Culture and Values

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” Peter Drucker

I have recently returned from the Agile Certified Leader class offered by the Center for Agile Leadership with Brian Rabon. One of the items covered that was particular interest to me was the concept of creating a culture within the organization and how by doing so you establish a collection of shared values. By doing this you are truly establishing your identity as an organization which permeates not only how you relate to others inside the organization, project eternally what is meaningful to you as an organization as well as define values that can become aspects of how you hire future staff or even existing staff hold one another accountable to the values established by the group culture.

How I am working to establish a culture

I think that most companies start with the founders of the company establishing a vision statement, a mission statement and then constructing the core values as an inter-related piece in the end. This seems like a sound approach but I have always had a real confusion point of the slight difference between missions and visions so I decided to start with an aspiration (as I like the idea of aspiring to an end state), communicate this and then look at working with my product development staff (presently about 19 cross functional people) who I consider as my “founding tribe” to shape the values of our culture.

My aspiration I have defined is “I want us to grow a culture within state government that creates amazing software using agile principles, the power of  teams and a focus on value.”

I purposefully selected the term “grow” as I think it’s very important to think about an organizational culture the same as any other culture. Cultures are adaptive to time. They change. They evolve. They grow. This means that the values upon which those cultures are built remain fluid as well. Just take a moment and think about the things we now refer to as  “culturally accepted” that may not have been considered acceptable in mass to our culture in the past. The culture changed over time and as members introduced new values that the group as a whole determined were important to accept.

So, I emailed the staff and shared my aspiration and informed them that I felt it was truly important for us to define what our core values were moving forward and that I felt it important that they all have a voice in the conversation (as we are still like a small company at this point). I told them that we would use the next staff meeting to start this conversation.

So I began my next meeting (probably more inspired than prepared), reiterating the aspiration and had  everyone use sticky pads and sharpies to write down what they felt our values should be. We placed them on 4 whiteboards to cluster them and removed the duplicates. Out of the remaining items we went though them one by one to get majority votes. Those with majority went to a “potential value” cluster, those that were a split went to “re-examine” cluster and those that did not carry the majority of the votes, went to a “perhaps a value, but not our core values”.

We narrowed the field to 33 values in our first pass. So I asked everyone, how many values do we want to target (as a minimum) that we want to target? The group settled that they felt that 7 values would be “sufficient and memorable“. So the exercise over the following week was for each person to review the “big value list” sent out in email and pick those 7 values that they felt we should represent our culture and reply to all in the group. I collected the emails and am aggregating the value votes to show the top 7 values. We will refine what these mean and create value statements for our culture. In a future post, I will reveal what our new culture has determined the values to be. I am looking forward to hear the voice of what we value from our founding staff as we embark on the next level of cultural change! Stay tuned … 😀

I start my Friday with the following thoughts:

Be humble.

Be silly.

Think deep thoughts.

Be a person of action.

Be part of the bigger idea.


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