Influencing Cultural Change

The D.C. Continuous Deployment group invited me to speak this week on my experiences influencing cultural change at a past employer. I focused primarily on the cultural divide between the Operations team (that I was responsible for) and the Development team. In the beginning, the relationship was not very collaborative. When I reflected on what I was trying to accomplish and how I was trying to accomplish those things, I had a stunning realization:

I was not influential.

One of the most important things I've learned in my career in IT is that being able to solve problems, while important, doesn't make one successful. Soft skills, like active listening and empathy, are the hardest to master and they're more important than your technical skill. If you develop your soft skills, and use them every day in your work, you will find success because you will be able to deliver value in your solutions. And who is looking for that value? The people in your organization that you work with. The clients that rely on your products or services. Understand people, understand the culture, and you can adapt your work to meet their needs. Know that culture is people, learn to work with those people, and you stand a greater chance of being relevant, and therefore influential in your organization.

I was not relevant because I was paying too much attention trying to sell people on my ideas and not enough on listening to what people needed, or advocating my team's accomplishments. I thought long and hard about the changes I wanted to see and knew that I and my team had to embody those changes if we were going to effect the positive cultural changes I envisioned. This was a journey through hubris to humility. I learned many valuable lessons and I'm very happy that I was given an opportunity to share.

You can find the slides from my presentation on my Talks page.

Thanks to Blackboard for hosting the meetup!