This is my third and final blog post of my takeaways from the SNAME Maritime Convention 2018. In the first two blog posts Shipping, Navies and Class are Driving the Transformation and New Mindset Required for Software, Implementations & Legacy Data I focused on providing business value with digital twins, the future of enterprise architecture in our industry as well as some of the challenges we have with legacy data and the way we implement changes.
In this post I will be talking about probably the most important thing we need to concentrate on but choose to ignore which is people and culture.
People & Culture
During the conference presentations I heard the comments made about “culture” more than any time in the past. This is music to my ears and is great news for the industry that we are at least talking about it. The challenge with culture is that it is tough to change with large well-established organizations like we have in our industry.
I had a few questions about how does someone go about improving culture. This was a tough question and does not have a simple answer, or at least not from my experience. One of the key points I made at the time was that you need to change culture by actions and not words. Even though I see the value of having posters hanging around your organization I do not think things like that will have a significant effect to your culture.
Actions speaks louder than words and, in my opinion, putting principles into action is the only way that culture can really change. If you want teams to have autonomy, then let teams have autonomy. This will require “managers” to “manage” completely differently. If you manage your teams the same way, then there is no way that you can change your culture to be more autonomous. Having a culture of being more innovative will require organizations to embrace the idea that failing is ok. If you do not, then you will not have an innovated culture no matter what you try to communicate to your team.
This sounds easy but implementation of it is difficult. For example, if you do embrace the idea that failing is not a bad thing, some might get into the idea that failing is good. That is not 100% correct. There is a good way to fail and a bad way to fail. A good way is to fail fast on something that looks promising with everything you know about it. However, if you fail because you did not spend enough time looking at the problem that needs to be solved (read: being lazy) or are not brutally honest with the information you have then failing is bad. This is very difficult and will be something every organization will struggle with when they start changing the culture.
Culture transformation is very hard to implement bottom-up. It can be done but it is orders of magnitude more difficult. It is important that the leadership team is all aligned with moving forward on changing their culture. This will require not just the leadership team verbally agreeing but actually taking action that aligns with your culture. This is a significant change to some people in the leadership team as it is not how they have been “managing” before. This is where some organizations may have to make some difficult decisions.
When you are going through a culture transformation it is common that you have key people that have been with your organization for decades and have added tremendous value over the years. However, they are not currently aligned with the culture you need to create. This does mean you will have to be prepared to make some difficult decisions and must part ways. This is not saying they are bad, it just means they are not aligned or compatible with your current company. This is tough; however, is something that almost every company that has significantly changed their culture had to do.
We are at a time where we need more leaders than we need managers and to quote Jim Collins, “The most valuable assets your company has is the Right people.” With the right people you will be able to easily change your processes and your tool selection becomes less of an issue. People will be what moves companies forward or keeps them back. This means it is something we need to get right and we all should be spending a good portion of time towards.
I guess the important thing for me is at least we as an industry are talking about the importance of people and culture more seriously. I do not think we will be able to progress as fast as we need to without a culture which better aligns with today’s challenges and workforce.
It is imperative that your leadership team embodies the culture that you want throughout your company and their actions are perfectly aligned with it.
I envision (or maybe hope?) that we will see some presentations in the future on how a company completely evolved their culture and discuss the strategy as well as the failures of what did not work. This is something that will really help our industry.