Implementing Culture, A Hidden Journey

Taking the time to understand what is important to you, and the future of your world is the easy part.

The hard part? Implementation.

Culture usually comes with some gimmes; but everything else, that’s for you to decide. Folks want to feel safe and challenged, included and acknowledged, aligned and free. Free to make positive changes to the world you’ve introduced them to. Defining your values, your world, and your culture is a critical step. But, that is not the step we are exploring in this article; here, we are going to take all of the great decisions that have been made about the future of your world and we’re going to implement.

So you’re ready to implement? You want to share these ideas? You want to socialise them, get everyone behind you. You’re motivated; ready to go, preaching to the masses, all hands, email, slack, posters, this is it, this is our culture, this is our future. Ummm, no.

Telling Bob or Belinda what the culture is or how to become part of the culture is an anti-pattern. Instead, finding phenomenal folk with the personalities, beliefs, and dreams that add to and compliment your culture is where this really begins. And then, implementation, well; that should stay hidden!

You can measure the success of a new feature or a performance improvement. You can even eNPS your teams (if you really want to). But, culture; culture is felt. When it comes to implementing culture it’s not about measuring, it’s about feeling; and you can’t tell folks how to do that.

Fast forward through the implementation. Or at least an iteration of the implementation. Whether you are driving change in a 5000 person enterprise or a 5 person startup, successful culture implementation is that moment when someone demonstrates growth, embodies the values, truly reflecting and adding to the culture - you helped them to get there. Yet, they have no idea what you did, or if you did anything at all. That is the true definition of success when you’re implementing culture.

These feedback loops can stretch over weeks, months or even years. It is why Engineering Managers can feel useless, missing the adrenaline and satisfaction of solving problems every day. But these are people, this is culture. This is a marathon, not a sprint and you’re handing out the energy bars and water bubbles wrapped in seaweed (this really is a thing: https://www.notpla.com/ - awesome, right?). You are a facilitator, you succeed every time things get a little bit better with nobody knowing why. It just feels better.

Your organization’s culture is embedded in the mission, values and more importantly in the core of every person you bring into your world. That culture grows with each new person. Your job is to help them be the best they can be. And I don’t mean the best Software Engineer, or the best Tech Lead. Let’s help them be the best humans they can be.

This isn’t telling, it’s not even asking, this is leadership. It is the nudges and questions that allow every person to make their own decisions and answer their own questions. These are the outcomes that leave you laying in your bed at night with a smile on your face knowing that no matter what new challenge you face tomorrow (there is always a next challenge) you have great people around you who are aligned, motivated and trusted. Together they are your culture.

And you know what? Maybe it’s not all hidden. I bet there are some folks who can see what’s going on. Embrace it! Help them lead, help them facilitate and help them grow too. But don’t tell people what your culture should be; help them figure it out, help them feel it.