Take a good look at these two images.
Yes, she looks a bit freaky, but besides this. Which person(s) would you classify as a hero?
Jeffrey Phillips asks in his blog post, Why is fire fighting more valuable than avoiding fires.
And the answer is in these two pictures. It’s not heroic to do the cleaning. For many, it’s very satisfying to feel like a hero. You get a lot of credit and recognition. In many cases, the people preventing fires are considered negative, backwards thinking and boring.
We all know that we need both but how much of you’re time do you spend rewarding the fire fighters and how much time do you spend on appreciating those who are preventing fires?
Being a part of TUI Nordic means that I have the chance to work with TUIFly Nordic, our air carrier. In their culture, the picture is the opposite. Zero tolerance for failure. Constant follow up and process improvement is built into the company walls. There is a sense of constant urgency. An urgency to improve and an urgency to prevent that fire from ever happening.
It’s winter here in Stockholm and I’m pretty tired of the cold and most of all; icy pavements. Since I run to work at least twice a week, the icy roads are an annoyance. To put it mildly, I get pissed every morning when I try to spot which areas are the least icy in a dark, unlit, Stockholm.
What I could do is try to solve this problem. I would get involved politically and work for these roads being winter kept. That would solve the problem, but it would take years, would perhaps never be realized and a big risk is that if I focused my time on this, I would perhaps not have time to run. And my objective was to be able to run to work.
Another solution is to continue running, using studs.
I don’t say that the first solution is wrong, but as Dan & Chip Heath points to in an extract from their new book Switch, it is easy to loose the goal if you try to solve the COMPLETE problem. This is of course one of the core values of agile software development. Trying to make the complete specification before you start implementation is just one other example.
It also goes hand in hand with one of the ideas presented by Anders Colstrup on Friday’s seminar on Inspiration – you need to focus on the objective and every day take a step towards that objective.
If the problems in your project seem unsolvable, and hopeless, read the story of a man, struggling to help undernourished children in Vietnam. Your problems have never seemed more trivial.
Returning to Anders Colstrup’s inspirational seminar on inspiration, I focus my attention to objectives and goals. Do we need objectives and what is a good objective?
This post shares a lot of ideas from previous posts, covering 7 habits, scrum and commander’s intent. But Colstrup somehow got a new twist to the importance of objectives.
Learning how to swim under water
He started by sharing a story. Read it and reflect.
A girl was learning how to swim and at age 8 had become a skilled swimmer for her age. She had decided to take one more swimmer’s level, after which she felt she was done. One thing she needed to do was to swim 11 meters under water.
Having not had any problems up until then, she jumped in, swam under water but surfaced just after 7 meters. Up she went and then down again. Surfacing, she could see on her father’s face that she hadn’t succeeded. Now the tips from the others started coming. She should swim until she ran out of air, take three more strokes and then surface. She shouldn’t ascend directly upwards but trying a forward angle.
She tried once more but failed. Now, she was almost in tears.
What did Colstrup do?
Think what you would have done.
What he did was that he placed a person 11 meters from the descend. The girl just had to swim to the person and then ascend.
She succeeded immediately.
According to Colstrup, and I agree on his finding, the reason for the girl failing was not her lacking the skills. She couldn’t see the goal. Under water, you can see perhaps 30 centimeters so how could she know if she has swam 11 meters? By placing someone in the water, he made the objective concrete and visible.
I can only agree from my own findings. One of the most successful projects I’ve been a part of, we had a very clear picture which we all could touch and understand.
The makings of a good objective
Objectives must be there and they must be concrete. You must know if you’ve reached them.
If you go back to my previous post and read about the negative bunch, those not performing at their best. How many do you think are negative because the objectives are not clear or reachable? Colstrup was more direct in his critique of managers. Bad leadership.
But if someone does not share the objective? Colstrup worked with a team, and found that the players didn’t feel anything for the management’s objective. What he then clarified what what were the players objectives and if they were combinable with the management objectives. As they were, he could translate and relate them. If we together reach X, can’t you work at Y at the same time?
He then made the objective very concrete. The guys then got to build a number of small tokens, visualizing the reached objective.
What was also very interesting was how much he works with the mindset of placing athletes in the moment of reaching the objective. “When you’ve won that contest, where will you go for dinner? What clothes will you be wearing then? What will be your next competition after that? Will you get some new gear for that competition?”
Again, I cannot help but agree. When I’m completing a competition, I start thinking about what I’m going to do when I’m done. How long I will sleep, how much and where I’ll be dining. What form of exercise I will focus on then, etc. And also, the only time I’ve broken a competition was when that image disappeared from my head.
Working towards three objectives
He also warned about just giving one objective. You need three objectives, a Barrier braking, a Realistic and a Safe:
The safe objective is when you are satisfied with the performance. You didn’t do anything new, but anything worse than that is not acceptable. The realistic objective is somewhere you haven’t been before but it should be reachable. The barrier braking objective is something that you thought was impossible, but that is because you and everyone else sees that there is some barrier reaching this.
Why do you need three levels? Colstrup sees the objectives a a target area and the larger that is, the more do you have to aim for. But does this not mean that everyone will focus on the safe level? Well, Colstrup thinks that again that is where leadership comes in. It is a leader’s role to help the crew aim for the realistic objective, knowing that it is ok not to reach it.
If you don’t have the safe objective and the realistic objective cannot be met, is it a total failure then? No, not if at least the safe objective is met.
What about the barrier braking objective? Well, that serves many purposes and one is to enabling the participants placing themselves in the situation when the realistic objectives have been met; where do we go then? Also, there are often mental barriers which makes things seem impossible but by talking about them and de dramatizing them the mental barrier can fall and even the barrier breaking objectives can be reached. Colstrup does not see it as a coincident that when there is a record which is “impossible to break”, and it has been so for ages, when it is broken, it is broken by many and repeatedly.
By having this large success zone, Colstorp hopes that people can be more in the Learning zone:
If you’re just working for the safe objective, you tend not to learn anything, if you are going to reach the realistic objective, you need to stretch your capabilities and learn new skills. But if the objective is set to high, you stop learning and instead turn to panic.
Think again about the negatives. Where are they? Where do they want to be? Are they in the panic zone and are therefore negative? Or have you never reached your goals so that they mean nothing, and people are in the comfort zone since “nothing really changes anyway?”. Or does the objectives change all the time?
When it comes to barrier breaking objectives, I again as so many times before turn to a sequence with Lance Armstrong. Even if you think he’s been using illegal substances or hate his guts, do look at these 30 seconds. If you’ve missed the story, Armstrong was diagnosed with cancer and given 10% (!) chance of SURVIVAL. And here is what he said at the press conference, sharing this information with the public.
What was his objectives? Well, given the odds there was no “safe zon”, but we could say that the safe objective was survival. But Armstrong also had a next level: he was going to beat the decease. But what is truly exceptional that he also in this the hardest of moments had a barrier breaking objective: return to professional cycling. Cycling is a endurance sports, and recovering from cancer in the lungs to get to a professional level must have been seen as impossible. But he did it and by breaking this barrier, he gives hope to million of cancer strugglers out it the world: it is possible to work for not mere survival!
In his book, It’s not about the bike, Armstrong often goes back to these objectives and now when reflecting on it, he actually states that he needed all these levels of defining success during his hard trip back, to life and to professional cycling.
We are only lucky if our challenges are not including life and death.
But it’s not enough just to have a meeting, discussing the objectives. We must keep that objective in our heads, every day. Colstrup gave the indivual members of a team an illustration of the objective. And for each day there was one line where they had to place their signature if they agreed on that they understood, wanted and worked for the objective.
Symbols and concrete representations of team and risks
When you work toward common or shared objectives, Colstrup believes that you need not only a shared goal, but a sense of we feeling and a common symbol, something that shows how you act. He told us about teams picturing themselves as A Train or a Stove, which attributes where examples of how they were as a group.
If objectives must be concrete, the threats must also be concretized and de dramatized. Again, Colstrup uses concrete representations for the threats so that a team can “destroy” a threat in their mind.
To be able to succeed, you need to know we mean with success and then we have to work towards that every single day. Objectives which we have a concrete presentation of are easier to work towards and objectives which becomes a part of every day activities are the most powerful. Individual objectives must be translated to team objectives.
And if you get the chance to listen to Colstrup, take it!
I’ve just gotten home from a really inspiring seminar, held by MIL Institute here in Stockholm. The title was I want to!
Anders Colstrup gives classes in athletics psychology, coaches athletes, mainly professional golf players but are now also coaching business leaders. I can understand if he’s successful. I was hopeful going to the seminar but it was better than I could ever have imagined. I guess I’m not the best of mothers writing this blog post fresh out of taking him from daycare, but I need to summarize. So here goes.
If we look at motivation factors, they can be internal or external, they can be positive or negative:
The idea behind Colstrup’s coaching is creating the bottom left corner – how to build internal positive motivation.
Colstrup asked us to spend a couple of minutes discussing what motivates us and then we could share our views. Besides listening to the different reflections, it was interesting (as Colstrup pointed out), that you get motivated by talking about motivation. And this is also why Colstrup works so much with the constant talking of the motivation factors – the actual talking builds motivation.
Colstrup then discussed the difference between motivation and inspiration. Motivation is when you get hold of an idea and you decide to reach a goal. Inspiration is when an idea get hold of you, and when the idea in itself is guiding you. Feeling inspired is a reward in itself for those who share that feeling.
Mihaly Csikszentmihaly talks about flow and has also written a book on the subject:
It was a bit funny when he mentioned that book since it has been on my Want To Read List for a while. Mihaly (I’m going to use his Christian name here for some reason) describes flow as feel that your capability is enough and that you can focus on the exact now to reach where you’re going. You know exactly what your next step is and can focus on that while at the same time reaching your goal. Colstrup mentioned successful climbers as excellent examples of this but many of us has felt The Flow.
But the flow is not only about having the capability. There must be a challenge. There must be an objective and you need to balance that:
Colstrup then asked us to think about what we feel when we work. Again, he showed a matrix:
The matrix requires some explanation. The “positive” and “negative” is more how likely you are to be working for common objectives. People can of course be negative if they believe the objectives or the road is “wrong” but some are more rooted in the negative tree and would probably be negative independent of the current objectives.
Colstrup said that his experienced gave the following numbers in many organizations:
10% are low performers
70% are average performers
20% are high performers
The lower 10% are mostly on the Negative row of the matrix. Depending on the culture, managers tend to focus on different groups in the matrix. In Sweden, many managers spend too much time on the negative crowd, but what message are you then sending? That you get more attention if you’re negative? A good manager spends time trying to help those who are positive. The active ones might need some cooling down and the passive might need some spice. Focus your attention on the wanted behavior!
So, what to do about the negative? Well, what you can do? Try to figure out why they act as they do. In too many cases the basis for a negative attitude is the leader himself.
Tomorrow, I’ll continue my notes with some findings concerning the importance of goals and how to form them.
I guess I’m just like you. When that boring guy goes up to the podium and starts that cursed program, I take a quick glance at the number of slides and sighs. Oh my G*d. Given all the stupid warnings in Microsoft Office applications, why is there no warning when you exceed the 10 slides marker:
“You just created your 10th slide. Will you really want to risk boring of your viewers?”
Cancel should be the default option.
So it’s no wonder that this is Dilbert’s view of the cloud:
We all love to hate those who love PowerPoint. Or as someone wise said: “With PowerPoint it has never been easier not getting to the point”.
But one important question is: Was it really better before? Were presentations really better on the OH-projector? I remember one of my College professors, bringing a hockey trunk to classes. He gave classes at many places in Sweden and he took all his material with him in the form of plastic sheets from the 1970’s and forward.
I guess that an added problem is that you can run out of plastic sheets but you cannot run out of slides, but I think that is besides the point. There were bad presentations before the curse of PowerPoint struck us, and there are still bad presentations.
So what can we do? In 7 habits we talk about Habit 1: Be proactive. This means that if you have a problem, you decide if you’re going to do something about and then you do. The other option is to stop caring. So, if you cannot drop your distaste for the lousy, uninteresting presentations in your life, you can choose to do A, B or why not both.
A. Give better presentations ourselves.
B. Give feedback to people giving presentations which could be better.
In both cases, you need to focus on the Point. The point the presenter is trying to make. Set that as the objective and just add the slides/information which leads to that Point. Cut the rest. If you have the privilege to work with A, your own presentation, this is easy. You know which point you’re trying to make and you can look at each slide to see if it gives more value to the viewer, trying to understand the point. And afterwards, ask for feedback. What helped and what didn’t? Explain that you’re trying to improve your presentation skills.
When it comes to B, it’s harder (at least for me) since it involves negative feedback. Again, 7 habits helps us with a template. If you’ve experienced a bad presentation and you think that the person giving it has the capacity to improve, you should help. “In your presentation X resulted in Y for me.” This is not an absolute template since it has to be applicable to the presentation. But here are some examples:
“When you showed slides 3-10, that really got me confused. I think I would have understood the problem better if you’d focused more on slide 11 which summed it up nicely.”
But don’t forget the positive feedback. There are many good presenters out there and I must say we are not praising them enough.
Remember the Dilbert strip. There are two monkeys, one is talking and the other one is listening. Which one are you?
I guess Depeche Mode didn’t think about Agile leaders, product owners or software development when they wrote the lyrics for Master & Servant:
There’s a new game
We like to play you see
A game with added reality
You treat me like a dog
Get me down on my knees
We call it master and servant
But when you have titles like “scrum master” and “product owner” you might think that people holding these positions are the masters, trying to squeeze every drop out of the developers.
The example from Ester Derby’s blog about such a manager is probably not that uncommon. A new manager, eager to “cut costs” killed her team in the long run:
People who were confident in finding new jobs left. The people who were afraid they didn’t have the skills to face the job market hung tight. There were rumors of layoffs. Fear lead to people to choose CYA over do the right work the right way. Competition undercut cooperation and collaboration. The VP to an ax to department budgets. The balance sheet looked better (in the short term), but costs went up.
It is always tragic when you here these stories. What we need is leaders who wants more. Leaders who takes pride in the team. Leaders who don’t have to be the master but leaders who can be the master (no, don’t whip your scrum master, I never said that ;-).
When I and Sally Elatta started discussing leadership during an e-mail conversation yesterday, she introduced me to the concept of the Servant Leader. The term was coined in 1970 and described as [cite from wikipedia]
The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.
The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?
The idea is older, for example Chanakya wrote 400 BC. [Cite from Wikipedia]:
“the king [leader] shall consider as good, not what pleases himself but what pleases his subjects [followers]” “the king [leader] is a paid servant and enjoys the resources of the state together with the people.”
We’re pretty far away from The Prince!
The key question for any manager is : Are they there for you or are you there for them?
The servant leader knows that he’s there for the team. The whole scrum idea of removing impediments is based on this idea.
It is therefore so interesting that more agile leadership trainers like Sally Elatta are talking less about certification, the techniques of method A or B, and more about these key character traits of the successful leader. If the introduction of agile methods have revolutionized software development, I believe the introduction of the servant leaders will be an even bigger win. How many “agile” projects fail because of failing management?
When I this week was trying to understand, analyze and then present a problem, I realized that many assume that all complexity is created equally, in other words it’s like just adding a new field to a table:
But in the case of my problem, the wanted new complexity added a new dimension to the system:
The increase of possible scenarios would rise exponential would we include the required functionality. The stakeholders hadn’t realized this, since they just saw the requirement as just another field in a table. This became clear to the stakeholders when I described the current scenarios and how many there would be after the inclusion of the requested added complexity.
I could also use the 3D model to visualize how this would work and then the stakeholders could evaluate if it simply was worth it.
I’ve realized just how important It is to clarify for stakeholder if added complexity means a completely new dimension or just added complexity in the current dimensions and how I better can visualize this to stakeholders. Without a picture and hard facts this becomes too vague for many to grasp.
These days, which some even call post agile in software development, McKinsey Quarterly publishes a report by Don Sull: Competing through organizational agility (you need to register to be able to read the complete report.
I believe it’s an interesting article. Now as agile almost is a common boardroom term, I think we must clarify what we mean with agile. Also, it points to the whole organization. It is not enough just to have the software developers embracing agile values if business is as usual for the rest of the crew.
Sull points to studies showing that between 1970 and 1990, firm level volatility has at least doubled and firms that lacks agility perish or are at least not as successful as agile companies.
Sull has also identified three distinct types of agility and what is interesting is that his study shows that many companies relies on only one type of agility; they feel agile since they’ve embraced one of the forms. I will here only list the types and point to the article for examples and more details.
Strategic agility is the possibility to act on those rare chances to create significant value. This require a combination of patience and boldness. This is not to be mistaken for recklessness. Successful strategic agilists systematically minimize the downside risks. Sull also stresses the perseverance; one key is staying in the game until the big chance emerges. This often require cash, size and a powerful patron.
Portfolio agility is the ability to shift resources from less promising to more promising. Many managers in organizations that lack portfolio agility, according to Sull’s study, rarely recommend ending projects that might damage their reputation or risk their and their subordinates work. Uniform set of objectives (for example fixed gross-margin percentage) can also decrease portfolio agility. As a contrast, embracing new blood in the management increases portfolio agility since new managers are not as likely to protect established businesses they themselves has built. Sull’s study shows that many companies rely on disciplined processes for evaluating individual business units lead to portfolio agility, but this is incorrect. This might lead to the data being available, but the decisions might be hard to take anyway. When emotions and politics rather than logic and data controls these decisions, portfolio agility can be maintained. Its is especially important for managers to kill their own darlings, should they prove non promising. Portfolio agile companies uses crisis and changes to renew processes.
Operational agility is when an organization can exploit revenue-enchancing and cost-cutting opportunities in its core business in a fast, effective and constant way. According to Sull, there are many ways to increase operational agility, but he points to two: having systems to spot these occasions and having processes to translate priorities into focused actions.
In my post discussing my reading of Social Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, I asked if there were psychopathic organizations. Goleman discusses narcissistic organization. Chetan Dhruve pointed me to this Fast company article. The heading states that the article is about bosses, but organizations are discussed too.
I’ve just completed the first two days of work for 2010. This is a hectic period for my company. Traditionally, January is a month for summer vacation planning, and this year we’re exceeding the previous year’s booking by a wide margin: last week we had 40% more bookings than the previous year. Great news and a real test of our web sites.
But it’s also a time to think about other challenges. On the personal side, my son is going to preschool this autumn. Myself, I’m planning to complete the short version of La Marmotte, a amateur cycling race in France. 76 km, 2500 m gradient will give me something to work to complete.
Work wise, I know I will be working with 7 habits, empathic leadership and our ongoing struggle to improve our business using our processes and software solutions. I will probably experiment more with kanban and behavioral economics. Finally, my line of business is of course struggling with the challenges of sustainability and the climate question.
Do I need something else? Probably not. I guess I have stuff to do.