I thought a lot about the ideal culture for a research and development organization recently. Since I graduated from school, I have been in different development organizations. In each organization, there was something I like and others I dislike. Well, life is always like that. You almost have to swallow the sweetness along with the bitterness because they come together.

Although any organization has its pros and cons, there is nothing preventing me from imagining a perfect organization which has the ideal culture, with my own standards. It can serve two purposes for myself.

First of all, it can serve as a benchmark for me to evaluate any organization I am part of or will be part of. Since, in my opinion, the culture is the most important factor that affects one’s effectiveness in an organization, everyone should seriously consider the culture if he or she considers job satisfaction and career achievements important in his or her life.

And even better, I can carry the culture with me. No organization is perfect. But, at least I can change myself to follow the principles that I deeply believe. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the World”. By practicing the culture I desire, I am able to create a environment/atmosphere around myself anywhere I go. After all, it should be we change the environment, not the environment changes us.

But, what does “culture” means here and why is it so important?

Generally speaking, culture “refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activities significance and importance” (from wikipedia). Applying it to the corporate environment, it means “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization” (from webster)

The organizational culture starts with Values and Goals and ends at Attitude and Practices. It determines the “characters” of an organization. It must be shared by all the members of an organization.

Imagine if one doesn’t share the same values and goals with the organization he/she works. If one totally cannot stand the attitudes and practices of his/her co-workers, how can he/she be productive in such an organization?

That’s why most of the organization have the “new employee orientation” for the new hires. One major goal for that training is to imprint the corporate values and goals into the new employee’s mind and to justify his/her attitudes and behaviors to fit in the organization. Or even earlier, a wise organization should evaluate the employee not only by his education, techniques, or experiences, but also by his values, goals and attitudes. So, the new employee can naturally “fit in” after he/she comes on board.

To define the ideal culture, we can start from reviewing the goals of a development organization.

As Peter Drucker sharply pointed out, “There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer.” If there is no customer, the very reason for the organization’s own existence vanishes. We, who worked in development departments in a big organization, sometimes forgot that it’s the Customers who give us a job, not our boss, or even my boss’s boss. The reason we are here is to provide services to our customers.

An corporation needs a Information Technology department or a Research and Development department because it needs to provide better products or better services to the customers through the utilization of the most relevant technologies. The products or services may be directly used by the customers. Or they will be used other colleagues to serve the customer.

Ideal Culture Number One: Goal Oriented.

A development organization should have clear goals. Those goals should be tightly aligned with the business goals of the big organization we work for. They must be S. M. A. R. T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely), as suggested by many management best practices.

For a developer, actually, it’s kind of hard to link his or her own goals with the business goals. We are not customer-facing (that’s why we are not required to wear a tie every day at work). We are too deep down in the “hierarchy”. We only focus on the programs in our screen and the data our programs manipulate in the database. Who is our customer and what do they need? We don’t know and we don’t care.

That’s the exact reason why IT job sometimes can be boring. We hardly see the meaning of our work. Why do we have to work 14 hours a day just to meet that stupid deadline? By the way, where is that deadline coming from?

Only when we are able to link our jobs with the customer needs and the business goals, we can rediscover the reasons and meanings of our everyday work. We can regain the dignity and happiness we deserve in our jobs. We are not coming to the office to “do time”, like a prisoner does in a jail. We are making meaningful impacts to our customers! We are making their lives better through our hard work. That’s something worth proud of. And that’s the reason we get paid for. We deserve that pay check we receive every other week!

Another reason why every one should align their own goals with the business goals is more practical than restoring the meanings back to our job. If the business is not doing well and the business goals are missed, we will be punished one way or another. Reorganization can happen. Layoff may follow. Bad things will fall from the sky.

You may say why we should care. We can always move on to another job. Yes, but it won’t feel as good as the you get promotion and salary raise when business goes really well. Believe or not, our job is deeply connected with the business!

You may also feel that who we are to worry about the business. We are only a developer or a system engineer or a database administrator. We are just the IT guys who do all the back office work nobody cares. How can we impact the business? How can we drive up the stock price? The fact is our impact is much more significant than we realize. The application we designed and implemented may be the best seller in the market at attracts more customers and generate more revenue. One bug we put in the codes might cause many of our customers a half-hour frustration. Just recall how frustrated we were when we received a bill with wrong number in it and the time we spent in the conversation with the customer representative to correct it. Those angry customer will leave. Along with them, gone the revenue.

One of the key functions of the management team should be to identify the business goals, translate that into the goals of every one in the team, and to communicate the goals clearly to them. Every one should understand how his or her job is affecting the customer and the business. All the activities should be centered around those goals. Once the goal is achieved or exceeded, one deserves a pat on the shoulder, a kind of appreciation or a celebration party!

We, ourselves, should also constantly think in lines of the business goals. Think about what are important to our customers and our business. What can we do to improve the customer satisfaction, to grow the business and to save cost? Once we think like that, we will soon find out how important our work is to others, to the business. And we will soon find many opportunities open up for us to make meaningful impacts. The rewards will be both spiritual and material.

Aligning all the activities with the business goals are the most important culture for a development organization, in my opinion. What do you think? I will to see your opinions in the comments.

I will continue with other Ideal Cultures in my future posts. Stay tuned 🙂