Posts Tagged ‘change agent’

Culture in the work place

April 26, 2014

What is Climate?

The ups and downs, the hot and cold.
It’s easier to change than the culture.
The mood of an organisation can be seasonal which fluctuates more than a culture.
Refers to perceptions of organizational practices reported by people who work there (Rousseau 1988). Describes the work setting by those directly involved with it.

  • Communication: How open are people?
  • Dealing with conflict: Is it constructive or dysfunctional?
  • Leadership: dictatorship or servanthood?

Why does it matter?

A positive climates increase motivation, innovation and productivity, encourage extra effort – potentially by 30%. Whereas, a negative climate inhibits it (HayGroup).

What is Culture?

In order to change a culture you first need to understand the environment in which it exists.

Often we think of the different cultural groups we participate in as the language we use, the architecture we create, visual arts, literature, music.
These are just manifestations of what culture really is.

Culture does not exist with only one person, individuals exist within a culture.

Culture rules almost all areas of our lives.
The culture is the values behind the behaviours/manifestations of individuals within a culture.
These values are learned.

Why does it matter?

My primary focus in this post is one of providing maximum benefit to our customers.

Getting the best out of our people and putting the best back into our people is secondary. I’ll explain in a section below why our customers should take primary focus and that if they do, most other aspects will fall into place.

Focusing on the Negative biases

Known as Deficit based management, this happens when businesses are tackling their biggest problems in business. I.E. focussing on the negative and how they can remove the problem or reduce it’s effects. Though this technique can be successful in dealing with impediments, removing/reducing areas of poor performance, it does have side effects causing its people to feel overworked and stressed. It produces a general negative attitude and working environment amongst workers. This actually misses some of the largest opportunities to increase the strengths of the business. Because it has us focusing on how we can remove the problems, we miss the opportunities to increase (build on) our strengths.

Focussing on the Positive

What if we focused on our top three customers and which of our strengths have helped to make them successful. Then focus on these strengths and how we can maximise these and broaden the reach of them to effect our other customers. This can help to realign where the organisation is going and bring clarity to what our goals actually are. In a section below I discuss why we shouldn’t focus on the success of our workers but rather the customer.

Organisational Culture Types

Below are the four commonly accepted organisational culture types. The two dimensional view:


Focusing on Collaboration, how the members can work together in a family-like manner. Focusing on mentoring, nurturing and working together to achieve the result.


Dynamic and entrepreneurial, focus on taking risks to achieve optimal result. Innovative. Doing things first… driving your designs out with tests. Reactive, ability to move quickly with changing goals. Often appearing as unmanageable chaos. Empirical. Companies like Google embrace this type of culture in which they utilise the skills of entrepreneurial software engineers, cutting edge processes and technologies (Bruce M. Tharp: Haworth).


Structured and controlled, focusing on efficiency, stability and doing things “the right way”.


Results oriented. Focused on competition, achievement, getting the job done.

The Third Dimension

The third dimension comprises another three organisational culture types. A culture can be created in which it is giving, taking or matching. Attributed to the organisation and/or people within.


A taking organisation is one where they try to get the best value out of their workers. Workers will often feel used and burnt out. Workers know that they have to work extra hard to prove that they are worth it. Often the workers come to the organisation as takers as well and this helps to solidify the taking culture even more. I’m here to get what I can and then I’ll leave once I have it.

Often have a high staff turnover.

Primary focus: What am I getting, what will my reward look like? It’s all about me.


Matchers give as much as they take. They stick to the rules. This is one of the attributes of the Hierarchy culture type. They don’t do any extra work unless they’re paid for it. Don’t show much initiative. Parties take account of what they are owed. Workers often stay for a long time, don’t burn out. Don’t innovate or add value to the relationships within the culture.

Primary focus: What am I getting, what will my reward look like? I’m happy to give so long as I get in return.


A giving culture is one based around serving others. The focus is on how I can make our clients successful.

In a giving culture, a business measures their success by the satisfaction of their clients, rather than on the quantity of effort our employees are giving.
Focus clearly on the value of pleasing the client rather than measuring the value of their effort.
How can we create more value for our clients.

The motivation is targeted at the customer by all parties of the organisation. The consequence (not the focus) is the law of what goes around comes around. You receive what you give.

The organisations that do very well and at the opposite end of the spectrum do very poorly often fall into the same category of givers.

Successful givers work out how the giving will feedback so that they will be enabled to give more, rather than at the other end of the scale where the unsuccessful organisations that give, just keep giving without working out how they can sustain it.

How to change a culture of giving to one of taking or matching

Start rewarding your workers. Provide bonuses and commissions.
If your a giving culture, your focus is on benefiting your customers.
If you start rewarding your workers, their focus changes to look at whether they have the reward rather than the customers.

Often organisations setup reward systems for their employees. One in which the employees are recognised for doing good things. This moves the focus of the organisation from providing benefit to the customers to providing benefit to the employees.

How to change a culture of taking or matching to a giving culture

Stay focused on the value you are providing to your customers.
Focus on the organisations vision of how you’re making the customers lives better.
The mission statement needs to be centred around your customers not your employees or the organisation. Employ people that have the same vision of serving the organisations customers rather than the organisation itself. Don’t reward your workers, but talk about how your workers effected your customers in a positive way.
Don’t tell your customers what they want, you can tell them what they need if they don’t know, because you are the specialist.
Remember you are in business to serve your customers.
The measure of your organisations success should be your clients feedback. Ask your customers what they want. Gather their feedback and insert it into your organisation.
Share the success of your customers rather than your employees. Fix your vision externally rather than looking inward.

Primary focus: What can I give, how can I give.

Effecting Change

Org charts, in difference, don’t show how influence takes place in a business. In reality businesses don’t function through the organizational hierarchy but through its hidden social networks.
People do not resist change or innovation, but they resist the insecurity created by change beyond their influence.
Have you heard the argument that “the quickest way to introduce a new approach is to mandate its use”?
A level of immediate compliance may be achieved, but the commitment won’t necessarily be (Fearless Change 2010).
If you want to bring change, the most effective way is from the bottom up. In saying that, bottom-up takes longer and is harder. Like anything. No pain, no gain. Or as my wife puts it… it’s the difference between instant coffee and espresso.
Top-down change is imposed on people and tries to make change occur quickly and deals with the problems (rejection, rebellion) only if necessary.
Bottom-up change triggered from a personal level focused on first obtaining trust, loyalty, respect (from serving (servant leadership)), and the right to speak (have you served your time, done the hard yards)?

Because the personal relationship and involvement is not usually present with top-down, people will appear to be doing what you mandated, but secretly, still doing things the way they always have done.

The most effective way to bring change is on a local and personal level once you have built good relationships of trust. Anyone can effect change. The most effective change agents are level 5 leaders. These can be found anywhere in an organisation. Not just at the top. Level 5 leaders are:

  1. They are very confident in them selves. Actively seek out successors and enable them to take over.
  2. They are humble, modest and self sacrificing.
  3. They have “unwavering resolve.”
  4. They are work horses rather than show ponies.
  5. They give credit to others for their success and take full responsibility for poor results. They attribute much of their success to ‘good luck’ rather than personal greatness.
  6. They often don’t step forward when a leader is asked for.

Often I’ve thought that if I have an idea I’m sure is better than the existing way of doing things and I can explain logically why it’s better, then people will buy it. All too often this just isn’t the case. People base their decisions on emotions and then justify them with facts.

What I’ve come to realise is that it doesn’t matter how much power or authority you think you have. There is no reason if your able to build a relationship of trust with your peers or even your bosses, that you can not lead them to accept your ideas. The speed at which this may happen is governed by acts, influences and facts such as:

  • Your level of drive tempered with patience
  • The quality of your relationships and the level of trust others have in you
  • To what level do you hold captive their emotions?
  • A genuine appreciation and respect of your people and a belief in them
  • Understanding that people and their acceptance levels are different and how they differ
  • Gentleness
  • Knowing what it means to be a servant leader and being one
  • Mastery of Communication
  • Ability to work well with others
  • A need or problem to be solved
  • Realisation that you shouldn’t attempt to solve everything at once
  • Have you earnt the right to speak (done the hard yards)?
  • The level of support and desire to embrace change that the culture you work within provides
  • The people you want to accept your ideas

This post was leveraged in my talk at AgileNZ 2014. Slide deck here.


Ideas for more effective meetings and presentations

June 22, 2013

I’ve been reading a book lately called Fearless Change. A very insightful friend of mine: Charles Bradley introduced me to it.

Fearless Change

It’s got some great ideas in Chapter 5 “Meetings and More” that I’m looking to adopt and use. There are a bunch of useful patterns that can be applied to all sorts of meetings, presentations etc. Here are some of the patterns discussed that stood out and my interpretation of them, mixed in with some of my own ideas and experiences.


Utilise existing resources, energy, practices, processes, events and/or momentum to host or leverage what you want to get across to the people receiving your idea. Marketing your idea as an add-on or improvement to a process or practise that already exists. Piggybacking your idea on top of something existing and possibly successful is far more likely to be accepted than if your idea is something entirely new and to be greeted with caution and suspicion. Often useful for getting around an organisations red tape.

Brown Bag

Most people will be familiar with this one. Most of us in the IT industry are very busy and struggle to find time to attend optional meetings where we may learn something. This is about holding your meeting in the middle of the day when people are often eating their lunch. Often a good time to add an event where they can listen while they’re eating. Although not always accepted, so it’s a good idea to test the water and check whether people will be interested in this type of event.

Do Food

Research has shown that we become fonder of people and things we experience while we are eating. Food does a great job of binding people together and increasing the feeling of group membership.
Eating together is something the human race has done since the beginning of time and is interpreted as a sign of friendship. Even mentioning that food and/or beverages will be available at an event will just about always draw more people. It also shows that someone is prepared to spend money on the food which shows a giving attitude, I.E putting your money where your mouth is.
Generally when people find out that there will be food at an event, the level of excitement increases. The food doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive either. Be aware of people that may be on diets or other wise struggle with this idea and be considerate. Offer healthy alternatives.

Right Time

Considering the time of day that you hold your event can determine how much people remember, how engaged they are. People are busy and have deadlines, investigate and try and work around these to obtain maximum attendance and interest. After projects have been delivered and the stress is off a little before the next project ramps up. Of course you’re never going to get the perfect time for everyone, so just find a slot that’s most suitable to the greatest number of people likely wanting to attend. Try not to spring dates and times on people with little advance warning. Remind attendees several times as the meeting approaches.

Plant the Seeds

Plant the Seeds

Bring reading material to your meeting. People like to have something to flick through while they are listening. Also at least another sense is engaged (touch and visual). The more senses we can engage, the higher the chance of remembrance. Leave them in an easily accessible place so people don’t feel uncomfortable picking them up, or hand them out. You may bring some photo copies of the information you’re intending to get across that people can take away with them. This will also increase the chance of adoption and remembrance. It’ll also increase discussions after the meeting.
There is often a sense of obligation to somehow repay your kindness when given a token gesture. You could also bring a collection of books you have on the subject matter that people can flick through while your presenting. People are also often persuaded by mass media materials, they provide validation of your idea and reinforce.
If you have specific reading you want people to go through, don’t just provide links (although links are important as it saves people typing out printed URL’s), but also provide the printed mater in a leaflet form.
Make sure your presentation is easily accessible. Make sure any such material that has your name on it is prominently displayed. Make sure your audience knows your available afterwards for questions and encourage them. What I thought was really interesting is that often seeds sown by reading materials will only stick with a small number, but in amongst that small number may be key people for connecting with other like minded individuals and propagating your idea.

External Validation

Associating supporting information from alternative sources validates what you’re trying to get across. Bringing sources from respected authorities or gurus that support your idea will significantly increase the chance of your idea being welcomed and accepted.
People love success stories. If you can associate your idea with that success, your chances are increased. Initially external sources are the most powerful. If you can present in a venue that your colleagues associate with or respect, your chances will be improved.
Getting a guru that people respect to publicly affirm your idea will work wonders. Getting a leader in your organisation that agrees with your idea to publicly voice his acceptance. If you can show a publication that references something you’ve done you get kudos.

Next Steps

Next Steps

Often when we attend a training session we come away wondering how we’re going to put into practice what we just heard.
Work out a plan of attack for what attendees can do once they’ve left the meeting. How are they going to apply your idea? Provide practical next steps. Don’t overload them though. What are they going to do when they get stuck?
Near the end of your meeting invite all to join in a brain storming session on how they can actually put into practice what’s been learnt. When people actively join in and provide their own ideas on what they have learnt, they will create a loose plan that will help get them started that they’ll be able to take away.
Resist telling your attendees what they need to do. Rather help lead them to create their own plan. They will know more about their specific areas of need than you do. Facilitate/empower the group to discover their own plan. Create a list of ideas and action items, just like you would if you were leading a Retrospective. Posting the list to all attendees as a reminder. Encourage your attendees to go over the information provided again within 24 hours and again within the next 7 days to help remember.


Provide a bulletin board for people interested in the subject to communicate, share and bounce their ideas off of each other. This is good for those that are not able to attend the event but still want to be part of what’s happening. Provides a flexible meeting place. You as the person promoting the idea can keep all interested parties up to date on what’s happening and how things are progressing. Setting up a mailing list will help you understand who is on-board and to what degree. A facebook event for short lived discussions, or a page, or even encourage people to discuss the idea in the comments section of your blog. Maybe a Google+ page? You’re going to have to maintain it of course.

Stay in Touch

Catch up with the people that show interest in your idea/s. Take a genuine interest in what they do, their related troubles and concerns. Unless you understand what the problems are that they face on a regular basis, how are you going to help solve them or at least die trying? Build relationships with those you intend to help. You must know them in order to provide useful answers. Maintain relationships with your key supporters and people that have lots of other related connections. Don’t loose sight of the fact that the people you’re attempting to help have feelings too and like to be heard.

Group Identity


Assigning an identity ((code)name) to a project helps people and organisations realise it’s existence. Patterns are named… Why? So when the name is mentioned, those that are familiar with the pattern know exactly what you’re talking about. A pattern can paint a thousand words or lines of code for that matter.
Meetings held at a regular interval have their own identity, assigning a name helps reference in conversation. An identity also gives the appearance of effort being asserted which helps build energy and momentum. Adding a mailing list or e-Forum helps generate a Group Identity.

Not mentioned in the book

Make things interesting and memorable. The more weird and out of the ordinary you can be with the ideas you’re trying to get across, the more likely your participants are to remember. For example, I did a presentation a while ago where I brought some carpentry tools along and some building materials. I asked for a volunteer to help with my demonstration and everyone was very interested in my demo. It’s these sorts of things that people remember.

I’ll probably update this as time goes on and I learn more and find things that work. If you’ve got other interesting ideas you’ve found that improve these sorts of events and/or thoughts about what’s been mentioned here, please comment.

By Kim Carter