Culture is everything, processes are nothing

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A change is underway in management, especially in high-tech companies. This – as I call it – “New Wave of Management” started by the Agile and Lean movements now includes other ideas like “Management 3.0” or “Radical Management” (both also excellent books). It is visible also outside software development with companies changing their structure to small, self-organizing teams inside a decentralized, cloud-like organization.

Despite all the great changes – more humane workplace, more meaningful work, higher effectiveness – this New Wave is bringing I feel there is still too much concentration on processes and structures among its disciples. This is probably so because many of the influential thinkers and writers are so fascinated by them – which is hardly surprising, given this is what they analyze, write and talk about.

However, many times I have seen all those great processes, methods and structures fail despite being “implemented” to the letter. The reason was always that the given organization’s culture was not compatible with them and rejected them just like body’s immune system rejects alien cells. Agile – and all New Wave approaches and methods – work only in a culture of openness and trust, in organizations that have a clear, engaging vision and a mission that is relevant and true.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a well known saying, but it seems culture eats much more than this. I always say that “Culture is everything, processes are nothing”.

Anyone attempting an “agile transformation” should first take a hard look at the current culture. But given the fact that most (70%)projects to change organization’s culture fail this is an important message for those starting a new company: startups.

I wonder how many startup founders even think about what type of company they want to create? I’m afraid many are too concentrated on their product/service idea, on getting funding, on getting going…

“People buy why you do it, not how you do it.” says Simon Sinek – and he is right. Just remember those “people” is first your own staff, your first team. If they don’t share your core why, if you can’t sell it to them then how are they going to build products or deliver services that will thrill your clients?

If you are a startup founder please stop now and consider this: besides the product/service you’re so focused on you are also creating a new organization that may potentially outlive your involvement (or even yourself). The culture you will give it, instill in it now, at the start will decide not only your chances of success. It will also shape its future, probably many years after the product you are so concentrated on will long be obsoleted and gone.

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