How does your organizational culture support your business outcomes?

Organizational culture can be defined as the collection of underlying values, beliefs, assumptions, and ways of interacting encouraged by an organization and adopted by all its members. These contribute to the creation of a unique environment in each organization. One key aspect of positive organizational culture is the availability of support for your team members that enables them to be more effective when it comes to taking action in support of your business outcome.

According to AWS Best Practices, there are eight key aspects that should be addressed in order to achieve a positive organizational culture that ultimately supports your business outcomes. We will explore each of these in detail below.

  1. Executive Sponsorship Organizational culture permeates all aspects of a business. Senior leadership should be the first ones to adjust their roles to a positive organizational culture by positioning themselves as sponsors, advocates, and drivers for the adoption of best practices and encouragement of evolution across the whole organization. One of the main roles of an organization’s leadership is to clearly set realistic yet challenging expectations for the entire organization and evaluate success. When it comes to defining expectations, the main focus should be to find a good balance between how achievable and how ambitious these expectations are. Goals for the organization should be clearly defined and made publicly available. It’s also important to let team members know which success metrics are a priority to the organization and how they’ll be measured. Achievements should be constantly measured and tracked. Sharing these results will enable the relevant team members to take appropriate action if outcomes are at risk. Leadership has a big role when it comes to ensuring that everyone achieves their goals. One of the main ways in which they can contribute to their teams success is by providing all necessary resources. To do this, it’s necessary to regularly review your resources and assess if they’re still appropriate taking into account new information, changes to goals, responsibilities, or to the business environment as a whole. Effective leadership remains continually engaged with their teams to understand their situation at any given time. Leaders should be the main advocates for their teams and be able to identify obstacles that might be impacting their team’s performance. When this is the case, leaders should be the greatest advocates for their teams by addressing or removing any internal or external factors that can compromise their success. Last but not least, it’s important that leadership is seen as the main driver for the adoption of best practices and evolution across the organization. Best practices that provide quantifiable benefits should be highlighted as well as their creators and adopters. By encouraging further adoption, the benefits can be maximized throughout the whole organization. Continuous improvement should be encouraged both at the individual and organizational levels.

  2. Empowered team members Any given organization works most effectively when all its team members are empowered to take action when faced with a situation in which business outcomes might be negatively impacted. You can ensure your teams will have all the tools to respond effectively to adverse situations by providing them with the permissions, tools, and opportunities to practice key skills. One of the key ways to empower your team members to strive for positive business outcomes is to give them plenty of opportunities to practice their skills. Alternative safe environments in which they can train up and test processes and procedures safely are a great alternative. Another example of this could be performing gamedays that allow team members to gain relevant experience and train them to respond to real-world incidents in a simulated and safe environment. Finally, you should make sure that your team members' authority to take action is specifically defined and acknowledged accordingly by providing them with the permissions and access to the workloads and components they are expected to support.

  3. Encouraging escalation Best practices dictate that early and frequent escalation leads to the best results. The importance of escalation should be acknowledged by the organization and made to be an essential part of the company’s culture. After all, it’s better to open up the opportunity to prevent an incident than to miss it because someone wanted to avoid escalating. In order for escalation to be widely adopted by everyone in the organization, there should be mechanisms in place that encourage and simplify it. There should be documented procedures on when and how to escalate as well as a clear hierarchy of people with increasing authority to take action and their contact information. In order for escalations to be effective, the following information must be provided: detailed description of the risk, the criticality of the workload, impact (what the impact is and who it impacts), and details about the timeline on when the impact is expected. Employees should be protected from retribution if they escalate around a non-responsive decision-maker. To ensure this, there should be employee protection policies in place as well as mechanisms to identify and address unresponsiveness on the part of any decision-maker across the organization.

  4. Effective communication There are three main features you should be aiming for when it comes to your organization’s ways of communicating: timeliness, clarity, and actionability. The best way to achieve these, according to AWS Best Practices, is to make sure there are mechanisms in place that provide notifications for any potential risks or planned events in a way that is clear and actionable with enough notice to enable an appropriate response. One of the ways in which you can do this is to document any planned activities and create an accessible source of information for finding out about planned events. This calendar system should also provide notifications for planned events. In addition, you should track any events or specific activities that could impact your workload in any way. It’s essential to constantly monitor vulnerability notifications and patch information that can provide insight in understanding potential risks associated with any specific workload component. Relevant team members should be notified to take action.

  5. Encouraging experimentation Supporting learning and innovation by encouraging experimentation across your organization is one of the best strategies to achieve continuous improvement. Experimentation should be a key pillar in organizational culture to maximize positive business outcomes. New technologies should be introduced regularly to encourage and inform future innovation. Any successful organization will provide resources, such as funding for software or cloud resources, to allow for the conduction of experiments that might lead to innovation. However, aimless or disorganized experiments can be as much a waste of resources as they are a waste of time. To avoid this, it’s necessary to set clear experimentation goals and to provide structured time for experimentation. Your teams should be encouraged to experiment with specific goals or using specific technologies that will have applicability in the near future. Specific times when teams can focus on experiments and are relieved of other responsibilities are also key to foster a great atmosphere for successful experimentation.

  6. Continuous upskilling Any successful team will be ready and able to adopt new technologies, support innovation, and work with increasing responsibilities in support of your workloads. The main factor influencing your team’s ability to do so is continuous education. Resources for education should be readily available and all team members should be provided with dedicated timeslots to devote to training as well as access to training material, lab resources, and participation in conferences and other professional gatherings that provide learning opportunities in a variety of contexts both from educators and peers. Encouraging mentorship programs is a great way to upskill your most junior team members. In addition, learning about topics that are not directly related to one’s immediate responsibilities is also important to broaden everyone’s perspectives, which will come in handy for problem-solving later down the road. Cross-team engagement is another useful strategy that will result in more shared knowledge across different teams in the organization. Finally, employees should be encouraged to pursue and maintain industry certifications that validate their knowledge and acknowledge their accomplishments.

  7. Appropriate resourcing A good understanding of your team's success and the factors that contribute to it or might threaten it will allow you to appropriately resource your organization. The achievement of operational outcomes and the development of assets by your team should be measured regularly by tracking changes in output and error rates over long periods of time. This will allow you to provide adequate resources to boost your team’s productivity. You should also be keeping a close eye on any factors that might negatively impact your team’s performance and, when possible, provide the resources needed to mitigate them. To avoid unnecessary expenses or idle resources, you should be assessing if your resource allocation is still relevant or whether additional resources are needed and make appropriate adjustments that support your team.

  8. Encourage divergent thinking Diversity in opinions and perspectives within and across teams should be highly encouraged in any successful organization. An effective strategy to this end can be to provide opportunities for team members to switch or expand their roles either temporarily or permanently. By putting them in situations they might now otherwise find themselves in, they will diversify their experience and perspective and gain new insights from team members with whom they might not have interacted in their original placement. Widening perspectives tend to result in increased business opportunities and improvement opportunities. By having team members occasionally swap tasks they will gain an understanding of the demands and impact experienced by their peers. To guarantee a welcoming working environment that is conducive to divergent thinking, there must be policies and controls in place to protect every team member’s wellbeing. A welcoming and safe work environment will undoubtedly result in team members who are comfortable and eager to share valuable insights such as marketing opportunities, access, plans to engage unserved market segments and alerts about unacknowledged risks in your environment.