It’s the Culture Stupid

By no means in the title am I referring to anyone reading this as stupid.  It refers to my own forehead slapping realization from leading or cleaning up “solution” integrations gone bad.  Some real bad, some not so bad and some good. The ones that went well were the messiest, most time-consuming, energy expending, comprehensive and detail focused exercises.  For two reasons — they actually got stuff out of the way (systems, policies, procedures, steps, paper, way-we’ve-always-done-its, etc.) AND we insured that we moved our culture with the change.

The vendors come in with slick presentations, the solutions align well with the strategic direction of the organization, the consultants present a plan to integrate it, the COO trims some of the bells and whistles (cough, cough…sorry), some staff embrace it as the holy grail, others feign interest, some manage to not use it at all once implemented and others will wait to see it work or not work and then cast judgment (how safe of them).

I don’t care if it is new software, new product, a new process, a new procedure or simply a new policy, this stuff disrupts.  It can distract us from our work that has community impact.  Every sales pitch will have us believe that it will make that impact greater or “save time for more impact” (in quotes because I was once told that).

Does every sales person believe they have the solution for your organization? Yep.

Does every integration truly improve things and serve as a solution? Nope.

I’m not a tech guy, but I constantly seek to understand how it can improve our work.  I get dazzled by the bright shiny new “solutions” and the catchy phrases of the “solution partners” like everyone else.  I do however have the scars of integrations gone really, really bad and have seen some “solutions” tucked away  on servers or in server closets, never clicked on the desktop screen or on shelves collecting dust (next to the 10 year strategic plan binders).

Once the consultants have checked out of their hotel rooms and are seated in their upgraded (through miles of course) airplane seats the organization may be left with a “call our help desk from now on or check out our training webinars for further questions” farewell.  No fault of theirs — the sales machine needs to keep moving, I get it.  But as a leader what I can do differently to avoid some symptoms like:

  • the end-user staring at the new screen outside of the training room with an impatient customer standing before him
  • diluting generational training: John was trained by the trainers and he then trained Sue who trained Liz who trained Dave who trained Mike who now uses the system to a third of its capacity or purpose or even better – entirely improperly
  • the defiant ones who never touch the application once the consultants are wheels up at the airport
  • sedimental systems: the old practices that are never stopped and the new one is just layered on top
  • sentimental systems: the old practices that we still do because they’re comfortable but now irrelevant with the new “solution”

It’s the culture.

I don’t care if you brag about have the most agile culture in the history of nonprofit organizations or business — change or new “solutions” can mess you up.  Getting things done is not easy, doing them well with lasting impact is even tougher.  

Taking an implementation or integration (or any latest cool term for change) to a granular level with a lens directly on the effect on culture pays dividends.  Do we know how this well-sold change effect our client(s)?  Our receptionist?  Our IT team?  The website? Our marketing?  And all of the actual people in those roles?  Have we framed a coherent message around the change throughout ALL levels of the organization?  Have we over-trained the system and literally tried to break it before the consultants split?  I’ve seen some whoppers — a time and attendance system fully installed and moved to in 3 days not accounting for maintenance staff and pool staff with wet or dirty hands trying to use a fingerprint reader.  A donation web page that doesn’t accept American Express (which 47% of the current donors used in their last gift).  Go right to the gnat’s ass to see it through.

Culture can be a fluffy word but it takes solid discipline to move it, save it or curate it.

When the electric staplers hit the desktops of the entire organization what happens to the red staplers?

“It’s the culture stupid” sure beats “it’s the stupid culture”.