DevOps Culture Change With Bill Joy

Posted on Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015
DevOps revolves a lot around what an organization and culture should look like. We talk about it on just about every episode of this podcast. Something we tend to skate around though is the how. How do you change the culture of an organization?

Show Notes

How to Change the Culture of an Organization

“Change management rests with the how” – Bill Joy

DevOps revolves a lot around what an organization and culture should look like. We talk about it on just about every episode of this podcast. Something we tend to skate around though is the how. How do you change the culture of an organization?

Matt got to sit down and have an incredible conversation with Bill Joy of the Joy Group about the how of influencing change. We didn’t talk about what changes companies needed to make, we talked about how to get companies to make the changes. Bill shared the often overlooked fact that change influence isn’t restricted to top levels of power in a company.

If I were to ask you right now, “What would make your company better?” I’m pretty sure your mind goes into overload with all of the things that you would change if you could. The thing that most people fail to realize is that they can make the changes, or at least influence them.

It doesn’t matter what level of the executive chain you sit at, you have the ability to influence change.

Any senior leader can mandate any change. If you’re a senior level executive, you can walk into the office and implement new strategies, create a new company wide rule, begin rapid movement events, or whatever you see fit to accomplish your ‘what’.

But it can’t stop there.

In mandating a change, you have to be very aware of how it will affect the company itself; the infrastructure, the culture, anticipate any resistance, who are the key stakeholders are, etc. If you don’t allow for these, your change could be very well unsuccessful and you lose a great deal of credibility as a leader.

Non Executives Can Influence Change Too

You might remember back when we had John Allspaw on our Etsy episode. (Give it a listen, if you missed it.) When asked “How do you implement developments in an organization when I’m not on the top; I’m coming from the bottom of the chain.” Allspaw answered: “I don’t know. I’ve always been in charge.”

What a great position to be in. However, not everyone is a high executive with the capability to mandate change. This doesn’t mean that you can’t influence change.

The question arises then: How do you influence change in your organization from the bottom?

Ask yourself: Who are my key influencers?

Change­ management is the influence of authority. That said, as you talk to the person you have deemed to be your authority, you have to remember the power of empathy.

Patrick Debois once said “We should stop calling it DevOps and call it common sense.”

Here’s the problem with that, not everyone is going to see it your way. Common sense is a relative term. If during any of your influencing meetings you find yourself thinking “This is crystal clear to me, why aren’t they seeing it?” that’s more about you than it is about them.

When you make the decision to mandate, or in this case, influence change, it is your responsibility to present your ideas so that people can see them clearly. If they aren’t seeing them clearly, there is a good chance that you aren’t communicating them effectively and didn’t take into consideration who your audience is.

Identify Your Audience: It’s all in the personality

One of the most popular personality tests around is the MBIT (Myers Briggs) which identifies the strengths and weaknesses of a person’s general personality. There are a bunch of alternatives to the test, but one that works really well with change management is the DiSC Profile, which you can take for free here. The test measures your strengths in four areas: Dominance; Influencing; Steadiness; and Compliance. All of which have different traits associated with them.

DISC Profile


Before you attempt to influence another person, you need to have a firm grasp on who you are. For example, if you’re heavily dominant, your natural approach isn’t going to be effective on someone who is compliant. You have to adjust your approach and presentation to your audience.

Once you understand yourself, know your triggers. As a dominant go-getter, someone who takes a while to process things or lacks energy may really test your nerves in a social situation. Realize this upfront, prepare for it.

Read; Assess; Adapt & Tweak

Make it a point to put some time into reading your key influencer. Take special note of the tone in their emails, the speed of their decision making, their general demeanor, etc. These are going to give you clear indications of what personality traits they have, and which you need to play on in order to effectively communicate with them.

From here, you learn to adapt. Adapting is essentially wrapping the package up. Maybe you thought at first that you would have to have a presentation based on making things less structured to allow for more success. But, you realized you’re in a room with the key influencer who is very compliant; he/she likes configuration and organization. You then have to be ready tweak your strategy to make the presentation more effective and geared towards them..

Taking On The Role of Consultant

Regardless of whether you're a hired expert brought on to assess the state of a company or if you're attempting to influence change internally, you're going to be taking on the role of the consultant. As the consultant, it's important that you remain committed to your views and intentions regardless of the initial feedback that you may get particularly if you're trying internally influence change. The key is to look at your key influencer as your client instead of your boss for the purpose of this project.

If your client (who happens to be your boss) shoots down your ideas and offers a counter plan, you have to be ready to channel some boldness and stand firm in your beliefs. Instead of arguing back and forth or worse, completely backing down because of his/her position above you in the company, you could say something like “I see what you’re saying, but if we do it your way, this is what is going to happen”, and then lay out how their plan is flawed.

It's Not The Size Of The Company That Matters, It's the Agility

When considering the speed and likelihood of a company to change, size shouldn't be the deciding factor. It's seems logical that a larger company would be more difficult to change than a smaller one, but often times it's the smaller company that shows more resistance.  Don't let size lead you to any assumptions.  Instead, there are 5 key areas that you should take a look at:
  • Risk Tolerance: Regardless of the size, does the company encourage risk? Do they punish risk-takers?
  • Speed of decision making: Is the company bound by politics? Hierarchy? Take notice to how the new hire process happens.
  • Levels of authority: Watch the style of how many people need to weigh in on a decision? When you go to your key influencer, is he/she going to refer the proposed changes to a higher level? Will that level then refer is even higher?
  • Empowerment: There is usually a tendency to refer empowerment higher. empowerment to the next level up.  Can you start changing the direction of empowerment down in an organization? What you want to do as a consultant is be able to go in and say something like "Can't this be solved by level 2 instead of going to level 6?"
  • Voice of the customer: Does the organization's customer base see the company as helpful? Are they happy with the customer service? How do they give products? How do they handle product returns? Are they satisfied in general? What's often found is that organizations are more flexible with their external relations than their internal relations.

Compliance VS Commitment

Whether you’re doing the influencer or the implementer of change, you’re going to come across two types of people who “sign on” to your changes.

The Compliant One: The compliant person will sign the documents, put their time in, “do their TPS Reports”, as Matt said in the podcast, punch the clock day in and day out. They’ll do it because they need a job, or are too lazy to leave. Whatever the reason, they’ll make the changes, but won’t really care much about it.

The Commitment One: The commitment person will simply, “Believe in the TPS Reports”. They’re dedicated to the idea of change and are committed to the success of the company.

As you have more commitment, the success of your company will be exponential.

As Bill said; “Find satisfaction in the pursuit of commitment.”

The best change influencers are those who don’t see people as something they ‘have to deal with’. They’re authentically interested in them, and enjoy the pursuit of the how of change more than the change itself.





Bill Joy

Bill Joy

Energetic, Strategic, Approachable. These words are often used to describe Bill Joy. For more than two decades, Bill has been a much sought-after consultant to organizations in a wide variety of industries - both big and small. Prior to establishing his consulting career, Bill held internal training positions at some of the nation’s biggest companies including Dow Chemical USA and United Insurance Company.


Matt Stratton

Matt Stratton

Matt Stratton is a Staff Developer Advocate at Pulumi and the global chair of the DevOpsDays set of conferences.

Matt has over 20 years of experience in IT operations and is a sought-after speaker internationally, presenting at Agile, DevOps, and cloud engineering focused events worldwide. Demonstrating his keen insight into the changing landscape of technology, he recently changed his license plate from DEVOPS to KUBECTL.

He lives in Chicago and has three awesome kids, whom he loves just a little bit more than he loves Diet Coke. Matt is the keeper of the Thought Leaderboard for the DevOps Party Games online game show and you can find him on Twitter at @mattstratton.