What Got You Here – Won’t Get You There

As I contemplate this year past at 3am in the morning – when I invariably turn myself inside out – it has been a roller coaster ride. A journey of happiness and joy, satisfaction, disappointment, excitement, disillusionment, re-grouping,  acceptance, learning,coming up for air.

Its always intense. Transformations occur at a point of time when you change from one thing to another – heavy duty.  Its disruptive.

And I have always said that you learn most about yourself as a leader, that you grow personally and professionally through the toughest of times and where you are brutally honest with yourself.

Hold a mirror up and look at what looks back at you. Do you like what you see? Do you sleep soundly at night?

And as a leader I believe it is a necessity that you do endure adversity and learn from it.

So my last article for 2015 is about leadership

Dan Rock (Leadership Freak) re-tells a story in a Leader You Can’t Live Without . He’s in conversation with a board member and shares his view that truly successful leaders will constantly develop their replacement. The board member in question is shocked. He holds a common belief that leaders create value by making themselves indispensable.

And perhaps the greatest test of leadership is what happens when you’re gone.

I agree with Dan – an indispensable leader – leads a dependent organisation.

And a great leader leaves the team and the organisation with higher capability and in a better place.  And these leaders can be quiet leaders and are often overlooked.

Susan Cain in her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” talked about how our traditional bias towards extroverted leaders (dynamic, showy ‘alpha’ leaders) has got to the point that excellent introverted leaders are increasingly overlooked.

She noted some real disadvantages regarding the alpha extrovert profile – they may be infectious, but their confidence is often wrong because they will often hold forth very confidently on the basis – that they have the answer – that they alone know best.

  “These leaders can be so intent on putting their own stamp on events that they risk losing others’ good ideas along the way and allowing workers to lapse into passivity,”

And underneath – these leaders only really care for themselves, their own advancement and making a mark.

I know – because I used to be one of them.

This is what I thought leadership was – really! I was rewarded for it and thought I was successful. I actually believed in my own hype.

Until a previous manager  in a Telco , lets call her Claire –  pointed this truth out to me – those characteristics – that I did not want to see and said simply;

“What got you here will not get you there”

And  this was the catalyst for the most significant change in my own leadership journey.  I do still wrestle with some of those characteristics and if anything have now become that introverted leader.

This can seem a dichotomy or a contradiction to others and has on occasion caused me to be misunderstood. I do aspire to quiet leadership.

And if I sit back, its because I am striving to listen. If I am not offering my own opinion as loudly as others – its because I am wanting to elicit the opinions of others. If I don’t tell you what to do – its not because I lack leadership – but I knowyou already know the answer.

I suspect I now need to be more vocal in my own leadership stand.

Enough about me  – lets talk about you.

Perhaps you’ve been feeling less confident in your leadership ability, maybe the team isn’t really humming, perhaps you’re feeling a bit isolated and lonely or you’ve been having conflict with peers and your team. Perhaps you have flashes of rare insight. Perhaps you feel no one really tells you the real story?

Perhaps you know deep down that it’s all about you.

And these are all signs that what got you here won’t get you there. Do you recognise yourself?

In a similar vein Simon Sinek in Why Leaders Eat Last says there are many leaders who aim to raise their own status without really fulfilling their responsibilities as leaders.

While we may achieve alpha status and rise in the ranks, possess talents and strengths that could earmark us for alpha status, we really only become true leaders when we accept the responsibility to protect those in our care.

Inwardly focused and intoxicated by ‘success’ some of us rising leaders don’t know or forget that our responsibility as a leader is to our people. Sadly this describes individuals and senior leadership teams in many organisations.

But it’s not all of our own fault – Steve Denning says the reality is that in traditional organisations the world of “management” is vertical. Its mind-set is vertical. Power trickles down. Big leaders appoint little leaders. Compensation correlates with rank. Tasks are assigned. Managers assess performance. Rules tightly circumscribe discretion.

Some of us know nothing else

And some of us know better

This type of company with this leadership have a hard time with innovation and they are being systemically disrupted by new players. And it’s economy—the Traditional Economy—is in decline. In stark contrast the world of start-ups and the big players in the new economy is horizontal. Vend, Xero, Uber, Spotify you know them.

Agile working, new economy working or whatever you want to call it – has spread rapidly and has established some footholds in most of the tall vertical organizations. Its benefits are obvious after all. Don’t all we all want to be more successful than we currently are?

I remain unconvinced about a traditional organisations understanding of what the true meaning of transformation to this new economy working really entails.

Because this transformation – at its essence is first and foremost behavioural. It requires every single leader in that organisation to give up old constructs of what leadership is, to reject the notion of vertical hierarchy and individual success.

This new mindset is horizontal, its purpose is to delight customers. Making money is the result, not the goal of its activities. Its focus is on continuous innovation. Its dynamic is enablement, rather than control. Its communications are horizontal collaborative conversations. And we aspire to liberate the full talents and capacities of those doing the work.

As we all take a hard earned break over the holiday season – will you reflect on your leadership stand?

Do you feel you’re a better person and your team is better because of it?

Do you really know what your team really thinks and say’s about you?

Perhaps the most important question is, what defines your character that communicates your value of people?

The answer to that question is essentially in your character and it will determine the level of ‘motivated trust’ that people will give you.

And as Dan Rock states

Leaders – who aren’t creating leaders – corrode the future. An indispensable leader leads a dependent organization

Adventures in Agile – Going To Abilene

Aberline

I’d been reading aloud to my husband chapters from The Humane Workplace by my friend Amanda Sterling. In Collaborative Communities, she talks about the myth that an open plan office will make authentic, transparent communication and collaboration happen. She says that group think is also more likely to emerge when physical boundaries are removed, as the lack of boundaries encourages homogeneity because people are nervous about standing out as individuals.

I have seen this Abilene Paradox happen in new teams, old teams even. It can be confounding and not without irony when faced with this phenomenon in Agile teams – I personally find it the mother of agile anti-patterns to deal with.

Merely saying you want self management, self directed teams – does not make it magically happen even within the context of good and fertile systems and conditions.

So what is the Abilene Paradox? And why should we care?

The term was introduced by  Jerry B. Harvey in his 1974 article The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement.

On a hot afternoon in a family is comfortably sitting on a porch, the father-in-law suggests they go to Abilene, a town about 90 km away for dinner. The wife agrees and the husband, despite not really wanting to agrees too and says, “Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go.” The mother-in-law says she wants to go as she hasn’t been tto Abilene in a long time.”

The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted.

One of them dishonestly says, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?” The mother-in-law says she would rather have stayed home, but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The husband says, “I didn’t want to go I only went to satisfy the rest of you. The  wife says she went along to keep everyone happy.  The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored.

The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably, but did not admit to it.

The phenomenon is explained by theories of social conformity and social influence which suggest human beings are often very averse to acting contrary to the trend of a group. It may occur when individuals experience action-anxiety — stress concerning the group expressing negative attitudes towards them if they do not go along.

This action-anxiety arises from what Harvey termed “negative fantasies” — unpleasant visualizations of what the group might say or do if individuals are honest about their opinions — when there is “real risk” of displeasure and negative consequences for not going along. The individual may experience “separation anxiety”, fearing exclusion from the group. 

Travel the road to Abilene and you’ll arrive at a place where deeply held, logical values fall victim to group dynamics. It’s a bumpy ride that can culminate in meaningless outcomes and blame, but you can skip the trip if you know how to read the signs….

Lack of Transparency

This can happen when members of a team exhibit different opinions in a group setting as opposed to one on one. If people are telling you one thing and then offering their true opinions in private, not wanting to speak up in a group setting – then its suggestive of group think. Especially where the right conditions exist, ie a social contract is in place, team self-management is being actively desired and true opinions are being encouraged.

People will often “go along to get along” if they have any doubt at all about what will happen if they present opposition.

Members Discouraged To Lead

When someone on the team offers constructive dissent or starts to lead – the homogeneity of the group can be threatened. Anyone sticking their head up over the precipice may be told they are trying to manage. In Agile teams you even hear cries of “command and control”. Leadership is not command and control. In healthy mature self-managing teams different members will come forth at different times and lead. Self-management does not mean consensual homogeneity

Members Don’t Hold Each Other Account

For fear of upsetting anyone in the group, the group often won’t hold each other to account for the work being done (or not done)  If no-one feels the freedom to point out that the work hasn’t been completed in a sprint or where the definition of done wasn’t achieved, then no one wants to take responsibility for them either.  Anyone then holding the team to account as a peer can be ostracized, no longer welcome in the clique.

Members Exhibit A Lack of Trust

Eventually this lack of transparency erodes trust. Team politics can emerge and cliques can form. I’ve seen a whole team form a clique which excluded the poor Product Owner. This is symptom of a low maturity team mistakenly viewing the Product Owner as manager and creating a “them and us” dynamic.

SO WHAT DO WE DO?  

Look at the system that is enabling this anti pattern to exist, to thrive even. Change the system.

Make Room For Individuals

I use the Sail Boat, Wind and Anchor exercise (thanks to my “roomie” Kathleen Coulton Agile Coach, Trans America). You draw a boat on the board with sails on the sea. You draw the island as the Agile team destination and talk with the team about what will be their wind in the sails, and what the anchors weighing them down, you do this on stickies as an individual exercise which you then discuss as a team. Silent brainstorming is also another good technique. Or “round robins” where you collect on stickies everyone’s opinions.

Facilitate Don’t Manage Conflict         

Don’t seek to manage or smooth over conflict. Facilitate it, call it out in Retrospectives.  Help the team with practical tools like how to give impact feedback or the use of a Conflict Dynamics Model and how they will as a team agree to surface conflict.   Dealing successfully and openly with conflict can be most emancipatory for the team

Change the Language

Avoid language that plays to agreement in groups

Canvas each person’s opinion privately and then bring those views with you to the table rather than “is anyone opposed to this, because anyone slightly opposed won’t speak up. Don’t use rule by consensus where everyone must agree – I think that’s a common myth in Agile. Use data and transparency to make the best decisions

Educate That Agile Is Not A Free For All  – Its Leadership for All!

The team will have direction set and work within certain parameters but anyone can lead at any time. In an Agile environment, we are all expected to be leaders.  Anyone can trust and delegate, have a clear vision and communicate it to others.  Any team member can ask questions and solicit suggestions. Anyone can make a stand.

Agile is Simple But Hard!

Adventures In Agile – The One About It Being Hard

broken wings

Agile is a culture

Its not a product or a set of processes, it’s a mind-set and Michael Sahota writes about this comprehensively in his survival guide to agile transformation. Scrum he says is designed to be disruptive and introduces new roles, the Product Owner, the Scrum Master and the Team.

For a leadership team in the early stages of Agile transformation, the introduction of new concepts such as transparency, trust and collaboration can be emancipatory and emotional.

For some the early stages of the agile mindset shift it can feel like a transcendental experience, for me at least I spent a good 12 months firmly in this space.

I’d written about this in earlier articles as a consciousness awakening, I found others of the same ilk, some found me.

I can spot the difference because those that have made the shift are just different from those who haven’t. Perhaps it’s the transparency and collaboration factor, they seem to have a different energy, vibe and presence.

Now I am in privileged and humbled to be able to help others through this journey, while I am still on this journey myself.

It’s been described as an emotional roller coaster and in the very early stages of our journey the team likened it to being in an amusement park or a circus.

It’s magical, mysterious and powerful and right now it’s hard.

I think we’re all  facing the day to day reality that we are trying to change ourselves, how we work, our mindset and still operate within a larger organisation who are not Agile and that we must now operate in a dual culture.

We have all in our own ways opened our minds and have wholeheartedly embraced the change, we are getting better at inspecting and adapting everything we do, and we are moving through that really uncomfortable place where we are trying, succeeding and sometimes failing on the way to our goal.

But this agile transformation isn’t about us as a leadership team.

It’s about whom we have been entrusted to lead. Simon Sinek so eloquently describes this when he talks about why leadership matters. He says leaders set the tone and when a leader makes the choice to put the safety (feeling safe and a sense of belonging) and lives of the people inside the organisation first, so that the people remain and feel safe and feel like they belong.

So we are beginning to ask our people to help us rebuild an ecosystem and mindset which previously saw them not being trusted completely to get the job done, and where we did not create an inclusive environment that fostered trust, courage or transparency.

We are at the first stages of learning about servant leadership and what it might mean and it’s a natural partner with agile.

If we are no longer managers of people than who are we, what value do we bring?

But this isn’t about us

It’s about our people

Take these broken wings

Take these broken wings

And learn to fly again, learn to live so free

When we hear the voices sing

The book of love will open up and let us in

Take these broken wings

Adventures in Agile – The One About Populist HR Writers

peacock

A couple of interesting events happened last week in our agile journey

One was about ownership and team self-management and this resulted in greater levels of trust and understanding between the Scrum team and the Service Owner (Rudi the General Manager). I’m going to write about this separately because this is still unfolding.

The other is tension created when one part of the organisation is agile and the way the rest of the organisation is managed. So this is top of mind for me and I’ve read a couple of really interesting articles.  As I am in an HR/Agile Coach hybrid role, it is the people practices that really stand out for me as requiring a different focus and upwards change leadership to align these.

These have been further reinforced in a twitter chat with David D’Souza and David Ulrich, where we had interesting debate and an Employment Today article on the future of HR, where you could see the contrasting views from traditional HR management thinkers, Chris Till, Rowan Tonkin – the new Richard Westney, Amanda Stirling and myself.

Steve Denning in his Forbes article “Why Managers Hate Agile” says the reality is that “management” and “Agile” are two different worlds. The world of “management” is vertical. Its mindset is vertical. Power trickles down. Big leaders appoint little leaders. Compensation correlates with rank. Tasks are assigned. Managers assess performance. Rules tightly circumscribe discretion.

“The purpose of this vertical world is self-evident: to make money for the shareholders… Its communications are top-down. Its values are efficiency and predictability.  The key to succeeding in this world is tight control. Its dynamic is conservative: to preserve the gains of the past”

This type of company has a hard time with innovation, they are being systemically disrupted by new players. And it’s economy—the Traditional Economy—is in decline.

In stark contrast the Agile world is horizontal. Denning talks about it spreading rapidly like a virus and has already established footholds in most of the tall vertical organizations. And the Agile mindset is horizontal, its purpose is to delight customers.

Making money is the result, not the goal of its activities.

Its focus is on continuous innovation. Its dynamic is enablement, rather than control. Its communications are horizontal collaborative conversations. We aspire to liberate the full talents and capacities of those doing the work.

“It is oriented to understanding and creating the future. It believes in banking, not necessarily banks. It believes in accommodation, not necessarily hotels. It believes in transport, not necessarily cars. It believes in health, not necessarily hospitals. It believes in education, not necessarily schools”.

And its economy—the Creative Economy—is thriving.

So its no wonder then that there would be tension in the way we are in the Agile world and the traditional way of management and traditional HR.

And both have little insight into what is Agile. That’s for software right? Nothing to do with management or HR right?

Wrong

The roots of agile were established to solve for the problems of hierarchy. The premise is in hierarchy work is organized with individuals reporting to bosses who tell them what to do and control their work.

Firms with a vertical mindset at the top, like IBM, are struggling and organisations in the horizontal world of Agile, like Apple, Uber, Spotify, Zero, Vend, Zappos and Google, are busy growing and inventing the future.

Agile has got everything to do with HR

Because in this new way of how we work the basic dynamics are reversed. Denning talks about the key differences:

  • Instead of a vertical dynamic of hierarchical bureaucracy with people reporting to bosses, these organizations are operating horizontally with a focus on the customer.
  • Instead of a controlling principles the approach is one of self-management.
  • Instead of static linear plans, plans are iterative and continuously on the move.
  • Instead of a workplace that is dispiriting to staff, the workplace is interesting, even inspiring, because people have the autonomy to deliver their best.
  • Instead of the customer being absent, the customer is now central. The goal of the firm is to delight the customer.

HR needs to reinvent itself – right now it’s based on Management 1.0 dynamics and with this mindset you will make yourself and your organisation obsolete.

Agile HR concerns itself with the system that enables self-management, collaboration and cultivation and adjusts its people practices accordingly.

Agile HR has deep understanding of the systemic nature of organisations and has an agile mindset.

Agile HR challenges the dynamic of hierarchal bureaucracy and many approval steps, that in essence says we don’t trust our people to make the right decisions.

Populism – a political doctrine that appeals to the interests and conceptions (such as hopes and fears) of the general people, especially contrasting those interests with the interests of the elite

 

 

 

Adventures In Agile – The Mad Hatters Tea Party

carnie

I’ve read Joakim Sunden’s article on the role of Agile Coach at Spotify. This is a role I played in addition to HR Business Partner and Change Agent in the Agile Transformation at the contact centre.

The blend was unusual and it did give me the unique ability to change some of the approach to people practices, realign the cultural dimensions as well as implementing Agile practices and methods, but sometimes I felt I was the mad hatter at my own tea party.

This mix of coaching a leadership team towards Agile, driving organisational change, implementing Agile practices and methods and working to change mind-sets to Agile and HR meant I wore far too many hats.

In hindsight I should have better leveraged the people and resources that were there instead of trying to do it all myself. My biggest issue was being too black and white and too quickly attaching a label of whether someone was of an Agile mindset or not.

I was simply being protectionist – which isn’t collaborative or transparent. I wasn’t being completely Agile.

If someone offers you help – believe me its better for you to educate, coach and help them see the this better way of working. Let them be the judge.

Better for you, for them and for the people your serving.

Having worked as an change consultant for many years and HR practitioner, I was converted to Agile and did my scrum masters certification. Like Joakim I longed  for an opportunity backed by strong sponsorship for Agile and continuous improvement.

I knew agile could work just as well in a non technology function.

And it does!

Its not exactly the same as you’d find in software development but it has all of the elements of Agile and Scrum.

I remember writing about the challenge of trying to implement Agile when the rest of the organisation is not Agile. I’ve changed my views there too. Micheal (Doc H) from ACI Agile talks about this. If you’ve read Frederic Lalouxs Reinventing Organizations you’ll know about the color codes for each stage of an organisations evolution. Teal is where you might find Google or Zappos for example, most Fortune 500 are amber, some are green. And its quite possible to be amber with teal or green pockets.You’ve got to learn to give them want they want – if they want a GANT chart why not give it to them, it might serve as a backlog of sorts for you.

We have now implemented Agile as a new operating model for the  Customer Experience Contact Centre. While we started this journey last year with a concept called Network Judgement (team rather than individual working) it morphed into Agile and accelerate again recently to new deeper levels of systemic change across the people and coaching frameworks.

We’ve recently got Eduardo Nofuentes to help us who we have been talking to for some time and who also led the REA Agile implementation.

People in the contact centre get it, we don’t work with Scrum exactly as it says to in the book, we have adapted the approach in each team to fit the work and cadence of the team.

We are experimenting. The main objective is to uncover improved ways of collaborating and developing into high performing teams.

All the core principles and practices are still there ie stand ups, Kanban Boards, sprints, reviews and of course transparency, adaption and inspection.

The agile mind-set and adoption of Scrum has been spooky and I probably take it for granted now. Guide to Scrum can be seen on peoples desks, people are talking about sprints.

People are excited and energised

Its not been all plain sailing, this massive paradigm shift has brought about freedom and with that increased accountability.

I have personally felt like I have been on a roller coaster, other team members have described the same feeling some time ago.

It has been bizarre, rewarding, scary, exciting, frustrating and terrifying.

He aha te mea nui?
He tangata.
He tangata.
He tangata.

What is the most important thing?  It is people, it is people, it is people.

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