Gary Allison's Leadership Blog

Agile Software and Effective Software Projects and Leadership and Teams01 Oct 2012 09:29 pm

Last year I wrote briefly about the importance of having a great culture in this post, but it deserves a deeper dive.  Early in my executive career I had the great fortune to work with a terrific CEO and mentor. One of the many things I learned from him was the power of culture and the way it can work to juice your team. The power of a competency culture in particular was something that I grew to understand under his mentorship.

In a nutshell, this taxonomy would classify cultures as control, collaboration, competency, and cultivation.  The importance of these comes down to how decisions are made and specifically, how quickly the organization can act. We are all familiar with control cultures – all decisions are made by “the boss” according to a structured authority framework where successively important decisions must be made by higher levels of management. In a control culture, all decisions made by lower levels in the org are subject to being overturned at a higher level of management.  The fall out of this culture is that the people responsible for implementing decisions often never really buy in, resulting in little empowerment and innovation.

In a collaborative culture, decisions are made by consensus.  This requires nearly unanimous agreement and the process for reaching an agreement on complex issues can be lengthy.  The advantage of course is that everyone buys in to the decision and is committed to its execution.  Great buy in, but slow.  Not a compelling recipe for innovation.

A cultivation culture is fairly uncommon in business and is more identified with a religious system, where the organization exists for the focused purpose of growing the individual with a higher purpose in mind. Which brings us to…

It is the competency culture that drives the engine of the most successful tech companies.  This is an empowering culture where authority and responsibility both are pushed down to the lowest levels in the organization.  Decisions are made quickly, by owners.  The owner’s responsibility is to involve stakeholders in the decision making process. Once all input is considered, and  the decision is made, it is everyone’s role to commit to the decision.  It is ok to disagree with the decision, but in this culture you disagree and commit.  This culture depends on you hiring the very best people available, and giving them all the responsibility they can handle, plus a little.

Everywhere I’ve worked since, I’ve tried to build a competency culture. When it works it really is golden.  People thrive and grow and suprise you with innovation.  Teams live and breathe ownership, commitment, and teamwork because they know they personally can make a difference.  I don’t know why I’ve taken so long to write about something so core to my management philosophy but here it is.

For more information on these cultures and how they can determine the fate of your organization, I recommend this document by Dr William Schneider.

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