The world is changing in huge strides, and if we believe that we already understand how it works, we will quickly stop understanding it. This will have a direct effect on our abilities and our intentions. Culture change, like all change, is a never-ending process. We are always trying to adjust to a new business strategy, a new challenge from our customers or competition or to something that the world brings us (pandemics, wars, commodities prices, fx, among others to come), which is a never-ending journey.

This does not mean that we are going to change the culture every six months — it means that from time to time we must find new ways to express the fundamental values we have. We need to learn new ways to express who we are. This can change according to context or situation. For example, in the pandemic which was a monumental surprise for everyone, the value of caring for people didn’t change for most companies, but the way to do this and express it skillfully, did need to change a lot.

4 things to improve in your organization to make it more competitive

Within organizations, we mostly do four things every day. We meet, we talk, we decide and we implement things. If we improve the quality of these four things, our ability to outperform our
competitors increases hugely.

At the center of this four resides a great obstacle to change and adapt effectively: the difficulty of having effective challenging conversations. This can be something as simple as telling the truth with honesty and respect and sharing ideas without fear of reprisals or of being written off as unrealistic, or too “soft”. In order to have productive conversations — where everyone is present in mind, body and spirit — we need to get to grips with a dynamic that changes everything.

Before beginning to deliver the content (topic), we must create the context (who, why, where), and —
before even that — we must be able to connect with what is true for us with the other people present. If we can openly speak about what is really going on, it will help us more quickly adjust to new situations and express our values, and what we think should be the new way of working or responding to a specific challenge.

How to adjust our culture to new situations?

When we talk about adjusting our culture to new situations, there are usually three ways in which
organizations respond to it:

  1. Seeing the changes too late (can still have a delayed reaction)
  2. Thinking and seeing ahead (scenario planning)
  3. Being fast enough to respond as soon as you see something

Having the capacity to react in either of the latter two ways is also an expression of the culture: Do you
have a culture in which you are always seeing ahead, even when things go well? Are you creating
potential scenarios and seeing culture as a never ending creative process — where this is a part of the exercise you do frequently?

The potential of cultures that challenge the status quo

Cultures that create habits that allow to challenge the status quo and systems and processes in place that can change over time, are less likely to miss the train and react too late.

However, currently, it is much more important to be agile than to do scenario planning. It was very hard to predict the pandemic for anyone, and our future is unfolding at rapid speed, so putting all of our energy into planning what the future will look like is likely not a wise bet. Becoming a fast and agile company that can see what’s happening and react to that quickly can be much more effective in the current times.

How to become an agile company

Becoming an agile company with a fast-reacting culture can be helped by some key tenets:

  • Don’t resist the hard facts: look at them as information, then decide quickly how to respond. Wasting time resisting hard facts or arguing over whatever is true right could be a key blocker.
  • Look for progression instead of perfection: Learn from experience and get better instead of
    trying to get everything perfect before you respond.
  • Cascade fast: Have a system in which you can communicate, share and implement the new way
    pretty fast. We don’t have years to make the changes happen, then let’s create a culture for fast
    culture change.

One of the common challenges in implementing an agile culture is the misunderstanding that agile
means fast.
Not knowing when to go fast and respond, and when to pause and think before cascading, is critical.

Agile doesn’t mean do everything fast. It means bring the agility needed for decisions, but also recognize it’s important to know when to pause, think, and have a longer process.

Fran Cherny

Agility is all about empowerment, and creating a culture where people have no or low fear to change or implementing new things, but have the freedom — even the responsibility — to try them out. In order to create any type of culture, there are three key components:

  • Leaders role modeling modeling
  • Aligned systems
  • Great symbols

How to avoid productivity killers?

To deepen the development of an agile culture, I invite you to read the articles I have written for Axialent:

A healthy culture is one that can re-shape your own culture pretty fast. Not the foundation and the values, but how you bring those alive, adjust and shift quickly to emerging realities. Culture change does
not “take long” as a rule, it is just that most organizations don’t have a culture that is agile and makes it
easy for people to adjust to new things. Even, your own culture.

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