Monday 21 August 2017

Tend the roots

I have a little bamboo stick that has been growing on a small vase with some stones at the bottom of it. Roots have been growing around the rocks and rocks were almost part of the bamboo. Recently some of the leaves were becoming yellow. So I just pulled that leaf off and keep only the yellow ones. I also noticed that the level of water on the vase was not going down giving me the hint that the plant was not using the water. After I had pulled many leaves and noticing that the water was not going down for over two weeks, I thought I need to check deeper.
So I poured out the water from the vase and I smelled a bad smell. Hmm... If I was a plant and that was my water, I wouldn't be happy. So I put new water on the vase and thought this will now change things. Nope... there was still that smell and the water didn't look clean. So I decided to pull the plant out of that vase and into a new one. Because the rocks were so much into the roots, was hard to get the plant out, but I managed. What I noticed was: The rocks seemed a bit slimy and some of the roots were gray instead of light brown. Took the rocks off, cleaned the plant and the roots and put it into a new vase. Washed the rocks but did not put them back into the new vase. Even after washing them with soap, they stunk. The plant seemed to show signs of happiness and the roots started changing color to light brown.

As a person that runs an organization or leads a group of people, don't stop looking at the surface when you notice something is not right. If there are unhappy people (like the yellow leaves) removing them will not fix the issue. Those people are the ones that give you the insight that there is something to be taken care and you are the one that needs to get your hands to "dirty water" and do what needs to be done.
"Rocks" or those people we consider solid and strong/foundational CAN be a problem. When they stay on your organizations for a long time, doing the same thing, not looking horizontally to other skills to grow, they "rotten" and start creating that toxic environment that might kill the new ideas that want to grow. Be mindful of your rocks, move them around so they can see other perspectives, they do not effect the roots or leaves but rather support them and keep them healthy.

Here my plant in a new vase and feeling happier. On the side are the rocks and the last yellow leaves I took away.

Monday 10 July 2017

Signs of a Boss vs a Leader

There is a lot out there to help see the signs of someone that leads as a boss and someone that is a leader. I have found some of these signs myself when working with leaders that have powerful positions.
One sign I have found to be un-mistakenly right all the time is when they are referred as "The person at the corner office". I have seen this being the only "title" that person had for all my duration at that organization. And then I have seen the sad story where initially they are referred by name and then slowly they have been "promoted" to this new title.

It's definitely a sign that people do not believe anymore on you, your vision, your action or what you say. You have become the person that stays in this nice corner office, with a nice view of the ivory tower around you and far from the daily issues that your organization faces.
I just heard a group of people using this title for one of the leaders I was working with. It all started well. We all had open and transparent conversations. And then pressure came, tough decisions had to be made. It is there where I saw the true leaders and the ones that complied. The ones that knew the choice was tough but was the right one versus the ones that looked for a quick fix  right here right now.
Listen around. What do people call you?

Thursday 9 February 2017

Roles and Responsibilities

Be aware when you are asked to prepare a description of Roles and Responsibilities for a certain title. You might find out more if you ask "Why?"
In my case, it was to be used to solve the conflict between two team members that just didn't know how to work together and had different expectations from their managers. There was very little ask from the organization (found from surveys we did) on clarifying roles and responsibilities. It looked like everyone had a good sense of their role and the role of the people around them. Expect for these two individuals. And because of that, the managers blamed the new roles that Agile brought in the organization.

Managers asked to clarify very well the roles for these two other people and make sure they know what is expected from them. These two team members couldn't step into each-other areas and collaborate without letting each-other feel like they are taking credit for their job. They took their job description from online sites and pointed out the details about what each should do. That was not helping to create the environment we were looking for, a Collaborative one. So there was a conflict.
I did not create a job description initially. I knew I was going to put a lot of effort and get low return. It was not about the job description, it was about the expectations and personalities that the managers had to understand and improve. I spoke with the managers, I pointed out on this gap between ask, expectations, measurement of success and understanding what motivates them. Managers spoke with these team members. When they ran out of patience, they presented the possible consequences (!) to both of them if they do not find a way to work things out. Somehow the situation took a turn for better and these two team members found a way to work together for a while. Not collaborate, only work without creating trouble.
There were some tougher actions that the managers could have taken and some more patience to put into the conversations. They didn't. It required managers to have tough conversations, to set better expectations, to work closer to help these people grow comfortable in a collaborative environment. Managers didn't have a good example on how to do that and so the system created started tolerating behaviors that were not going to help the future.

Maybe next time!

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Is Kaizen enough?

Image result for improving candles bulb billboard
This image started going around on Tweeter a couple of weeks ago and a lot of Agile jokes were fuelled. While I do like jokes and sometimes I am the one that questions the value of the small incremental improvements (versus the effort), I found this to trigger me to write about it.
The Continuous Improvement is very often associated with words like "Incremental Improvement", "Small improvements" or if you want to look like you are paid a lot per hour, you use the Japanese word "Kaizen". Kaizen is about  EVOLUTIONARY improvements, things we do to evolve within a relatively narrow focus. Very often tho', Kaizen can take you up to a point and after that you feel stuck. Examples of that can be using a certain technology and then get stuck on scaling possibilities. Or using a framework/methodology/process  and get stuck when business rules change.
So what do we do when Kaizen is not bringing anymore the improvement we need?
This concept is known as "Radical Improvement" or Kaikaku. Kaikaku is a breakthrough, is a big change and it is done in addition to Kaizen, not to replace Kaizen. This is what we do when we see that small improvements do not take us further, do not allow us to scale, do not let our business grow capabilities. Kaikaku example are changing a framework/methodology/process to another one that brings more advantages to business and clients. Kaikaku is changing completely the technical platform you run your applications so that you can have more functionality in place.
Once a Kaikaku happens, then Kaizen continues with incremental improvements on making this change efficient, valuable and useful so that we reap the most out of this new thing we brought in place.

I find this topic very close to my heart because, as an Agile coach, I am usually brought into an organization after a Kaikaku has happened. The organization has started a Revolution to implement Agile mindset, practices and techniques. After that, as a coach, my only tool in hand is Kaizen: small improvements to make Agile mindset the normal thing. Just like with any Revolution, a lot of things are broken around, a lot of people are divided and feel unsecure.  It takes time to mend all of these, it takes time to get to a place where people have things in hands and feel in control of what they are doing. It takes a lot of Kaizen to get to a better place. A Kaikaku is not usually something to bring, because a revolution can't be followed with another revolution. It will only destroy the organization.
So while Agile does talk more about Kaizen, I like to bring Kaikaku in the picture here and there, just so we do not forget the options we have in hand.  We can always chose what we want, a Kaizen or a Kaikaku. But we always need to be aware of the consequences they bring.

Monday 10 October 2016

About the Pride

Agile or not, every organization has some elements that are strongly related and dependent to each-other. I have been thinking about this and the more I condense my ideas the more I drew to  this picture.
For an organization to  be a leader in the market they operate, you need all these three to have a healthy relationship, where each of them challenges others for growth. We can no longer bring Change management projects and initiatives with only one in mind, because we will be ignoring the system and context where they operate.
People: This is where growth is aiming to hire or evolve people's skills/mastery, motivation and autonomy. This is where we look to build strong teams. This is where managers need to evolve and support people to aim for higher standards.
Product: This is where Sales, Marketing and Leaders bring new ideas from customers and market. Growth here challenges the brand, the opportunities to have advantage in the market, the goal to make clients and keep them. This is where business strategy makes an organization work smart, rather than hard
Technology: The backbone of the products that our people create. Growth here challenges the usage of modern tools, modern deployment environments, modern technologies withing the office and for our customers. This is where you can benefit to get changes in the hands of customers with low cost and high speed.

Yes, you can say that People are the core of the Product and Technology. But if Product or Technology do not change and push to better and modern thinking/tools, People will not grow their skills and you are stuck with people that are looking forward to retirement. The others, will probably leave your organization and go somewhere else where they can have better opportunities.
Product can't go far without Technology and motivated People. When People are motivated, they bring ideas and make them happen. When Technology is strong and flexible, Product can afford to make small and frequent deployments for a low cost.
And technology will evolve to the point where manual solutions and patches/work around(s) are not acceptable by Product anymore and when People had enough of working outside of working hours to minimize customer interruptions.

So what is that thing in the middle that is connecting these three elements of an organization?
I have come to the conclusion that it is PRIDE.

Ask everyone on the organization, from the most senior to the most junior: 
Are you proud of what we do? Would you put your name on our Product?
I have the feeling that the number of people that answer YES is lower than we would like it to be.
So I have decided to change my focus when working with individuals, teams or organizations. My goal would be to get a high number of people that answer Yes, that are proud of what they do. My goal would be for a Product to be proud to be advertised to any client in the market. My goal would be for the Technology to be proud of the potential it offers to people and to products.

When these three areas are continuously creating a healthy challenge, when everyone takes pride on what they do, you have an organization that learns from past and improves the future. A Learning organization.

Thursday 11 August 2016

Shareholder gain prevents organizations improvements

If you have read things I write, you might have a sense of what I value on Leadership and People development. As a change agent, I work on creating environments where people are empowered, supported and collaborate for a long term benefit of the organization. There are two schools out there that look on how to measure the success of an organization.
  • One school, the one of Jensen and Meckling, says that the goal of an organization is to maximize the return to shareholders.
  • The other school, the one from Peter Drucker, says that the goal of an organization is to create a customer.
You can read here more about both of these, and also why Jack Welch called the first school " The dumbest idea in the World"
It is one of the walls that change agents hit very often in big organizations. Change is demanded in team levels and portfolio level, but going above that is a big challenge. Most of the challenge comes from the fact that people on those layers are measured by how they maximize shareholder value. They are not capable to break walls and make tough decisions that would support the teams. Decisions sometimes are seemingly easy and sometimes what we call "political". But still, leaders on these high levels do not make the decisions that would benefit the organizations in long terms and would make their people happier. The article above explains a lot the walls CEOs and other C level leaders have. It also gives some ideas on what to do.
Today I accidentally ran into this video. Yes, it is Hillary Clinton speaking but please, for the length of this video, forget that she is in the middle of an election. Listen to her from the Lawyer and Economist point of view.

The recap of this video:
they did a survey with the big American corporations and asked the leaders: If you could make an investment today that could be anything, R&D, machines, training for people... and you know that in 5-10 years from now you will get good revenue, BUT it will lower your stock by 1 penny, would you still do this investment?
The answer is unanimously: NO
This is because they do not want to deal with the pressure that shareholders and market will put on them for that. The way the current capitalist system operates does not leave room for these leaders to make the right choice on investments.

It is not a supportive message for anyone that is trying to bring a change on their organizations. It just tells to people like me that no matter how much you try, no matter how much you can use Drucker's theory on team level, you can go no further. Because after that, the Jensen&Meckling theory rains strong and decisions will be made to maximize shareholder value, not to protect and reinforce the organization values. Organization values will always be put on the second place if we can increase the stock by 1 penny.

And yet ...

Drucker is one of the people where I go when my brain is hungry. So is Russell Ackoff. Another great mind that has inspired me a lot is Edwards Deming. Louise wrote a blog about him and how he brought Lean to Toyota. More than that, I do value his ideas on leadership and management. One of his quotes is mentioned very often on Agile circles.
The fact is that the system that people work in and the interaction with people may account for 90 or 95 percent of performance
It is easy to try to solve a problem by pointing to someone. It is easy to complain about a manager that behaves in a way that we don't expect managers to behave. We believe that only by removing that person from the picture, things will get better. And yet, we forget about the system, we forget what Deming says.
For everyone that feels frustrated by the behavior of their manager, their CEO, their CIO or any CxO, stop for a second and remember this video above. What we are asking from these people is to make something heroic, to take a big stance and face a whole market, a whole room full of shareholders and be strong enough to accept that it might even lose that CxO role in order to protect the organization's values.
Are we doing things like this on our roles? Are we able and capable to consider losing our job for a cause? Are we being the leaders we want our leaders to be?
From what I have seen, not a lot of people are up for that. Scale that and math will tell us that not many CxOs are ready to do that either.  Until we measure the success of our leaders by the shareholder value, they will make decisions to increase that number. Only if we change that metric, our leaders will be able to make better decisions continuously. Those leaders that believe in Drucker's school and make tough decisions on a system where they are measured by shareholder maximization, are the leaders that I believe in and the reason I will continue to talk about change and about better ways to make decisions on high levels of organizations. Let's all try to be the leaders we want our leaders to be. Let's be client focused, invest on people and system improvements, let our values lead our decision making... and shareholder value will eventually increase.. as Jack Welch said.