I’m C-Sick. Stop it with all your cultural bulls**t!

DevOpsGuys CEO James Smith looks at our need to hang our accountability on a term and explains why this is masking the real issues that need to be addressed.

Culture: the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.

The world seems to have woken up to this idea that people in IT matter. At last, I hear some of you mutter! For some in the IT business , however this seems to be a revelation; that to get the most out of technology and process, we actually need to consider that fundamental factor — people.

The good news is that I think we are seeing a change in language; a move away from “resources” or “heads” to actually just calling people, well people.

But, we’ve created a new term to band all our accountability upon, and we’re calling it Culture.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m intensely passionate about making sure that people, and their ideas, customs and actions are of paramount consideration within any organisation. Since it is these factors that combine to establish a “culture”.

But what I fear is that the culture being discussed more and more is a “thing”, an “entity” on which we can place blame, or accountability for outcomes we are not comfortable with.

Back in 2007, in Belgium, Patrick Debois, while consulting on a data center migration for the Government, became frustrated by conflicts between developers and sysadmins. This conflict was between people, caused by the way they behaved and communicated with each other. In 2009, Patrick decided to do something about it — he decided to create a forum where these groups of people could share ideas. That forum was born as “DevOpsDays” and the term “DevOps” was coined, mainly because “ Agile System Administration Days” wasn’t catchy enough.

Patrick noticed how people’s behaviours, the way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially towards others was the major cause of concern . In an interview with Linux.com, Patrick said,

“ The cultural aspect of collaboration gives everyone an equal seat at the table; both Dev and Ops are important. And this means there is more mutual respect. This also creates more empathy for each other’s problems, resulting in nicer environment to work in.”

However, I have a concern that I want to share. More recently, I fear we are drifting away from where this DevOps thing began; with people and their behaviours.

More and more I feel I am reading and hearing about this thing called “Culture” as an entity in its own right. For example, I frequently hear conversations like, “Ah! that wouldn’t work here, our culture doesn’t work like that.”, or “that didn’t work, because of our culture.”

What’s really being masked here, is that it’s not the culture that’s accountable for these things not working; but peoples behaviours. What’s really being said, in these examples is “that didn’t work because our (or my) behavior won’t adapt to allow it to work.” But that to most of us, is a very scary and emotive admission. To stand up and admit that “My behavior or the behavior of my group will not allow something to succeed (or fail)” — is a bold and brave statement to be able to articulate.

The result of all this is that blame is now being quickly passed to the “culture”, in essence we’ve started to objectify culture. We have a nice safe “entity” on which we can offload the accountability. Culture is just banded about as a term — when in fact it’s really masking the accountability of our behavior.

In DevOps especially, I think I’m starting to witness the way culture is being discussed is changing; it’s moving us away from thinking about peoples behaviour to discussing a thing with a distinct and independent existence — Culture!

In extreme cases, in other walks of life, we see examples of this objectifation in the media, with cases, involving truly repulsive predators like Roger Dodds. Consider this witness statement,

“The council are so responsible. I even think at times the council are more responsible than he was. They allowed it to happen. Everyone knew. Everyone in the council knew but they chose to do nothing about it.”

What’s frightening about this, is that these incidents were defended by blaming it on the culture, in several news interviews I listened to. A culture, that allowed these events to occur. My view is that what we are really masking here is the accountability on peoples social behaviours to stop these extreme events happening; that is the way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially towards others, is really what we should be questioning., but it’s easier to place the blame onto a faceless entity that it is to hold ourselves accountable.

I think it’s time that we start thinking about the accountability that we have in our organisations, in our communities and in our lives. To consider how we work to continually develop an awareness that it is my behavior, that it is my actions that are accountable. I also believe that it’s fundamentally important that we understand how to create environments where, bold and brave , statements like “How is my behaviour impacting others?” be openly debated, honestly and without blame.

Culture — It’s about our behaviour towards others, lets not forget that.

Originally published on Medium

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