The Culture Fallacy

“We have a team working on talent and culture.”

“We must create a culture to learn and grow.”

“We’ve created a change enablement roadmap.”

“We want to cultivate an Agile culture.”

Sound familiar? These statements are not wrong, but they can easily steer you off course. When adopting Agile and Lean, companies are really, really good at pinning the change on culture. Not only does it sound good, it sounds like it will work. Yet, leading your company’s transformation with culture is not the way to create sustainable change. Mike Cottmeyer explains this point best in his post Cultural Judo-How to Change Culture Without Changing Culture. In fact, I urge you to read his awesome blog as a prerequisite to this one.



Culture can’t be ignored, but forcing something rarely produces the desired outcomes. Yet somehow, many organizations rally around this fallacy, hedging huge bets on culture change. This is trying to manage change, instead of leading it. To get true adoption of a transformative change like Agile or Lean, you must lead change. Easy to say, hard to do. So, how do you lead the change of an Agile or Lean transformation? How to turn a big concept like this into daily actions?

Begin by creating an environment for adoption. To do this, your organization will need to find giant change opportunities, and small, daily ones. Giant changes might include changing to have a rational system of delivery, and please, fix that funding model! But don’t overlook the many small, daily things that lead change. Although they are little, these changes stack up over time, and when people are doing them across an organization, they add up to exponential, sustainable change. Teams and leaders can reflect on these ideas:

Teams, aim to…

  • Practice consistent methodology, or do you kinda sorta do it? Really, do we need to have a stand up every single day?
  • Get the necessary training to go strong out of the gate.
  • Accept the invitation to take risks today, not next month.
  • Use a coach or coaches to support them and keep you on the straight path.
  • Reflect together. How can we be more self-organized? Do we give too much power away?
  • Tell your leaders when they are holding you back. Don’t roll over.
  • Value successful failures as much as successes?

Leaders, aim to…

  • Stop calling people resources.
  • Go to the training. All of it,
  • Give this transformation your full attention. This is not night school. Talk to your sponsors about your capacity impediment.
  • Stop talking about making it safe, and make it safe to take risks.
  • Talk to another leader about how you are changing, and how it feels.
  • Use a coach, to support you and keep you on the straight path.
  • Reflect with your leader team. How can you take your Agile or Lean leadership to the next level? What is the next level?

There are so many opportunities to effect true transformation. Priority and timing are the art of your transformation, so find a good artist to help you, along with a good coach, or several.

When teams and leaders live out these actions and behaviors, culture change will be an outcome. Along with delightful software, better, faster problem solving, and very happy business partners… No culture departments, enablement strategies, or fancy talk required.

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  1. Pingback: Agile Energy | Francie Van Wirkus

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