You Can’t Run an Obstacle Course in the Dark

September 2, 2022 Jamie Notter

When you look at our aggregate culture assessment data, the lowest scoring marker is Agility (average score of 3.52, compared to the overall average of 3.69). We see this a lot with clients as well. Despite the fact that over the last two years pretty much every organization was forced into being really agile, it’s still not a part of culture. The specific culture pattern we have identified is called “heavy agility.” The building blocks around overall change and maintaining quality while moving quickly score higher than the ones about stopping things and fixing things. Yes, we were agile over the last two years, but it was exhausting because we’re not doing it efficiently.

But what a lot of clients don’t see at first is that there is another piece of the agility puzzle that could be an opportunity for change, and that’s transparency. The strongest correlation between any two of the 8 culture markers we measure is between agility and transparency. And this makes perfect sense: you can’t run an obstacle course in the dark. If you want to improve your agility, then make things more visible inside your organization.

This is even more important now that most organizations have more people working remotely more of the time. Create systems and processes for making the work visible. For example, have every team share their quarterly goals and (more importantly) their progress metrics along the way. This enables more people in the organization to start connecting dots, so they will see the bottlenecks coming before they happen and make the appropriate adjustments (in other words, they will be agile).

So by all means, you should work directly on improving agility (e.g., start implementing after action reviews so you can identify things that need to be fixed or stopped), but don’t underestimate how some culture plays focused on transparency will actually improve your agility as well.

So from a culture change perspective, it works like this:

  • Culture problem: We’re not as agile as we should be (and when we are, it’s exhausting).
  • Relevant culture pattern: Heavy agility (our culture values forward action more than it values effective action)
  • Culture solution: Share goal and progress metrics from every department
  • Results: People across the organization start seeing problems before they happen and adjust.

Note: this post is part of a new series on “Culture Solutions,” where we identify specific culture change action items that real clients have used to solve real problems in their organization.

Jamie Notter

Jamie is a co-founder and culture strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders create amazing workplace cultures that drive greater performance and impact. He brings thirty years of experience to his work designing and managing culture, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is the co-author of four popular business books, including the award-winning Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement, and his fall 2023 release, Culture Change Made Easy. He holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.