Culture, Systems and a Plan

Call it serendipity, if you will.

(Though, I’ve heard that that’s a bad word to use in business. Everything should happen because you planned for it. In my experience, though, it is not always the case.)

In the last couple of days I came across various links that somehow fit together to tell me a story.

The first, a post by Ashish Bhagwat titled Systems Today, Culture Tomorrow. Don’t Tweak! It is an interesting take, but the closing paragraph was really the key to an important message:

When tweaking systems and policies for shorter term goals, do not lose sight of the longer term effects on culture and mindset of people working in the organization. Systems and Policies of today are the organizational culture of tomorrow!

The next day, I saw this brilliant talk by David Heinemeier Hansson: “Unlearn your MBA“. (A 58 minute video that I urge you to watch). For those of you do not know, David is the creator of Ruby on Rails and a partner in 37signals – the company that makes Basecamp (The company I work for uses it, and I can tell you, the product’s simplicity and utility are what makes it one of the best collaborative products around.)

But there is something interesting about 37signals and another company I hugely admire – Automattic (the people who brought you the platform on which you are reading this post.) These are companies that have understood, internalised and implemented lean management and a trusting organisational culture, successfully. Both companies have happily shared their secrets of success. It seems to me that they are (almost) structured to avoid recessionary effects on the company.

Organisations with a fragile culture and those that are structured out of a textbook; are the ones most susceptible to recessionary effects (even if they aren’t!).

Because, by default, organisations plan for the long term, the advice from Ashish’s post is significant. And the scramble, in my opinion, is not so much to ward off the recession, but to protect the plan by postponing it. As the environment changes, a plan can be adapted, but a hurt culture is difficult, if not impossible, to heal.

Culture, Systems and a Plan