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Driving successful change: Pedagogy, Honesty & Acceptance

Good practices fail when forced without pedagogy, honesty & context. Change requires leaders' buy-in toward a generative culture. Pedagogy helps, but the environment matters. Let's learn from R. Westrum's typology of organizational cultures.
Driving successful change: Pedagogy, Honesty & Acceptance
Photo by Dylan Gillis / Unsplash

Good practices (whether technical or not) often fail to be adopted because they are just forced upon individuals without good pedagogy, limpid honesty, and acceptance.

Pushing agile or technical frameworks onto a team without first learning the context of the team and introducing their purpose and foundational motives is a recipe for failure.

Any individual or group who wants to bring in change must be ready to spend the time to learn the context into which they are evolving. This will help draw lines between the framework elements (tools, processes, ...) and the actual issues of the project and team.

Based on those, one can devise steps to introduce both to the stakeholders. This boils down to conducting an audit, presenting the conclusions, and introducing how each pain point could be resolved.

In education, pedagogy refers to the theory and practice of teaching. Pedagogy has been used to develop teaching techniques that encourage active learning, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. It is widely accepted that good pedagogy can lead to better student learning outcomes.

But is pedagogy enough? No, it's only one part of the process. It's brought and supported by the project leader (consultant or not). On the other side, for the stakeholders, there needs to be limpid honesty and acceptance about what they are facing and what needs to be done.

The State of DevOps 2022 (https://cloud.google.com/devops/state-of-devops) has some great insights. In particular, the authors are referring to R. Westrum's research on organizational cultures.

In a generative organisation alignment takes place through identification with the mission. The individual “buys into” what he or she is supposed to do and its effect on the outcome. A sense of ownership is a natural consequence of identification with the leaders and the team. Accordingly this person will try harder for and care more about the outcome. By contrast, in a bureaucratic organisation alignment with the person’s own unit or function takes the place of alignment with the mission. The department’s interest will be fought for without regard for its effect on the mission. In pathological organisations, alignment is typically with a person or a clique, whose interests are advanced in preference to other loyalties. --  R. Westrum - A typology of organisational cultures

As "generative organizations" do better than their counterparts (according to the State of DevOps report), this should give pause to many leaders.

Pedagogy will also fail if one uses it in bureaucratic and pathological organizations. Such an organization would not consider change at all (it's either crushed or considered harmful). Anyone bringing change in would be told to stop or move out of the organization.

That's where leaders need to be limpidly honest and accepting of change: if they are not, then the organization they lead is either bureaucratic or pathological or pulling towards either of them. The question is then: are those leaders ready to help their organization change?

Because these cultural typologies are not set in stone, as pointed out by R. Westrum in his publication.

The process by which the leader’s preoccupations are translated into workforce culture is well described by Abrashoff. Once set in motion, a unit’s climate has a powerful ability to affect outcomes. This is largely due to pervasive effects of information flow, whose problems have been implicated in so many accidents. Abrashoff managed to change the culture of the Benfold in only a few months. --  R. Westrum - A typology of organisational cultures

But, one needs to factor in the environment, or context, in which the change will be introduced, as also pointed out in the same publication.

On the other hand, the regional cultures described by Putnam have been in place for centuries. A ship, although part of a fleet, is an isolated unit. A regional or national culture, by contrast, is likely to remain unchanged over long periods of time. For this reason, we should not neglect the role of the larger environment. --  R. Westrum - A typology of organisational cultures

To conclude, while its speed and impact will depend on the scale of the organization, change can be brought in. There must be buy-in from the leaders and a move towards a generative organizational culture. Doing so will require plenty of pedagogy, but it can be done.