Modern business leaders have embraced the power that culture has in determining company performance. What isn't as well embraced is that the software tools we use on a daily basis have the potential to foster, or detract from the cultures we aim to build.
A lot of recent discussion around culture has made it clear that it isn't about ping-pong tables and employee perks; instead, it's what people first think of when asked questions like "What is it like working at ?". In a similar way, Brand isn't defined as your logo or tagline. Instead, it’s what people think and
When you consider this definition of organizational culture, it becomes impossible to ignore the impact software we use regularly has. For better or worse, work is becoming increasingly digital. The tools that we use need to support the culture we wish to curate.
This article explores three critical ways that software informs our organizational cultures.
Silos and Collaboration
Companies have a habit of using
- "We are a flat organization"; or
- "We have networked organizational culture"; or
- "We avoid the silo effect and collaborate".
That's Brilliant! but how do you deliver it?
It's easy to achieve these when you're a startup. The whole company uses Slack, Trello, Google Drive and runs company-wide daily standups. As things scale up, this unified working system dissolves in
Software tools can play a role in supporting these silos but they also have the potential to break them down. Of course, this is not a call to abandon important tools. Rather, merely
Autonomy and Empowerment
Everyone and their mother has seen this Steve Jobs Quote:
Leaders seek to follow this advice in hopes that it will fend off the misery of bureaucracy and accelerate innovation and growth.
But the smartest person on the planet can't get the right answer if they don't have the right information. Transparency is what ensures employees can be autonomous. Employees need the context of business goals and the current status of operations to make effective autonomous decisions. A company can have the best of intentions to be transparent, but if data accessibility becomes problematic, it doesn't work. This could stem from information silos or poor data accessibility. In either case - the consequence is that your best and brightest are working with incomplete information.
It's only natural under opaque conditions for organizations to act in ways that erode the desired effects of autonomy. They either remain autonomous, and make poor
Let's consider a hypothetical company where intended transparency doesn't actualize. Their financial data is kept in a tool like NetSuite. They configured it so that everyone in the company could log-in for a read-only view. So, this data - it is transparent, right? Perhaps it's exported to a spreadsheet buried on some shared drive that some people know about. This is transparent, right? No - both are opaque, because it's not aligned
Now many say that a Wiki solves this problem. Again, this sounds great in theory but almost all Wikis need a lot of manual curation. This means that they're only as good as the diligence of the people who maintain them. To overcome this, a single interface that's connected to [or integrated with tools that are a part of] the daily life of people, must exist for visualizing:
- Company Purpose, Strategy & Objectives;
- How those are organized into work in the form of Programs, Projects, Functions & Teams
- And how each individual dynamically contributes to that work and shared purpose.
Only with this kind of true transparency can the desired effects of autonomy become realized. Success here depends largely on the mix of technology a company chooses to deploy.
Our final culture buzz-word: Accountability. Companies talk about it a lot, especially when missing targets. Few know how to achieve it at scale, without a command and control organizational structure.
We recently heard Huggy Rao, a professor at Stanford and author of Scaling-Up Excellence, talk about the important relationship between Performance -> Accountability -> Transparency.
The trick—and it is a difficult trick—is to design a system where this tug of responsibility is constant, strong, and embraced by everyone, and where slackers, energy suckers, and selfish soloists have no place to hide.
- Robert Sutton & Huggy Rao, Scaling Up Excellence
Huggy's quote is important. It indicates a shift in the way we create accountability. In 20th century companies, accountability was driven through the org-structure and a clear reporting hierarchy. A manager's job was to give work and ensure it's
Striking that balance is delicate work. In a digital age, it depends largely on the suite of software tools and IT strategy. A recent conversation with a customer confirmed as
To achieve this, individual contributions and related work data must be aggregated in a meaningful way, and be made visible
IT strategy, again, plays a huge role by selecting and integrating the tools responsible for the collection, transposition, and sharing of data org-wide. A thoughtful strategy can ensure meaningful connection into the company's purpose and existing working methods. With this, teams can achieve the often desired culture of accountability in the digital workplace and achieve it at scale.