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The Advice Process – Flaws and Fixes

“The advice process is a tool that helps decision-making via collective intelligence. Much depends on the spirit in which people approach it. When the advice process is introduced, it might be worthwhile to train colleagues not only in the mechanics but also on the mindset underlying effective use.”

We’ve been using the Advice Process for several months now. Whilst we’re still very much committed to its use, and wish to see the changes it promotes, all has not been going smoothly with its uptake.

Promises

We chose the Advice process as a means to devolving and distributing decision-making. We like its promise of quicker – and better! – decisions, raised levels of trust, improved communication, and higher levels of involvement and engagement. This list describes the promises, as described by its early promoter, Dennis Bakke of AES, in more detail:

  • Community: it draws people, whose advice is sought into the question at hand. They learn about the issue. The sharing of information reinforces the feeling of community. The person whose advice is sought feels honored and needed
  • Humility: asking for advice is an act of humility, which is one of the most important characteristics of a fun workplace. The act alone says, “I need you“. The decision maker and the adviser are pushed into a closer relationship. This makes it nearly impossible for the decision-maker to ignore the advice.
  • Learning: making decisions is on-the-job education. Advice comes from people who have an understanding of the situation and care about the outcome. No other form of education or training can match this real-time experience.
  • Better decisions: chances of reaching the best decision are greater than under conventional top-down approaches. The decision maker has the advantage of being closer to the issue and has to live with responsibility for the consequences of the decision. Advice provides diverse input, uncovering important issues and new perspectives.
  • Fun: the process is just plain fun for the decision-maker, because it mirrors the joy found in playing team sports. The advice process stimulates initiative and creativity, which are enhanced by the wisdom from knowledgeable people elsewhere in the organization.

Practice

In practice, we have not yet seen full realisation of the promises. Overall, we attribute this to poor implementation of the Advice Process, which we’re now intent (sic) on fixing – whilst not undermining its original promises (see above).

Flaws

Some of the implementation flaws we have experienced include:

  • Permission-seeking. Some folks have not yet overcome their established reflex of seeking permission. The Advice Process as conceived rejects permission-seeking, placing implicit responsibility for outcomes on the individual or team with the intent, not on the permission-giver. This shift (i.e. from authoritarianism to co-creation) requires a degree of courage from all parties.
  • Trust. Some advisors have found it challenging to trust the intentions or competence of those seeking advice.
  • Belief. Some with intentions have found it challenging to believe that they now have the power/authority to make key decisions.
  • Misunderstanding/clashing frames of reference. Sometimes, advice sought and then given has been received/interpreted as denial of permission.
  • Impatience. The delay between announcing intent and receiving advice has proved a source of friction, leading on occasions to proceeding without waiting to receive considered advice from advisors who may hold key pieces of the puzzle (often, these are the busiest of people).
  • Criticality. Some people have voiced concerns that key business decisions with serious negative commercial or reputational risks could proceed to action, even when some key risks go unappreciated or unaddressed (due to advice being sought from the wrong quarters, ignored, or not understood).

Fixes

We’re intending to experiment with addressing the above concerns through a couple of refinements:

  • Shared responsibility. The onus of communication will rest equally with those communicating intent and those from whom for advice is sought. Those announcing an intent are requested to actively pursue advisors to confirm their intent has been heard and understood by all the necessary parties; those from whom advice is sought are requested to respond promptly and with due consideration of the significance of their role and advice.
  • Time-outs. In those cases where someone believes there is a problem – maybe they feel the Advice Process has not been followed correctly or not used when it should have been – that someone may call a Time-out. The intention or action in question – which may already be in train – will then be suspended, pending a go-around (i.e. another taking of soundings, general proposal of intent, seeking of advice, confirmation that the intent has been understood, and consideration of advice received). Note: This does not imply that the intention itself has been denied or overruled. Rather, some party to a particular instance of the Advice Process believes the Advice Process has not been followed or used appropriately, and that the risks implicit in the intention or action are likely not being duly considered or attended-to.
  • Arbitration. We’ll see if we need to introduce some arbitration or conflict-resolution mechanism to handle repeated time-outs being called against a given intention or action, or to handle occasions where parties disagree on whether the Advice Process has indeed been followed correctly or not.

I’ll keep you posted on how our experiment is going.

– Bob

Further Reading

Decision Making ~ ReinventingOrganisations Wiki

The Advice Process – Definition and Usage Tips ~ Daniel Tenner

Advice Process for Effective Organizational Decision-Making ~ Agilitrix

Business Development

The word “development” in the phrase “business development” has always meant something very different than in the phrases “product development” or “software development”. The term “business development” is generally taken to mean finding new customers, building customer relationships, and such like. And thus responsibility primarily resides in the Sales & Marketing silo.

Maybe this is one reason why the idea of “developing” a business, in the same sense as developing a product or a software system, is pretty much unknown to business folks. Many’s the time I have invited business folks to consider the merits of taking a “development”approach to the construction and evolution of their business, only to receive little response other than a sea of blank faces.

Which makes me sad, because there’s an enormous amount of “development” practice, expertise and skills available to apply to the challenges of developing a business or other organisation. I’d say that some 80% of the know-how involved in developing products or software systems is directly applicable to “developing” an organisation.

Have you ever suggested to business folks that “development” know-how could have a massive impact on their bottom line? Or otherwise effectively meet many if not all of their core needs? What kind of reactions have you seen?

– Bob

Further Reading

What, Exactly, Is Business Developoment? ~ Scott Pollack
Prod•gnosis In A Nutshell ~ FlowchainSensei

Dead Wood

Shoots

Much of my work over the past twenty years or so has been informed by the grace and wisdom of Dr. W Edwards Deming, often known as Bill Deming. This post is inspired by the following quote:

“The only reason an organization has dead wood is that management either hired dead wood or it hired live wood and killed it.”

~ Bill Deming

Note: Very similar quotes have been attributed to Peter Scholtes, and indeed the above quote may well be Dr. Deming paraphrasing Peter Scholtes.

Definition

“Dead Wood” here refers to people in a group or organisation who are no longer actively useful – people still drawing salary, etc., but adding little or no value.

Deming’s 95/5

Bill Deming observed that “95% of the performance of an organization is attributable to the system (processes, technology, work design, regulations, etc.) and 5% are attributable to the individual”. If we accept this, then is there even such a thing as dead wood? Maybe there’s just folks trying to do a good job, but frustrated – defeated, even – by the system, the way the work works, and the situations in which they find themselves.

Dead – Or Just Dormant?

I have seen many folks, in various organisations, written-off as “dead wood”. I see this much like “flipping the bozo bit” – many managers seem to believe that “dead wood-edness” is an inherent attribute of individuals. And little or nothing to do with their circumstances or situation. Maybe they have not heard of the Fundamental Attribution Error.

Is dead wood really dead, or are those so labelled just in the wrong jobs, in the wrong teams, in circumstance where they’ve been all but forced to disengage, where they have learned to be helpless?

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

~ William Shakespeare

Maybe you know some “dead wood” in your team, group or organisation. What might it take to bring them back to life, to flourish, to see some green shoots of new growth? Is there anything you could do to help that along?

– Bob

Further Reading

Four Days With Dr Deming ~ William J. Latzko & David M. Saunders
The Leader’s Handbook ~ Dr. Peter R. Scholtes

Attending To The Needs Of Others

Picture of a giraffe's head

Following on from my previous post, some folks may be wondering just how to go about “attending to folks’ needs”. As the brevity of my previous post seemed to find favour, I’ll keep this one (kinda) brief, too.

Giraffe Listening

For me, it all starts with learning to listen with giraffe ears. “Listening to get in touch with what’s alive in a person” as Marshall Rosenberg puts it.

And there’s probably no better place to start learning to listen than with oneself. I mean, listening TO oneself. You can do it in secret, without anyone knowing, until you’ve found a little confidence in the practice of it. Confidence which may help in listening to others.

Empathy

Empathy is “the ability to be wholly present with someone”. It’s not what you say, and certainly not what you think. It’s the ability to just be present, non-judgmentally, with someone.

Again, I’d suggest practicing on yourself first. It’s particularly tricky to empathise with others if you haven’t quite found the knack of empathising with yourself.

Learn To See Your Own Needs

Even with listing to oneself and empathising with oneself, it can take some reflection and further practice to begin to understand one’s own needs. Nonviolent Communication suggests that our needs derive from our feelings about things we have observed. Things someone has said, or done.

Identifying these triggers, objectively (like a fly-on-the-ewall, without judgement) can lead us into exploring the feelings they trigger.

And thence to the needs that the trigger has met – or failed to meet.

And ultimately to making a refusable request of ourself – or another – in an attempt (experiment) to get those needs met.

Experiencing this four-step process for and with ourselves puts us in a better place to begin to do the same with others.

Moving On To Others’ Needs

When you’ve built up a little reservoir of confidence in listening to yourself and empathising with yourself, then it might be time to engage with others.

Ike Lasater suggests it can be helpful to negotiate an explicit agreement with each person you might want to engage with. At least, if they know you and your “habitual” ways of communicating with them. Adopting a new way of relating to people, with new words, can come across as weird or clumsy at first. Even with some self-practice under your belt. So to minimise freaking out your colleagues, and nearest and dearest, making a refusable request of them to allow you to try out you new moves can assuage early confusion and angst.

And a word of caution:

It’s sooo easy to “put yourself into someone else’s needs”. By which I mean, saying to yourself “I just know this person needs…[x]”.

It can be helpful to guess what they might be feeling (we can never know with any certainly) – and try that guess out on them to see if we guessed right:

“I guess your feeling [bewildered]?”

The other person is then free to confirm or deny that feeling. If they deny, we might choose to guess again. And if they confirm, then we might guess what need(s) they have (if they don’t volunteer this information) that are or are not getting met:

“I guess that’s because you need [some kind of consistency between people’s words and actions]?”

Again, the other person is free to confirm or deny your guess.

And we can even invtie them to make a refusable request:

“Would you be willing to ask something of me (or another) that might help in getting that need (of yours) met?

In summary, when you’ve got a handle on helping yourself identify your own needs (and making refusable requests of yourself, or others) then you’re in a position to begin doing the same with and for others. I take this to be what Marshall Rosenberg meant when he said:

“Empathy gives you the ability to enjoy another person’s pain.”

I find much joy – and enjoyment – in being able to empathise, and attend to others’ needs. Especially when they’re in some kind of pain. The Antimatter Principle is founded on the belief – and confirming science – that every human being does.

– Bob

Acknowledgements

My thanks to George Dinwiddie (@gdinwiddie) for suggesting the topic for this post.

Further Reading

Words That Work In Business ~ Ike Lasater
More Time To Think ~ Nancy Kline

The Antimatter Proposition

“88% of Americans feel that they work for a company that does not care about them as a ‘person’.”

~ Raj Sisodia

Why does this even matter? After all, most organisations appear to operate under the assumption that people are simply fungible “resources”. Resources that need a job more than the organisation needs them.

“There is sufficient evidence to show that people can be exceptionally innovative under certain conditions. Working in a [uncaring] machine-like organization is not one of them.”

~ H Jarche

Is workplace democracy a solution? Whatever the solution, there’s an awful lot of money – and joy – being left on the table:

“When businesses successfully engaged their employees… they experienced a 240% BOOST in performance-related outcomes”

~ Gallup, State of the American Workplace Report 2013

 

Think Again?

Maybe recent trends and evidence tempt you to think again about the nature of the workplace you have created, and the state of mind, and morale, of the folks in that workplace?

If so, one question I’m regularly asked is:

“How on earth can we start addressing this issue? How can we even begin to turn things around and create workplaces where folks feel like they might want to become engaged?”

And my answer to this question is: the Antimatter Principle.

Are you sufficiently engaged with your organisation that you might want to explore how this helps?

– Bob

Further Reading

Leadership Yawns As Employees Check-Out ~ Bernie Nagle pp. Craig Daniels
State of the American Workplace ~ Gallup (Report)
Eleven Reasons Your Employees Are NOT Working For You ~ Jim Benson
The Antimatter Why ~ Bob Marshall

The Software Development Manager Role Is An Oxymoron

Managing: adjective
1. BRITISH having executive control or authority “the managing director”

See also: Management

In my post of a couple of year back entitled How To Be A Great Software Development Manager, I closed with the suggestion that great software development managers work themselves out of a job. Well, out of that job, anyways.

Given that effective software development is about quality relationships, effective collaboration, and sound cognitive function, then may I invite you to consider the implications and impact of power-over relationships – such as the manager – managed relationship – on these three aspects?

Here’s my take:

Quality relationships thrive on direct dialogue (as contrasted with the intermediated dialogue implicit in management hierarchies). And the coercion implicit in the manager’s role, as a form of violence, always serves to undermine humane relationships, however benign the intent.

Collaboration thrives when purpose ((and thus direction) is held in common, rather than handed down from “above” (another form of subtle, yet significant, coercion).

Cognitive function thrives under conditions of eustress (contrasted with the conditions of distress arising from e.g. being coerced or otherwise persuaded to do things not obviously related to the declared common purpose). Fear, however veiled, and in whatever form, always impairs cognitive function.

The manager – managed relationship exemplified the dysfunctions mentioned above, undermining as it does the quality of fellowship-style relationships (power-over rather than power-with), collaboration, and cognitive function.

There’s also a variety of research showing the dysfunctions inherent in the (related) leader – follower relationship.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line here is, does it make any kind of sense to create the kind of conditions so inherently antithetical to effective software development (and other kinds of collaborative knowledge work)?

If we were starting from scratch, absent the baggage of history and expectation, would we ever choose to institute the manager – managed relationship, especially in our software development organisations? And what price are these organisation paying, largely unnoticed, for continuing to carry that baggage?

– Bob

Further Reading

Power and Love ~ Adam Kahane
Flow: The Psychology of Happiness ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

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