Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Culture Of Fixing What Is Broken

Engineering, a realm of smart people working together, trying to prove something to themselves, to the company and to the society. Challenging what's merely possible, simplifying what's complex, enhancing what's good enough -- a true story, daily!

While it's nice to see everyone working in harmony, there will be a time where the processes, workflows, and practices no longer suffice what is needed to stay in the game. And this is where chaos starts to arise between teams and members. When your organization reaches that point in time, the only thing that can save you and everyone is "culture". So at the early stage of your company, always make sure you have a great culture in place that is being followed, respected and observed by everyone working inside the organization; while admired by those who are seeing the organization from the outside.

Before we dig deep into the broad representation of culture, let us first define what composes a culture.

People are the actors and authors of the cultural playbook. A company always starts with an empty sheet of rule-book and as the company grows, it's everyone who'll define what is supposed to be written into the sacred sheet. People are the ones who'll evaluate, deliberate and contest what will be proposed -- then judge what is rightful to the greater good.

While everyone is unique, principles could be common to a number of individuals. Depends on the background and preference -- these "principles" could vary within the organization. Principle will serve as a guiding star when making a decision and in crafting a proposed solution (to any given situation).

Another vector that is a variable and not unified across the organization. This might vary to the groups, department and individual working on their designated task and scope. It will be "practice" that will serve as the reasoning of every individuals in coming up with the decision and as to why the solution was crafted that way (to the given situation).

Inside an organization, not everyone is privileged enough to have a voice and be considered in the decision-making process. However, it's still important that people raise concerns and be counted as a factor of consideration when making a decision and proposing a solution. While it's true that you can't make everyone happy, it's still everyone's obligation to treat anybody as human, hence, they should be heard.

Now that we know who plays what in building a culture, we can now start talking about some of the "cultural" problem every organization is dealing (both internally and externally). Note that we will not tackle any specific "problem" but instead generalize what is common. Here are some thoughts to take note when you are on a mission fixing a broken culture.

> You cannot fix a broken culture by replacing it. 

Today, we are in a time that when something is broken -- we immediately replace it with something new and better. While this approach is proven working (at some point), applying this to "culture" will just worsen the scenario. One should be smart enough to realize that a good culture is chosen collectively and agreed upon the majority. One cannot just simply walk into a group of people and mandate something to be changed.

> You don't go to the capitol to complain, everyone knows the problem. Propose a solution and wait for the people to decide.

People in general is not evil, they are just busy and it takes some realization to convince someone that something needs to be changed. If you're driving for a change, it's your obligation to constantly remind everyone about the severity of the issue and how much time are we looking before it fully impacts the entire organization. It takes time to drive a change, especially if it requires everyone's participation. It takes courage to initiate changes, it takes patience to wait and see the results. Changes within the cultural playbook doesn't happen overnight -- it's an incremental improvement.

> Numbers don't lie. Yet, not all that can be counted counts.

Never stand against the crowd without gathering any facts. Numbers represent a lot when discussing something that is "bad". Backing up your stories with data, avoids perceptional bias and helps people understand what you're up to and what is it in them if they buy-in to the idea/solution. Convincing people with numbers is easier than merely just words (people are now smarter these days and at some point, lies are easily spotted).

> Always challenge the system

The only way to improve is when people think outside the box and tries to break what is being implemented. There are good and bad in performing exploitation -- we just have to know the bad and eliminate it from the picture. When someone is telling you to stop challenging the system, ask them back "Have we come-up with a great culture in place?"

PS: Some people thinks they are above the cultural playbook, hence, they try to decide by themselves in-behalf of the group. When you meet people who are like this, tell them that "Whatever they change in the culture, they now owe an explanation to everyone and it's everyone's right to ask for one".