Understanding Organizational Ideology – Key step to cultural change

Pic Credit: PartnersInLeadership and Agile42

“Agile transformation is not just about doing daily Scrum or using a tool like JIRA, it is a cultural change”. How often have we heard this in the last 15 years. And there are only handful of companies that have really succeeded in reaping the benefits of Agile transformation. And those are the ones who are fully committed to the cultural transformation. They are the ones who have understood the importance of overcoming the behaviours based on the conditioned belief system. There are many reasons why it is so tough to make cultural change:

  1. Not many companies acknowledge this: In most of the organizations, Agile is brought in as an initiative for a year or two. They try with a few teams and believe it is for teams to adopt some practices. They see Agile more as set of practices for the teams rather than a culture for the entire organization.
  2. Sense of pride in the existing culture: A lot of companies take pride in their existing culture. They believe that is what brought them all the success. However, what they do not understand is what brought them here will not take them there. This may also bring an attitude of maintaining the status quo.
  3. Do not understand what it takes for a cultural change: Though, some organizations acknowledge that Agile is a cultural change, they do not know how to go about it. A large part of the culture is below the iceberg. It is not part of the rationalistic part of the organization’s functioning but more of the aspects that happen without conscious awareness.

Let us dwell more time on the last point mentioned above. i.e. what does it take to make a cultural change. A good starting point will be to understand the belief system that pervades. This is depicted in the third point in the Results Pyramid that is attached above. The concept of Organizational Ideology (Janice Beyer, 1981) would help us in gaining some understanding of this common belief system that impacts large part of the Organization. It is defined as – “Relatively coherent sets of beliefs that bind some people together and that explain their worlds in terms of cause-and-effect relations”. A large part of this ideology is influenced by the Leadership in the organization. And hence in this article, I am going to compare Ideology of Traditional Leadership to Agile Leadership. I am considering their ideologies in 5 relevant topics for Agile transformation – Agile, Work, Growth, Team, and Customers.

1. Ideology about Agile

Traditional Leadership IdeologyAgile Leadership Ideology
Agile is for the team and not for usAgile is for everyone across the organization
if teams self-manage, we will be joblessOur jobs will be redefined when teams self- manage
Deliveries come first, Agile comes nextAgile is for better deliveries. There is no separation between Agile and deliveries.
Agile is an initiative this year, for the next year there would be something elseAgile has been there in the industry for the past 20 years and is the established new way of working
We need to do Agile because the Leadership has said soIf I as a team member see value in Agile, I would adopt the same
Our work does not suit Agile, it is only for New Product DevelopmentBasic principles of Agility are applicable across wide areas of different industries

2. Ideology about Work:

Traditional Leadership IdeologyAgile Leadership Ideology
Once we plan something, that need to be followed
to perfection
Conditions change all the time, hence the planning as a process should be continuous
Design, development and testing is done once in a project, each of these are phasesAll of these are continuous processes and would be done in
each Iteration for all features
Deliver at the end of everythingDeliveries happen frequently at the end of every iteration
Work hard during the release schedulesWork happens at a sustainable pace and no special attention is required during the release
Need comprehensive documentationWorking software is a better documentation
Postmortem at the end of releaseRetrospectives happen at the end of every iteration so that there is a chance to implement what we learn
Budget and scope are fixed. Time is variable.Budget and Time are fixed. Scope is variable.

3. Ideology about Growth:

Traditional Leadership IdeologyAgile Leadership Ideology
I grow and develop only if I do moreI can grow if I help my team grow and develop
It is more about PPTs, I need to be more visibleWhen the working software gets showcased, that is best visible work one can produce
My growth is indicated by the number of people reporting to meMy growth depends on how I help my organization maximize the business value
I would only be recognized if I make my team-work harderI would be recognized if I can create an environment where my team thrives and if I empower them
What matters is the amount of time that the team member puts in officeWhat matters is how the team utilizes its time to maximize value for the organizations

4. Ideology about Team:

Traditional Leadership IdeologyAgile Leadership Ideology
Teams just need to listen to me since I am the AuthorityTeams can think. I should not mask the same by using authority
We are like the internal customers for the team membersI am only supporting the team so that they do their best
I rate the team members and hence they better listen to meTeam members rate me as well. It is a 2-way feedback
Team members are resourcesTeam members are people with emotions, aspirations and energy
They need to be managedThey may need coaching
Process and Rules are important. Any deviations would be punishedIndividuals and interactions are more important. That is what leads to problem solving and innovation

5. Ideology about Customers:

Traditional Leadership IdeologyAgile Leadership Ideology
Customer is the king and we just need to comply or listen to himCustomer can also be wrong. It is important to challenge his wants and understand his needs
We need a sign off from the customer at every stage. He defines the problem and we provide a solution.Customer is part of the solution and we (IT) are part of the problem definition as well. Our relationship is more about collaboration
Any change needs to go through a lot of approvals and the customers may be charged extraWe need to be more welcoming of change. Iterative development allows for the same.
They are very tough hence we need to be good negotiatorsWe need to apprise them of our challenges and software development is a co-creation of IT and Business
My Business does not believe in Agile and hence there is no point in IT following the sameAgile is about reducing breaking communication barriers between Business and IT. We need to focus more on that and not on following a methodology

These ideologies have become part of the organizational culture and would usually be transmitted to the new members through the socialization process. These ideological differences clearly present 2 opposite sides of the spectrum. Hence it provides a guideline on the amount of work that is required to make the shift happen. Understanding these ideological differences and where does an organization stand in this spectrum would be the first step in Leadership Coaching. Once this awareness sets in, then it is about creating new experiences that reinforces these new ideologies as depicted in the Results Pyramid. It requires safe environment to practice new skills and ongoing coaching to ensure that the new habits are sustained.

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