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Agile Mentors Podcast

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#41: Cultural Transformation in Organizations with Karim Harbott

March 29, 2023     36 minutes

Karim Harbott joins Brian to talk about the 5 levers of crafting a strong culture in an organization and the critical role of leaders in establishing it.


On this episode of the "Agile Mentors" podcast, Karim Harbott joins Brian to discuss the importance of crafting a strong culture in an organization through his 5 Levers for Changing Organizational Culture.

Listen in as they discuss the importance of aligning behaviors with the organization's strategy and the often-overlooked but critical role that leaders play in the cultural transformation of organizations.

Listen Now to Discover:

[01:34] - Brian introduces Karim Harbott, an Agile coach and CST, and highlights his book, “The 6 Enablers of Business Agility” He’s joining Brian to discuss culture change and the challenges associated with it.
[02:25] - Karim discusses where to begin to make cultural change.
[04:14] - Brian and Karim discuss the challenges of teaching culture and the importance of modeling desired behaviors.
[04:47] - Karim explains that behaviors are a key factor in shaping culture and shares that there are five levers for changing the culture of an organization. The first lever is the organization's structure, which can encourage collaboration or silos and is the first thing within your control to influence behavior and how people collaborate.
[07:15] - Karim emphasizes the importance of examining the system in place using the analogy of a gardener to explain that leaders need to create an environment that fosters the growth of the desired culture and behaviors.
[07:51] - Brian references a quote by Craig Larman highlighting that whatever you're seeing at the moment, your system is designed to output that—for a different output, you gotta change the system.
[08:21] - Karim explains that Craig Larman's and Deming's quote that "every system is perfectly designed for the results it's getting" both emphasize the importance of the structure in determining culture.
[08:47] - Karin shares the second lever for changing culture, which is that the policies and rules that leaders create can be used to control or influence behaviors.
[10:37] - Brian references the "Don't be evil" structure at Google and what it entailed.
[11:37] - Karin discusses the importance of weaving high-level values into every part of how the organization operates, even the low-level aspects of the organization, to truly influence behaviors.
[12:15] - Karin talks about the third lever of culture change, which is metrics and targets, and notes that what you measure and set as targets speaks volumes about what leadership values in the organization.
[14:18] - Measuring intangible things like respect and integrity can be difficult, but it is important to find a way to measure them even though they don’t fit neatly into a dashboard.
[15:51] - Brian shares an interesting paradigm they use at Mountain Goat Software, where they set goals with both a visual and emotional aspect to help them determine when they’ve reached their goal.
[16:56] - Karim discusses the importance of HR processes as a lever (Lever #4) for influencing and reinforcing behaviors in an organization.
[18:27] - Brian shares the sponsor for the podcast, Better User Stories, a one-day live online training course with Mike Cohn to improve your user story writing, so your team can do its best work, faster.
[19:12] Brian emphasizes the concept that the company is a team effort, not an individual sport.
[20:21] Karim highlights the difference between Henry Ford's production line and a team-based environment using the analogy of chopping onions in the kitchen but being asked to make a tiramisu.
[21:30] - If the culture incentivizes individuals to prioritize their own interests over the interests of the team, then there is a problem, and conflicting incentives will lead to failure.
[22:21] - Incentivizing individualism over teamwork will lead to failure (and unhappiness among 70% of employees).
[23:39] - Karim discusses the fifth lever, which he considers to be the most powerful: leadership behaviors.
[26:20] - Actions speak louder than words: Brian speaks about the importance of leadership behavior in promoting a healthy work culture with the example of unlimited vacation policies.
[28:23] - Karim talks about the importance of behavioral norms in an organization, citing descriptive and injunctive norms as examples. By using the example of a library, he illustrates how people tend to conform to social norms.
[30:39] - Karim shares the two things that are necessary to strengthen a culture; without these, a culture cannot be strong (it's important for leaders to be hypersensitive to this).
[31:47] - The disapproval of others can be a powerful tool to make sure people behave the way we want them to behave.
[32:47] - Brian shares how the TV show Brain Games demonstrated social norms and people conforming to the crowd.
[33:43] - Karim emphasizes the importance of crafting a strong culture as one of the most important things a leader can do and calls for it to be a core leadership capability.
[35:46] - Do you have an idea for the show or feedback you'd like to share? We'd love to hear from you. Email Brian.

References and resources mentioned in the show:

Mountain Goat Software's Better User Stories
The 6 Enablers of Business Agility: How to Thrive in an Uncertain World
The 6 Enablers of Business Agility
5 Levers for Changing Organisational Culture
Lead and Disrupt
Larman's Laws of Organizational Behavior
Join the Agile Mentors Community
Mountain Goat Software Certified Scrum and Agile Training Schedule
Scrum Alliance
Subscribe to the Agile Mentors Podcast on Apple Podcasts

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This episode’s presenters are:

Brian Milner is SVP of coaching and training at Mountain Goat Software. He’s passionate about making a difference in people’s day-to-day work, influenced by his own experience of transitioning to Scrum and seeing improvements in work/life balance, honesty, respect, and the quality of work.

Karim Harbott is a leadership and business agility expert, entrepreneur, author, and international keynote speaker with over a decade of experience helping organizations with business agility. Karim is one of only a few people globally to hold the Certified Agile Leadership (CAL) Educator, Certified Scrum Trainer® (CST), and Certified Enterprise Coach® (CEC) status.