Culture eats strategy for breakfast (so the oft-used adage goes). In my personal research, Cru’s field staff unanimously point to culture as an impediment for innovating within their ministry. When asked how to make these changes, many shake their heads, throw up their arms, sigh, and relent, “I don’t know. Culture change is hard and slow.” How might we dissect, analyze, and diagnose the innovative culture of an organization while also giving a reliable prognosis? I turn to two developmental psychologists for help.
As a dynamic pair with a 30-year-long working relationship, Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey have devoted their career to fostering Deliberately Developmental Organizations (DDOs). Their formal education in the 1970s only focused on the development of infants, children, and adolescents. Like the body (usually) stops growing in late teens, so mental development was assumed to come to a screeching halt. They challenged this assumption with a focus on adult development.
Their work is a welcomed voice in the world of innovation theory. In a podcast interview investigating entrepreneurship and innovation, Kegan asserts that the emphasis of DDOs undergirds many of the mindsets associated with innovation like failing frequently, failing fast, and failing forward (Glaveski).
While Kegan and Lahey describe a certain type of culture, I’m using their text, An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization, as a framework for culture diagnosis and culture change. Culture is both organic and organized, so it is possible to have a strategic approach to culture (Kegan and Lahey, 6). Culture is the water in which an organization swims, and it is impacted by many facets. It is also “more than the sum of its parts” (117). Culture is challenging to dissect. Employees at one DDO didn’t notice or even accept the false dichotomy between “usual business” and development. In other words, there is “no difference between developing themselves and getting their work done” (261). As I consider the many different elements that combine to form a culture, I include the following:
– Who is hired and for what reason?
– What jokes are told?
– Human Resource policies (number of days off, what days off)
– What stories are celebrated?
– How money is spent?
– Who is fired and for what reason?
– What behavior is corrected?
– What behavior is applauded?
– What stakeholders are told?
– How offices are laid out?
– Rituals around meetings
– How communication is distributed?
– Who gets promoted and for what reason?
– Ambiance of the office
– What outside-the-meeting comments are tolerated?
– How strict start times and end times are?
– What happens when someone fails?
– What communication is like up and down the ladder?
– How candor is valued?
– What is measured?
What would you add to this far-from-exhaustive list? Which are the most important? I will suggest three that have a greater impact on the others:
1) The stories that are celebrated
2) The behavior that is corrected and applauded
3) The metrics that are consistently measured
In agreement with Kegan and Lahey, pointed feedback about specific behavior (both positively and negatively) might be the single greatest indicator of culture (156-157). If teammates are not asked to behave differently and held accountable for those, how can one expect anything different? I believe these three elements of culture have the biggest return on that behavior change.
Increasing the innovation capabilities of an organization is more than an open office floor plan, an abundance of Post-It notes, and motivational framed quotes. It involves the wonder of what could be and the rigor of long, slow culture change. Wonder and rigor. The left and right feet of the innovative leader.
Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2016).
Steve Glaveski, “Episode 46: Building an Everyone Culture with Robert Kegan,” Future Squared, (accessed January 12, 20121) https://futuresquared.libsyn.com/episode-46-building-an-everyone-culture-with-robert-kegan.