Original Post Date: Thursday, November 1, 2012 

Changing organization culture is often cited as necessary for surviving the grim financial realities we face today. Everywhere you look, no one seems to have enough money to buy what they need, but somehow, the need must be fulfilled. If we can just change organization culture, a smart new idea will emerge to save the day; maybe so. How, then, do we change the culture? Practically every B-school and business periodical has written on the subject. One thing they all agree is that achieving organization change is one of, if not the most challenging tasks a leader faces.

Organization change begins with leadership. And, while it doesn’t end there, it can’t begin without well thought-out leadership vision and commitment. Leadership implies followership, so we need a crowd of at least noticeable size that believes in and follows the change leader. If the change brings about improved results, the crowd will grow. Once it reaches throughout the organization (allowing for a few non-believers), we have culture change. A culture shift is not an over-night occurrence; at least a peaceful one is not. Expect noticeable change to require years, rather than months.

If I’m an estimator reading this piece, I might be asking myself, what does this have to do with me? Response: We need culture change in how organizations view the estimating function, the value that is expected from an estimate, and the role estimating plays in project formulation. Notice I didn’t include the role of estimating in decision making. That role is well established by existing culture and needs no additional attention. The counter response from the estimator may well be, fine, but I can’t bring this about – I need my organization executives to champion this. My reply - don’t hold your breath.

Don’t confuse executive position with leadership. Certainly change leadership is most effective and expeditious when driven by executives and most executives are effective leaders. However, there are cases where executives may shrink from leadership. I became aware of one a few days ago via a GAO publication - Defense Health Care: Additional Analysis of Costs and Benefits of Potential Governance Structures Is Needed, GAO-12-911. Here is a case where the same change agents demanding data-driven estimating from defense acquisition program organizations have not only failed to adopt their change remedy, but continue to resist when called out on it by GAO! Any of us, regardless of organization position can be a change leader if we have the conviction and courage to make it a non-negotiable part of our culture – we can overcome false steps of those who sit above us – we must.