it as “How we do things around here”. I have experimented with a lot of culture models and recommend the two that are proven in terms of simplicity and power. You can use them together to diagnose and your culture and orient for growth. The Sahota Culture Model provides a clear understanding of culture through identification of the interconnected elements that shape culture. It also highlights the need to focus not just on Structures but also on the Consciousness (or Mindset) of a system. We often fall into the trap of focusing on structures (especially process) rather than focus on the people and how they are working together. This model reminds us that it’s really about the consciousness (or mindset), the people, not about the structures or process. The other model that is very powerful is a modified version of the Laloux Culture Model. It may be used to assess where the organization is right now. It also has the tendency to help spark a desire for shifting to a higher performance way of working such as Green or Teal. One key reason to use this model is that it has heaps of case studies and research to support the claims of high performance. It also lines up with many other models and theories of culture and behaviour such as McGregor’s Theory X – Theory Y.
3. Create a Star on the Horizon
The next step is to look at case studies and examples of the kind of company that you want to become. There are lots of great resources such as the book “Reinventing Organizations” or Diverse Paths to High-Performance Organizational Culture. It is a good idea to use these for inspiration. The goal is to create a “Star on the Horizon” that is aligned with the desire for change. Don’t try and copy structures. Copying simply gives you the structures without the shift in culture.
Find Your Own Path.
The secret here is to find your own path. Selecting a path is primarily a function of two things: 1. The existing situation in your organization. We can only grow and evolve from the place we are at. 2. The shared desire of people to create a new future. The desire could just be top leadership, or they may co-create this with people throughout the organization.
4. Culture Grows Locally
A common misconception is that culture change is for the whole organization. It is important to understand that in most organizations culture varies by team, department, and location. It is as unique as each individual manager. So, keep in mind this key point:
Culture is a local phenomenon.
Since it is a local phenomenon, it means that it is possible to make changes locally within your part of the organization. The most common way for culture to grow is Culture Bubbles. Of course, when we do this, there will be culture gaps that create tension and challenges. The key idea for reducing the tension is to Build Culture Adapters. There will be different ways of working and different values inside the bubble and outside the bubble. The adapter idea is to reduce conflict with the rest of the organization by building adapters between the ways of working. It’s a key pattern for creating sustainable culture bubbles.
5. Leaders Go First
Culture is primarily a reflection of Leadership. What happens at the bottom of the organization is a fractal of what happens at the top of the organization. (Thanks to Glenda Eoyang for this wisdom). It is well known that the performance of a team is a direct reflection of their manager – this was proven through validated real-world research almost 20 years ago through the Gallup 12 “Engagement” Questions.
Culture Change is Not Delegable
The way to change culture is for leaders to change how they interact with people and the organizational system. A key concept here is that Organizational Behaviour Follows Leadership Behaviour. A new kind of organizational behaviour way of working requires that leaders behave in a new way of working. So successful transformation requires that Leaders Go First!
6. Leadership Growth is Required
A key lesson in my career is that the Leader is the Limit for Growth. I notice that to create high performance organizational systems, leaders needed to develop themselves as human beings. They needed to grow into the kind of leaders we see in high performance environments. This means inner work cultivating trust, safety, and connection. As leaders we need to get our egos under control so we can develop leaders around us. This is not for the faint of heart. We are talking about developing ourselves not just as leaders but as human beings. Like you, I am on this journey too. I created the 4A’s Conscious Leadership Model to capture the step-by-step approach I have been using to grow myself. It’s a powerful tool to help rewire our unconscious behaviours that are preventing us from showing up as the leader we desire to be. We are so deeply conditioned by society to have behaviours that are contradictory to high performance. Dedicated focus and effort is required to shift our habits and unconscious behaviours.
A learning organization is a place where everyone grows.
Remember the desire for organizational growth in step 1? This is where you need it. Personal growth requires a strong drive to keep up the effort. This is the secret of changing culture: All we need to do is change our behaviour and culture will follow.
It’s a Journey
The above steps are sufficient and necessary for culture change in an organization. What is shared here is the key starting elements for culture change. Or course there are a lot more details on how to do the steps outlined here and even more on supporting the journey.
You Can Do This Regardless of Your Role
Execs, managers and coaches that I have trained have successfully applied what I am sharing here. We are all leaders. We may be a leader because people report to us or we have more seniority or expertise. And we can also be a leader because of how we choose to show up.
You Can Implement This Immediately
Regardless of your role you can chose to show up NOW the way a leader of the future organization would. You have full control over your behaviour.
You don’t need permission, budget or authority.
You don’t need permission, budget or authority to start acting in ways that model high performance behaviour. All of us can shift our local culture immediately. The only limit here is your desire and your investment in developing yourself. It’s a big shift for us as leaders. Sure, we still need to support the development of people around us so that we have leaders at all levels. But this is secondary to growing ourselves to fully model the kind of organizational leader needed for the future organizational culture/organization we wish to create.
So, here are the six key steps to change your culture:
- Desire for Growth
- Understand Existing Culture
- Create a Star on the Horizon
- Grow Culture Locally
- Leaders Go First
- Leadership Growth is Required
And here are the important tips to keep in mind:
- It’s a Journey
- You Can Do This Regardless of Your Role
- You Can Implement this Immediately
- You do not need permission, budget or authority
2020 Update: It’s A Journey
It’s been two years now since I wrote the original post. I have come to realize that although the “laws of organizational dynamics” seem obvious to me, it takes time for leaders to adapt to seeing reality as it actually is. One key reason is that it can be difficult for any of us to accept the full responsibility for our role and how we are contributing to the problems we face. Another is that the existing structures and reinforcement mechanism keep people bound in the existing world view. As such a broad or at the very least localized and intense desire to change is needed to overcome the challenges faced.
We have heard from organizations that culture is hard to define and harder to change. It requires changing behaviour. How a leader shows up, how they react during a crisis and what goes on behind closed doors is what creates culture. Culture is defined by behaviour and leaders shape the collective behaviours of an organization.
One of the reasons we moved from Agilitrix to SHIFT314 is to put our work with shifting mindset or consciousness on equal footing with our organizational change work. It’s simply not possible to shift culture without developing people in deep and profound ways.
In this post, I share how to Consciously Approach Agile so we build lasting high-performance in our organizations. It’s a proven framework for creating success with Agile.
Why we need a new Approach
It is well understood in our industry that Agile is failing due to lack of attention to the organizational system and culture in particular.
- In 2012, I started publishing industry research showing Agile failure and culture challenges
- In 2016, we continue to see 80% of organizations having culture challenges
- In 2107, this continues to be a severe Agile industry challenge
Doing things the same way from the same way won’t work.
We need a new paradigm.
Consciously Approaching Agile for Lasting High Performance
I introduce an approach that I have proven through years of development and experimentation. Hundreds of students of my Certified Agile Leadership Training all over the world have validated this.
The diagram below shows how to approach Agile from a different consciousness. I will walk you through step by step how to approach change in a way that supports lasting success.
Let’s walk through the steps …
Step 1. Start with a desire for Agile (or Innovation, Digital, DevOps, Engaged Workers, etc.)
Let’s say that you want the full benefits of Agile – you want Agile to produce faster delivery, better products, or increase operational effectiveness. If you have an Agile Transformation or some Agile Initiative, this is a good starting place – there is desire and interest in improving the organization.
Note: Everything I am sharing here fully applies to Innovation, Digital, DevOps & other approaches that require a shift in mindset and culture. I am using Agile as an example since that is where I spend most of my time.
Step 2. Create an organizational and cultural context suitable for Agile
The first thing we do here is to drop the “Agile blinders” that only see things from an Agile perspective. To stop seeing things from a just a team perspective.
Instead, we look from an organizational and cultural perspective. We know Agile, Digital, etc. will flourish when we have the right organizational and cultural context.
In order to do this, we Drop Agile as goal and focus on org goals. Please refer to Agile is a Means not a Goal for a detailed explanation of why this is needed and how we may do this.
“Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast.” – Peter Drucker
When we look at the Agile Manifesto, we see that Agile is actually pointing to a culture system that supports high performance.
- In 2011, I used the Schneider culture model to articulate that Agile is about collaboration and learning (cultivation) culture.
- In 2015, I use the Laloux culture model to highlight that Agile is about engaged workers and high performance.
Success with Agile requires us to focus on culture. There is no other way. (Unless you are in one of 5% or organizations that already have an amazing culture).
3. Leaders go First
Who is responsible for creating and shifting the organizational and cultural context? Leaders! Organizational Behaviour Follows Leadership Behaviour. Culture change requires leaders who model the new behaviours and ways of working. Leaders who lead.
Most Agile initiatives have tell-tale signs that there are challenges around this. It’s not enough when we can say “We have leadership buy-in” or “We have leadership support”. That is sufficient for adoption of Agile practices. However, the culture change needed for high performance requires highly invested leaders. Places where people say “We have leaders who are inspiring us.” We need Leadership Leadership.
4. It starts with Us
In high performance organizations we see leaders at all levels. We see leaders who build other leaders around them. That where we all can play our part. Regardless of your role, lasting change starts with us. We need to examine our own behaviour and take a serious look at ourselves to see how we are shaping culture. We can only lead others when we model the new ways of working. Success requires that we model Agile at a personal level. And not just a new technique or concept.
What is required is that we actually live the Agile values. We model excellent listening, respect, collaboration, courage, etc. I have started speaking about this as Wave 2 of Agile: Living Agile and plan to write about it soon.
Do This Now
The most critical and practical thing to start Consciously Approaching Agile is to Conduct a WHY Workshop to discover the organizational drivers for Agile.
Here is a health check list so you can do a reality check. Do you and your leadership team:
- Trust each other deeply?
- Admit to making mistakes?
- Ask for help or admit limitations?
- Challenge each other to get great outcomes?
- Show they are deeply committed?
- Hold themselves and each other responsible?
- Focus on shared outcomes and not their department?
- Create leaders at all levels of the organization?
If you answered answered no for some of these, then your leadership and organizational culture would benefit from investment and focus. Another resource you can use is an earlier organizational transformation checklist.
Where to Learn More
Read my blog or join me worldwide for my unique Certified Agile Leadership Experience (CAL1) to learn a detailed playbook for how to deliver high performance in your organization.
We know that high performance organizations have a clear purpose that inspires workers.
The shared purpose is the goal everyone works toward.
So where does Agile fit in?
Is Agile the Goal?
Take a few moments to pause reading and reflect:
Is Agile a means or the end?
If you think that Agile is the goal, you are likely introducing conflict and setting up for failure.
Agile is not the Goal
Agile is a means to an end. Agile is not the goal. The goal is serving the purpose of the organization as best as possible.
Since Agile has many beneficial aspects, there are many organizations that can use Agile to serve their purpose. Agile is how we serve the purpose of the organization.
Agile as Goal = Damage
One of the biggest challenges facing the Agile community today is that we believe that Agile is the goal. It’s not about Doing Agile or Being Agile, it’s about serving the orgs purpose. Even the Agile Mindset just points us to healthier ways of being in order to serve the orgs purpose. The Agile Mindset is not the goal either.
When we have Agile as a goal, we create tension in the organization between Agile and the organizational goals. We see this all the time with an Agile change initiative that has different objectives and metrics than the managers who are running the organization!
Read More: Don’t Weaponize Agile
How to Make your Agile Initiative Succeed
A critical success factor for your Agile initiative is that you drop “Agile” as the goal.
Replace Agile with an initiative to serving the organization’s purpose. When we do this, it allows people to talk about what will lead to success – not about rules or dogma. When we do this the organizational resistance that we create with our Agile Transformation start to fall away. As it happens, we are actually the ones creating the resistance in the first place through our pushing. And push is not part of Agile, pull is.
It’s totally OK to have an Agile initiative as long as it is there to serve the organization’s goals.
Here is how it works:
- When we stop having Agile as the goal, we, we stop pushing Agile.
- When we stop pushing Agile, organizational resistance to Agile disappears.
- This is how we start to avoid Agile Failure.
See: “Why Agile” Workshop for one way to create organizational clarity.
How to Promote Agile
Success with Agile requires that we drop Agile Evangelism.This unwavering faith in Agile as the best and only way is causing harm to our industry. Evangelism is a push. Evangelism creates resistance. It prevents us from listening to what organizations really want. Once we listen to what organizations want, then we can help them with Agile as a means.
We need to coach and consult to support growth and solve problems – not push Agile.
Success is more Important than Agile
What’s more important – Agile or Success?
Don’t get me wrong: I love Agile. I am advising you to drop Agile because I want you to succeed. Success requires us to look at the bigger organizational picture and embrace it.
Here is a checklist to see if Agile may be a goal. Do you have …
- An Agile Transformation Program
- An Agile Centre of Excellence?
- Agile Evangelists?
- Different metrics for Agile and for regular business work?
- Agile coaches and managers being asked to achieve different things?
- People talking about Doing Agile or Being Agile instead of organizational outcomes?
If you answered “yes” you may have fallen in the trap of having Agile as the goal.
What you can do now
- Get clear in your own mind that Agile is a means, not the end.
- Watch your words and behaviour for signs of seeing Agile as the goal.
- Clarify what your organizational goals are.
- Look for ways Agile can support organizational goals.
- Rename and relaunch your “Agile” initiative
This stuff works!
Where to Learn More
Join me worldwide for my unique Certified Agile Leadership Experience (CAL1) to learn a detailed playbook for how to deliver high performance in your organization.