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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

The Healthful Alternative To Management

“Everything is a fiction.The only thing that really matters is which particular fictions we choose to believe.”

Most businesses choose to believe in the fiction labelled “management”. They choose to believe that there is value in having people, most often called “managers”, “in charge” of other people, most often called “workers”.

Some businesses, though, are reexamining that belief. Especially in the light of the demands of collaborative knowledge work, and the need to operate under volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) conditions.

Purpose

Reexamination suggests we take a fresh look at the purpose of management. Definitions abound. Most look like shopping lists of all the things managers do on a daily basis. I’m going to go with a definition I feel particularly suited to the management of collaborative knowledge work:

Management exists to create and sustain the conditions under which effective work can happen.

Or, as Peter Drucker observed: “effective management consists in making it easer for people to do good work, to be productive”.

Alternatives

So, any viable alternative to the traditional management + workers setup needs to serve the same basic purpose: To create and sustain the conditions under which effective work can happen.

Various alternatives have been and continue to be explored: Holacracy, sociocracy, lattices, network organisations, wirearchies, industrial democracy, self-organisation, … the list grows longer every day.

All of these alternative have one thing in common: A recognition that work is, in essence, a social phenomenon. A phenomenon involving people, and their human relationships. Few of these alternatives, however, do anything explicit about the health of the societies they claim to value.

Organisational Psychotherapy

Can we conceive of alternatives to the traditional management + workers setup? Alternatives which do explicitly serve the health of our workplaces, of our societies-of-work, of our organisations?

Organisational psychotherapy is one such alternative. Its primary and explicit focus is the health of the organisation. Healthy and flourishing organisations create and sustain the conditions necessary for effective work. When an organisation has the means to provide therapy to itself, any need for the traditional management + workers setup diminishes and disappears. Contrived alternatives such as holacracy or lattices become moot.

How Do We Get There?

Can we expect today’s organisations to transform themselves? To acquire from their own resources the necessary capabilities for self-therapy? Some very few, very determined ones may be able to achieve that. For all the rest, some help may be useful. That’s the role of the external Organisational Therapist. To help organisations begin their journeys. To walk with them as they take their first fearful, stumbling steps towards improved health and joy.

– Bob

 

 

Antimatter And Deming’s 95/5

RedBeads

I note a distinct schism in business, with one camp which utterly rejects Deming’s 95/5, and another camp which wholly embraces the idea. Few sit on the fence, and pretty much never the twain shall meet.

Agnostic

The Antimatter Principle is agnostic on the subject of Deming’s 95/5, but, depending on your camp, its relevance may be different for you.

The Rejectors

If you reject Deming’s assertion, then you most likely believe that an organisation need not change its systems (i.e. its processes, technology, work design, regulations, workspaces, “social dynamic”, etc.) to see improved productivity from its workforce. Individual talent and effort is what counts, and individuals can, just as a consequence of their own grit, choose to be productive, or not.

For this camp, the Antimatter Principle is something than anyone can choose to adopt. Each person can choose to begin attending to the needs of the folks around them, of the folks for whom they’re doing things, and of themselves. Training can help. As can leadership. Leaders visibly attending to folks’ needs can spread the behaviour across the organisation. As more people adopt and model the behaviour, discovering and sharing the joy which it brings, others will, through e.g. social contagion, begin to adopt the behaviour too. Over time, the social dynamic of the organisation will change to one where people are more inclined to care about what they’re doing, where they find more intrinsic motivation, and where they may want to become more engaged in their work.

The Embracers

If you embrace Deming’s assertion, then you most likely believe that an organisation must change its systems (i.e. its processes, technology, work design, regulations, workspaces, “social dynamic”, etc.) to see improved productivity from its workforce. Individual talent and effort counts for very little, and individuals, despite their willingness to be productive, will not be able to accomplish much if the prevailing system prevents or discourages them from doing so.

For this camp, the Antimatter Principle is something that can be built into the system. Working practices, tools, processes, methods, regulations, policies, workspaces, and the way the work works can all incorporate the twin ideas of identifying who matters, and then attending to their needs. As more aspects of the system incorporate the principle, more and more people will discover and share the joy which it brings. Others will, through e.g. social contagion, also begin to adopt the principle and incorporate it in the way their work works. Over time, the social dynamic of the organisation will change to one where people are more inclined to care about what they’re doing, where they find more intrinsic motivation, and where they may want to become more engaged in their work.

– Bob

Further Reading

Deming Institute Red Beads ~ The Deming Institute
The Red Bead Experiment With Dr. W. Edwards Deming  ~ The Deming Institute

What If #1 – No Management

What if an organisation had the insight, the courage, the sheer chutzpah to move away from the traditional management hierarchy to some other form of organisational structure – e.g. without hierarchy, and without managers? What might we reasonably expect to happen?

“If a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.”

~ Robert Pirsig

If an organisation decided to get rid of its managers, all other things remaining the same, we might reasonably expect little to change. As Pirsig observes, the systematic patterns of thought that drove the organisation in its previous form will repeat themselves in the new  form. Most likely producing the same behaviours, and the same results, as before.

So it’s not that hierarchical management is the root cause of the relatively ineffective performance of the organistion. Rather, it’s the “systematic patterns of thinking” which are the root cause of that ineffective performance. Hierarchy, siloism, command and control, and all those other memes of the Analytic memeplex are but symptoms – visible manifestations – of Pirsig’s underlying “systematic patterns of thinking”.

Management Thinking

Many people (not least, John Seddon) have for some time expounded the view that for organisations to become significantly more effective, it’s management thinking that has to change. For which I read, the thinking, and thereby the behaviours, of individual managers and executives.

But, as Pirsig observes, it’s not the individuals involved, not their individual sets of assumptions and patterns of thinking, but the systematic patterns of thought. And where do these reside? In society at large, and more close to home, in the collective psyche of the organisation itself.

In our thought experiment here, even if we shot all the managers and executives, the collective psyche of the organisation would remain. And as with the torn-down factory, the external factors impinging upon and shaping the situation – that collective psyche – would also remain. And so, even without those managers and executives, the old systematic pattens of thought would remain. Homeostasis indeed.

Community

Moreover, how fair is it to ask just the managers and executives to change their thinking – even it they could? Where’s the “we’re all in together” spirit? I guess that sense of community is part of the future organisation we’d like to see? What chance we can build a community, a fellowship, of solidarity and mutualism through singling out one constituency for special pain?

– Bob

Further Reading

Reinventing Organisations ~ Frederic Laloux

Other Posts In This Occasional Series

What If #2 – No Process
What If #3 – No Telling
What If #4 – No Answers
What If #5 – Continuous Improvement Is Useless
What If #6 ~ Agile Nirvana
What If #7 – No Work
What If #8 – Agile Never Happened

 

The Two Antimatter Questions

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about the two questions which might spark folks to consider whether they are working on the right things:

Q1: “What is the purpose of this work, from the paying customers’ (end-users’) point of view?”

Q2: “What measures will the workers choose and use to understand and improve their work?”

Since then, I have written much about the Antimatter Principle and its role in creating the kind of environment in which folks might actually want to do the right things.

So, maybe there’s some utility in framing the two original questions in terms of the Antimatter Principle:

Q1: “What needs do folks (everybody) have, that we’re going to attend to?”

Q2: “What means will we (the workers) use to attempt to see those needs met, and what measures will tell us how (relatively) effective those means are?”

Note: When I say “folks”, as ever for the Antimatter Principle, i mean everyone who might have a stake in the endeavour at hand. That means customers, and also workers, managers, executives, shareholders (probably), suppliers, users (if different from customers), the organisation(s) within which the work is being done (as collective entities), and quite probably society at large, too. I refer to this inclusivity idea as “covalence”.

A Question For You

If you took these latter two questions and applied them to your work, would you ever need to ask yourselves anything else?

– Bob

Role Models

I’ve long been interested in how people organise themselves (and others) for making software. It’s become clear to me over the years just how much the way things are organised contributes to the relative effectiveness of the delivery of software products (and software for use within products, and services).

More importantly, for me, it’s become clear just how much more joy and fulfilment – you might choose to call it happiness – folks can find in their work when it’s well-organised. When the way the work works is working well (i.e. relatively effectively).

But where are the role models? Who are the individuals that folks can look to find inspiration in how to be well-organised? And more specifically, who are the individuals that folks can look to find inspiration in making an entire business or company “well-organised”?

In business in general we can find lots of role models. Depending on your taste. Richard Branson, Alan Sugar, James Dyson, Bill Gates, Peter Jones, Karren Brady, Ricardo Semler, Jos De Blok. And hundreds of other folks who have demonstrably “walked the walk”.

People naturally look to role models for clues about how to be successful, how to do things well, how to behave. And there are lots of role models in the software sphere – when it comes to writing software. But when it comes to organising for software development, at the company-wide level, I can’t think of even one.

How about you? Have you any interest in the way companies organise for effective software development? Do you see a connection between that and the quality of life at work? And if yes, have you yourself any role models for that?

– Bob

The Antimatter Pattern – Update

Last year I published a post “The Antimatter Pattern” which provided an Alexandrian-style pattern setting out how the Antimatter Principle provides a solution to one of the most intractable problems in modern business:

Problem: How to create a climate, context, or situation in which folks will want to change their behaviours to the benefit of all.

Or, how to set about fixing the pandemic of workforce disengagement and disinterest so widely reported in the past few years.

I just updated the original StartingTheWheelOfChange pattern (pdf, version 1.0a) which appeared in that post to a newer version: StartingTheWheelOfChange pattern (pdf, version 1.1a).

– Bob

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