Is “Leadership” a net positive, or net negative phenomenon?
Is “Leadership” a net positive, or net negative phenomenon?
One of the biggest constraints on the effectiveness of Agile software teams (the real ones, not the much more numerous pretend, faux-agile ones) is the assumption that the structures, assumptions and beliefs of the host organisation will not change. That it is, in fact, impossible to get these to change, or to expect them to change.
An assumption which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”
~ Henry Ford
When this assumption goes unexamined and unchallenged, adopting Agile ways of working within the software teams – or in any part of the organisation, in isolation – is a highway to hell.
P.S. You might like to take a look at my latest book – Quintessence – to see how highly effective organisations approach and solve this challenge.
Marshall, R. W. (2021). Quintessence: An Acme for Highly effective Software Development Organisations. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub)
When employees see their needs being attended to by their employer, they’re much more likely to contribute. Reciprocity is a cornerstone of the human condition (as is fairness).
Have you ever found yourself stuck in a rut, feeling tired and like you’re in the same mundane daily routine? You may even recognise many members of your team feeling the same way, as they lack enthusiasm in their work. What can you do as a leader to help your team get their zest back through self-fulfilment and a purpose-filled life?
Regardless of industry, sector or job type, leaders and employees can all agree on one thing: 2021 has been a year of change and uncertainty. According to national statistics, job vacancies in the UK are at a record high, with employees across the world joining the ‘Great Resignation’ (a term so common that it now carries its own Wikipedia entry).
But amongst all of the charts, statistics and official data, there are much more human reasons for this shift: reasons that are deeply personal to every employee who hands in their notice. Over the past eighteen months, many employees have had a chance to really reflect on their working lives – to figure out exactly what they want from their job, and how they might be able to craft a lifestyle that serves them on a more ‘existential’ level. In short, many employees have decided – mostly subconsciously – to reflect on their needs, and have begun searching for purpose, fulfilment and meaningful work, to name but a few common needs.
But this trend – towards greater meaning, purpose and fulfilment – doesn’t have to conclude with a resignation letter and a career change. It’s possible that employees can see their needs attended-to, even met, within their current role, and leaders can choose to take responsibility for supporting this process. Here’s how:
When it comes to motivating and inspiring employees, forget official policies and company handbooks for a moment. Start, instead, with your own behaviour. Are you conscious of your own needs? Are they being attended to by the company? Met, even? How does getting your needs attended-to affect your motivation to lead an effective team? How would you define your own needs, and how does that interact with the work you do? Answering these questions for yourself first will give you a firm foundation from which to help others.
Think about the regular opportunities you have to bring your team together. Instead of small-talk or generic ice-breaker exercises, could you introduce a needs-surfacing element to your gathering? This could be as simple as opening up a discussion about your own needs, or even the needs of the company or its Core Group. Or encourage employees to share their experiences about when having their needs attended to, or attending to the needs of others, has had an impact on them. Or, if you wanted to broaden the discussion out, you could share case studies, experiences or testimonials involving your clients, customers and users. This can be a difficult task for employees who aren’t always exposed to the eventual impact of their work (for example, those in non-client or non-consumer facing positions). Sharing the positive impact of every employee’s contribution to their own and others’ needs can be central in strengthening a sense of organisational purpose.
Many leaders will be familiar with asking the typical catch-up question: “So, how do you think things are going?”. But this shouldn’t be the end of the conversation. It might be the case that an employee enjoys the role and the culture, but feels a need to focus on a specific aspect of their work, or a specific element of their job. As much as possible, leaders should encourage employees to lean into their needs – this might mean opening up opportunities for employees to deepen their knowledge in a particular area of interest, given that need. Other examples of this “role flexibility” include allowing employees to take trainings or courses related to e.g. their needs for skills development, or refining job descriptions to focus in on an individual employee’s needs. There are numerous opportunities to tailor, readjust or recalibrate roles to fit an employee’s needs. And the payoff? Increased employee loyalty, motivation, engagement, and trust in the company.
It can be easy to lose sight of the most important element of this question: the personal fulfilment of each employee. Of course, the company’s needs – success, goals and objectives – are important, but ultimately, the company is made up of individual human beings, each with their own needs and hopes. By balancing the needs of the individual employee with those of others – including those of the company – and meeting employees on a personal, human level, we are far more likely to end up with a team of motivated, committed, purposeful people. And, of course, this is what makes an organisation ‘successful’ – not just in terms of external output, revenue or reputation, but in terms of supporting the employees who work for its success.
In a previous life, I was charge with leading a whole passel of software and product developers. To help create an environment where they might wish to up their game, I proposed and launched a new community called “The Inklings”. I attach the proposal and launch announcement hereunder, for your delectation/misery.
NB These two documents have been edited/redacted/dates and names changed, to protect the innocent.
If you’re wondering how it went: I left the company shortly after, and no one took it forward.
Leadership is the dark servant of the Domination System.
how often do your managers lead? And how often do your leaders manage? And how often do they do little to zero of either of these things?
Taking on a new role, working with new people. It’s a situation we’ve all experienced, maybe multiple times. And as careers progress, these new roles come with more responsibilities, more scope. Especially in connection with people. We might call these “command” roles. Or at least, “leadership” roles.
And we’ve all experienced, or will experience, the nervousness consequent on preparing to face new colleagues who are almost bound to be sceptical about having a new incumbent as their leader or commander. How to win over these folks? Flattery, favour or folksy friendliness isn’t likely to cut the mustard.
How about showing people that we know what to do with their abilities, expertise and enthusiasm? So they have some confidence that when the chips are down, their efforts won’t be wasted in some doomed enterprise? Here’s a little speech that might play well at the get-go of that new role:
I will never lead you into an action unless I know we can succeed at it. Your job is to become such a brilliant team that there is no action I can’t lead you in to!
We’re not in this for glory, ego-stroking or self-gratification. We are in this to meet the needs of all the folks that matter – any way we can.
On June 24, 1980, Americans widely viewed a NBC documentary called “If Japan Can… Why Can’t We.” The program, part of NBC’s White Paper series, prominently featured Dr. W. Edwards Deming.
Two suits stood in the aisle of the busy open-plan office.
“These people really are dumb,” John said, “even whisper ‘the bottom line’ and they all jump to it.”
“Yup. No one realises that us managers are in it for ourselves, not the bottom line,” Ralph said.
John smiled. “Sure thing. Wouldn’t do to have them find out, though.”
“No problem. They’ve been so brainwashed by life that even if we shouted our self-interest, they’d not believe it.”
John raised his thumb. “Safe, then.”
Where’s the flaw in John and Ralph’s assumptions and beliefs?
Your REAL Job ~ Think Different blog post
John Seddon of Vanguard Consulting Ltd. kindly shared an advance copy of his upcoming new book “Beyond Command and Control” with me recently. I am delighted to be able to share my impressions of the book with you, by way of this review.
I’ve known John and his work with e.g. the Vanguard Method for many years. The results his approach delivers are well known and widely lauded. But that approach is not widely taken up. I doubt whether this new book will move the needle much on that, but that’s not really the point. As he himself writes “change is a normative process”. That’s to say, folks have to go see for themselves how things really are, and experience the dysfunctions of the status quo for themselves, before becoming open to the possibilities of pursuing new ways of doing things.
The book starts out by explaining how significant improvement in services necessitates a fundamental shift in leaders’ thinking about the management of service operations. Having describe basic concepts such as command and control, and people-centred services, the book then moves on to explore the concept of the “management factory”. Here’s a flavour:
“In the management factory, initiatives are usually evaluated for being on-plan rather than actually working.”
(Where we might define “working” as “actually meeting the needs of the Folks that Matter”.)
Bottom line: the management factory is inextricable bound up with the philosophy of command and control – and it’s a primary cause of the many dysfunctions described throughout the book.
One stand-out section of the book is the several chapters explaining the role of software and IT systems in the transformed service, or organisation. These chapters excoriate the software and IT industry, and in particular Agile methods, and caution against spending time and money on building or buying software and IT “solutions” before customer needs are fully understood.
“Start without IT. The first design has to be manual. Simple physical means, like pin-boards, T-cards and spreadsheets.”
If there is an existing IT system, treat it as a constraint, or turn it off. Only build or buy IT once the new service design is up and running and stable. Aside: This reflects my position on #NoSoftware.
John echoes a now-common view in the software community regarding Agile software development and the wider application of Agile principles:
“We soon came to regard this phenomenon [Agile] as possibly the most dysfunctional management fad we have ever come cross.”
I invite you to read this section for an insight into the progressive business perspective on the use of software and IT in business, and the track record of Agile in the field. You may take some issue with the description of Agile development methods as described here – as did I – but the minor discrepancies and pejorative tone pale into insignificance compared to the broader point: there’s no point automating the wrong service design, or investing in software or IT not grounded in meeting folks’ real needs.
I found Beyond Command and Control uplifting and depressing in equal measure.
Uplifting because it describes real-world experiences of the benefits of fundamentally shifting thinking from command and control to e.g. systems thinking (a.k.a. “Synergistic thinking” Cf. the Marshall Model).
And depressing because it illustrates how rare and difficult is this shift, and how far our organisations have yet to travel to become places which deliver us the joy in work that Bill Deming says we’re entitled to. Not to mention the services that we as customers desperately need but do not receive. It resonates with my work in the Marshall Model, with command-and-control being a universal characteristic of Analytic-minded organisations, and systems thinking being reserved to the Synergistic– and Chaordic-minded.
My work of the past ten+ years tells executives, managers and employees:
The root of the problems in your organisation is the collective assumptions and beliefs (I generally refer to these as the collective mindset) held in common by all people within the organisation. Most significant (in the conventional hierarchical organisation) are the assumptions and beliefs held in common by the senior executives. In the Marshall Model I refer to the most frequently occurring set of collective assumptions and beliefs as the Analytic Mindset.
In knowledge-work organisations in particular, the Analytic Mindset is at the root of most, if not all, major organisational dysfunctions and “problems”.
The way forward, leaving the dysfunctions of the Analytic Mindset behind, is to set about revising and replacing the prevailing set of collective assumptions and beliefs in your organisation with a new set of collective assumptions and beliefs. A collective mindset less dysfunctional re: knowledge work, one more suited to (collaborative) knowledge work. In the Marshall Model I refer to this new, more effective set of collective assumptions and beliefs as the Synergistic Mindset. Yes, as an (occasionally) rational, intentional herd, we can change our common thinking, our set of collective assumptions and beliefs – if we so choose.
You may be forgiven for thinking that changing a collective mindset is difficult, maybe impossibly so. But that’s not the reason you won’t do anything.
The real reason is that the current situation (the dysfunctional, ineffective, lame behaviours driven by the Analytic Mindset) is good enough for those in power to get their needs met. Never mind that employees are disengaged and stressed out. Never mind that customers are tearing their hair out when using your byzantine software products and screaming for better quality and service. Never mind that shareholders are seeing meagre returns on their investments. Those in charge are all right, Jack. And any suggestion of change threatens their relatively comfortable situation.
So, what are you going to do? Just ignore this post and carry on as usual, most likely.
I guess most people, when they start a new job or client engagement, have in mind the things they want to do and see happen. Most likely, things they’ve seen or made happen in previous jobs or engagements. Along with, maybe, some things they’ve read or heard about and are minded to try out, given the opportunity. (And what better opportunity than the honeymoon period of a new job or client?)
We might choose to call this an agenda.
I’m no different, excepting perhaps the items that feature on my agenda:
Note: I’ve not included on my agenda anything about specific actions that I myself might want to do and see happen, beyond the items listed. Specifically, although I’ve written often about strategies such as Flowchain, Prod•gnosis, Rightshifting, the Marshall Model, self-organising/managing teams, the quality of interpersonal relationships and interactions, etc., I don’t bring these into my agenda. If folks discover these strategies for themselves, they’re much more likely to understand their fundamentals, and maybe come up with even more effective strategies.
The Antimatter Principle is the only strategy I’ve regularly written about that recognisably features on my prospective agenda, and then only by extending invitations to participate in that strategy. (Note: Attentive readers may just notice the tip of the Organisational Psychotherapy iceberg peeking out from the above agenda).
I’ve reached a point in my journey where, keen as my ego is to see all my ideas (strategies) made manifest, my experience tells me that’s not the way to go for the best outcomes for the community as a whole.
As for the Marshall Plan, I believe it’s best, in the longer run, to have the folks involved (in particular, the people that matter) do their own discovery and learning. Discovering for themselves, over time – through means they also discover for themselves – effective strategies for attending to folks’ needs (often including the principles underlying those strategies). I see my role in this Plan as supporting – in whichever ways folks request, or say they need – this collective endeavour. Such support quite possibly to include actively helping the discovery and learning, whenever there’s an explicit (albeit refusable) request for me to do so.
My previous post seems to have struck a chord, judging by the number of retweets on Twitter. It also presents an opportunity to explore a perennial challenge of building things for other people: teasing out real needs from expressed wants.
Have you ever worked with business folks who articulate their wants in the form of solutions, rather than as solution-free “requirements”? As means rather than ends?
Let’s take another look at the list of desired outcomes (wants) appearing in the aforementioned post:
From my days as a Business Analyst, I’ve learned that uncovering needs means having an ongoing dialogue with the people that matter. A dialogue in which we dig down, together, into the things they say they want, so as to uncover their real needs. Once we’ve teased apart the wants from the needs, we’re in a better place to choose effective strategies (solutions) for addressing those needs. Going with the superficial wants tends to box us in to the strategies (means) they provide. Strategies which often fall short of being effective.
I suspect what I’m talking about will become clearer as we examine in turn each item from the above list…
This looks to me like a solution masquerading as a need. That’s to say “a more coherent, disciplined approach” seems like more like means to other ends, than and end in itself. What might those ends be? What might be the underlying needs driving this proposed solution? A dialogue with the people that matter seems in order here. A dialogue that could prove challenging, absent a degree of trust and willing collaboration. And even assuming we are all able to dig down towards the underlying needs, just as in building software there’s no guarantee we’ve identified those needs accurately, until we’ve built and delivered something and seen it “in production” long enough to gather some feedback. Active feedback, which also implies iteration and evolution: “Is this really meeting the needs of everyone that matters? Is it good enough yet? What else do we need to do to improve it further?” etc..
For illustration, I’ll take a stab at the needs which might underlie this want. Maybe some folks suppose that “a more coherent, disciplined approach” will bring order to the present chaos (a need for order). Maybe some folks suppose that “a more coherent, disciplined approach” will make delivery of e.g. features or product increments more predictable (a need for predictability).
Maybe productive and effective dialogue will uncover other latent needs implicit in this want.
This also looks to me like a solution masquerading as a need.
Maybe some folks choose “Improved governance and oversight” as their automatic, default solution (strategy) for bring order to the present chaos (a need for order).
This again looks to me like a solution masquerading as a need.The No Estimates movement and debate has just about done this one to death. What might the supposed need for “improved estimates” imply. What’s really need here?
Whilst we could imagine this as yet another solution masquerading as a need, in this case I find this want more interesting, maybe closer to a real need than the previous two items.
I suspect some folks that matter may suppose that “better due date performance” is the obvious means to improve (external) customer satisfaction, and thereby revenue, repeat business, profit, market demand, market share, and other business metrics. Maybe those involved in the way the work works, armed with an explicit, agreed need to satisfy one or more specific business metrics, would be able to come up with ways of working which effectively address those metrics. In other words, valuable innovations.
This again looks to me like a solution masquerading as a need. What might be the underlying need here? Maybe it’s something born of a feeling of powerlessness in the absence of information about what’s happening. Maybe it comes from a sense of frustration or embarrassment when having to face customers and investors expecting information about product release schedules, feature sets, and road maps. Whatever the case, an effective, productive dialogue may flush out some of those underlying feelings, and thereby lead to a better understanding of the needs we’re all trying to address.
Yet again this looks to me like a solution masquerading as a need. I’ve heard this want many times in numerous companies. This looks to me like an implicit solution to the question “how do we become more flexible, how can we cost-effectively deploy and redeploy our developers between projects and project teams as business priorities change?” I guess the people that matter suppose that “common standards” is the obvious answer. But it’s our job to understand the underlying need and come up with the most effective solution (strategy) for addressing it, not just the most common solution.
But I could be barking up the wrong tree about the presumed underlying need here, so I’d want to have conversations with the people that matter so as to really understand what they might be trying to achieve through addressing this want.
Another solution masquerading as a need. What might “better project organisation” bring us? Better due date performance? More visibility into project roadmaps and current status? See explanations, above, for the needs which might underlie *those* wants.
Solution masquerading as a need. What might “people working in sync” bring us? Reduction in friction and waste? Improved flow (of products and features into the market)? Better due date performance? By digging down, though dialogue, we may uncover candidates for the underlying needs, which we can proceed to validate through delivering a way the work works, and getting feedback on the degree to which that way of working effectively addresses folks’ real needs.
This is probably the one item in our list of sought outcomes that’s closest to a real need. We can intuit the scale of the problem (shortfall in senior management confidence) by looking at all the solutions they’re helpfully trying to provide us with, via the other items here. Solutions (masquerading as needs) that they believe will improve things and thereby deliver the boost in confidence they seek (and need). Ironically, the solutions they provide – being very much less effective solutions than those we can come up with for them, as experts – often undermine the very outcomes they seek.
Very laudable. But let’s not let the humanity of this want blind us to its nature as (yet another) solution masquerading as a need. What’s the end in mind? Why might the people that matter seek “higher staff motivation and engagement”?
So they can feel better about the culture for which they they feel responsible? As a means to increased throughput and thus improved revenues and profits? Again, until we know what they really need, any solutions we provide will likely fall well short of the mark. In other words, wasted effort.
So, we can see that taking “sought outcomes” at face value can lead us into sleepwalking into addressing superficial wants, and adopting other people’s (non-expert, relatively ineffective) solutions. Solutions which rate poorly on the effectiveness scale, and which in any case may well be addressing the wrong needs. I find it ironic just how much non-expert interference and micromanagement goes unnoticed, unchallenged and unlamented. Plenty of time for lamentation a year or two later.
Bottom line: When building software, the biggest risk lies in building the wrong thing (getting the requirements wrong), and it’s not any less of a risk when “building” – we might choose to call it “evolving” or even “engineering” – the way the work works.
Most large companies are on a hiding to nothing if and when they decide they’re “going Agile” for software development. “Going Agile” can only ever deliver the outcomes these companies seek if the whole organisation is prepared to change some of its fundamental beliefs about how organisations should be run.
What outcomes do larger compares typically seek from “going Agile” in their software development teams? Here’s a partial list:
What’s not to like in the outcomes these companies seek by “going Agile”? Although maybe not comprehensive – they lack, for example, outcomes like “joy in work”, “folks getting their needs met”, “improved flow” and “customer delight” – there’s a bunch of stuff here I could get behind.
Setting aside the observation that some of the above “outcomes” – such as “common standards” and “people working in sync” – are more solutions than needs, “going Agile”, per se, is not the answer for delivering these outcomes. At least, not within the Analytic mindset world view.
With an implicit Theory-X, local optima (manage the parts separately) perspective, any and all solutions attempting to deiver these outcomes through “going Agile” are doomed to undermine the very outcomes sought.
It’s likely to start well, with much interest and hope expressed by the staff. After all, who wouldn’t want more autonomy, more mastery, more purpose in their work? But as things progress, existing company policies, rules, attitudes, etc. will begin to assert themselves. To the detriment of staff morale, motivation and engagement. Pretty soon, staff will begin to question the sincerity of the management in their support for “going Agile”. Pretty soon, it will start to become apparent to anyone who’s paying attention that existing policies, rules, etc., have to change fundamentally to see the outcomes sought begin to happen.
And with declining staff engagement in “going Agile”, and reducing enthusiasm for understanding the principles necessary for making Agile successful, progress will slow to a crawl. At this point, middle-management, who have to carry the burden of making “going Agile” happen will also begin, quietly, to question the wisdom of the senior management direction. This will lead to their more often reverting to orthodox, “tried and tested” (and less personally burdensome) ways of working. And more often baulking at the effort needed to push through adoption of more Agile practices.
So, what’s a company to do? Most companies will not realise, or want to hear, that the Analytic mindset is fundamentally incompatible with successfully “going Agile”. So, another Agile adoption failure is in the making.
Personally, having helped various companies face up to this challenge, I’d say:
“It’s extremely unlikely that you’ll want – or even be able – to give up your existing world view. At least in the short term. So something’s got to give. And it’s probably better that you give up on “going Agile”. But DON’T give up on wanting things to be better. Park your Agile aspirations, and try another path, another solution. After all, it’s the OUTCOMES you seek that matter, not some specific – and cargo-culted – solution.”
So what might that alternative solution look like? What can an unrepentantly Analytic-minded organisation do to improve its software development outcomes?
My recommendation would be to focus on the interpersonal relationships within and between departments. Help developers understand and relate to customers (both internal and external) better. Help other folks within the organisation better understand and relate to developers.
Leveraging these improving relationships, encourage multi-party, cross-function dialogue about the outcomes sought, and what folks of every stripe can do, every day, to begin to shift the organisation’s rules, policies, structures and assumptions.
In a nutshell, be less autocratic, directive and strategic, and more democratic, collegiate and opportunistic.
And remember, I’m here to help.
Some six years ago now, I wrote a post describing what might characterise a world class software / product development / collaborative knowledge work business.
In the interim, I’ve had some opportunities to work on these ideas for various clients. My consequent experiences, whilst in no way invalidating that post, have thrown up different perspectives on the question of “world class”.
Firstly, do you want it? Moving towards becoming a world class business involves a shed load of work, over many years. Do you want to commit to that effort? Even though the goal sounds noble, ambitious, attractive, does your business have what it takes to even begin the journey in earnest, let alone stick at it.
Then, do you need it? Absent powerful drivers spurring you on towards the goal, will you have the grit necessary to keep at it? Or will the initiative flounder and drown in the minutiae of daily exigencies, such as the constant pressure to get product and features out the door, to keep investors satisfied with (short term) results, etc.? And is the ROI there, in your context? If you do keep on the sometimes joyful, oftentimes wearisome path, and attain “world class” status, will the effort pay back in terms of e.g. the bottom line?
If your answers to the preceding two questions are yes, then we can get down to considering the characteristics of a world class collaborative knowledge-work business.
What might it look like, that goal state? Here’s my current take:
Just in case a little context might help, here’s a variant of the Rightshifting chart which illustrates world class in terms of relative effectiveness (i.e. how effective are world class organisations relative to their peers?) The yellow area highlights those organisations (those at least circa 2.5 times more effective than the median) we might consider world class:
Any world class collaborative knowledge-work business must have mastered a bunch of different fields of knowledge. That’s not to say everyone in the organisation needs to have reached mastery (Level 5 – see below) in every one of the follow fields. But there must be a widespread acquaintance with all these fields, and some level of individual competent in each.
I suggest the following Dreyfus-inspired model for characterising an individual’s (practitioner’s) level of competency (or action-oriented knowledge) in any given field:
The Novice level in each Field invites practitioners to acquire the basic vocabulary and core concepts of the Field. Attainment criteria will specify the expected vocabulary and core concepts. The Novice level also invites practitioners to acquire and demonstrate the ability to read and understand materials (books, articles, papers, videos, podcasts, etc.) related to the vocabulary and core concepts of the Field.
The Advanced Beginner level in each Field invites practitioners to acquire the ability to critique key artefacts commonly found in the given Field. The Advanced Beginner level also invites practitioners to read more widely, and understand different perspectives or more nuanced aspects of, and peripheral or advanced elements within the Field.
The Competent level in each Field invites practitioners to acquire and demonstrate a practical competency in the core concepts in the Field, for example through the ability to apply the concepts, or create key artefacts, unaided.
The Competent level also invites practitioners to acquire and demonstrate the ability to collaborate with others in exploring and applying the abilities acquired in the Novice and Advanced Beginner levels.
The Proficient level in each Field invites practitioners to acquire and demonstrate the ability to prepare and present examples and other educational materials appropriate to the given Field. The Proficient level also invites practitioners to acquire and demonstrate the ability to coach or otherwise guide others in applying the abilities acquired in the Novice, Advanced Beginner and Competent levels.
The Master level in each Field invites practitioners to acquire and demonstrate national or international thought leadership in the Field. This can include: making significant public contributions or extensions to the Field; becoming a publicly recognised expert in the Field; publishing books, papers and/or articles relevant to the Field; etc.
Any business that aspires to world class status must attain effective competencies in a wide range of different fields. The following list suggests the fields I have found most relevant to collaborative knowledge-work business in general, and software / product tech businesses in particular:
“Risk Management is Project Management for grown-ups.”
~ DeMarco & Lister
“A memeplex is a set of memes which, while not necessarily being good survivors on their own, are good survivors in the presence of other members of the memeplex.”
~ Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion
“An empowered organization is one in which individuals have the knowledge, skill, desire, and opportunity to personally succeed in a way that leads to collective organisational success.”
~ Stephen R. Covey
To the above list of Fields, I invite you to add any which may have specific resonance or relevance to your own business.
And then there are the lists of technical capabilities you need to be present in your various business functions, too.
As an aside, CMMI also provides an extensive list of “capability areas” ( circa 128 different areas, last time I looked) focussed on engineering capabilities. Note: I find the CMMI list useful, but only as a primer, not as a full-blown recipe for success.
All the above begs the question: how to get there? And, how close are you to world class, so far?
“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.
We chose the Advice process as a means to devolving and distributing decision-making. We like its potential for quicker – and more impactful – decisions, raised levels of trust, improved communication, and higher levels of involvement and engagement. This list describes this potential, as described by its early promoter, Dennis Bakke of AES, in more detail:
In practice, we have not yet seen full realisation of this potential. Overall, we attribute this to poor implementation of the Advice Process, which we’re now intent (sic) on fixing – whilst not undermining its original intent (see above).
Some of the implementation flaws we have experienced include:
We’re intending to experiment with addressing the above concerns through a couple of refinements:
I’ll keep you posted on how our experiment is going.
Decision Making ~ ReinventingOrganisations Wiki
The Advice Process – Definition and Usage Tips ~ Daniel Tenner
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?
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.
“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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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.
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.
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 you’re 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 invite 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 similarly finds joy and delight in being able to empathise, and attend to others’ needs.
My thanks to George Dinwiddie (@gdinwiddie) for suggesting the topic for this post.
“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
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?
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