Here is a link to my personal wish list. I’m posting this here because I’m always having relatives and friends who are trying to figure out what kinds of gifts to give me. Continue reading Buy me Stuff and Love Languages
People ask me all the time where I keep my reading list. Well… my reading list is dynamic so posting a static version would be silly. So… by way of Internet Magic, I post links to the various reading lists I have.
READERS NOTE: I neither endorse nor disagree with any of the books in my list. They are just books and meant to be a compendium of ideas. To use the phrase coined in Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan, it is but a portion of my antilibrary .
- Agile Adoption Essentials
- Agile Coaching Necessities
- Artificial Intelligence
- Audio Production
- Career Coaching
- Executive Coaching
- Financial Planning (NOTE: I do not endorse any advice in the Financial Planning reading list.)
- Instructional Design
- IT Management
- Organizational Change Management
- Organizational Development
- Political Science
- Product Management
- Video Production
I’ve always lived under the assumption that the question “Why” what the most powerful question. I’m now convinced there is a more powerful question that can unlock change in people. The question is, “What am I grateful for?” I just read this article on The Ladders written by UCLA researcher, Alex Korb, PhD. Alex is the author of the book, The Upward Spiral.
Previously I believed the question “Why?” to be the most powerful question. It came from Six Sigma and the Theory of Constraints thinking process: The Five Whys. The idea was that if I ask why something happened, and then why four more times, I can get to the root of causation in a complex adaptive system. With that knowledge, I then can determine what to change. The challenge with that is that it is rooted in the past, and the future is often difficult to ascertain. In systems theory we talk about “what to change” and “what to change to.” This presupposes that we know that what we are changing to is the right thing to change to and that there is one and only one best answer. The problem that lies there is that there are rarely only one option to change to and even rarer still is that we can know that changing something will achieve the desired effect without unintended consequences in a complex adaptive system (CAS). The only thing that can work is treating the presupposition of what to change to as a hypothesis and continuously adapt our hypothesis until we are actually changing the most appropriate thing to the appropriate target based on current reality of the next set of emerging results, and to do so in small iterative and incremental sets so that we minimize the unintended consequences.
This approach sounds logical on the surface and years of research has shown the approach to be a useful model… until it isn’t.
Enter “The Most Powerful Question”.
The challenge with the “Five Whys” exercise is that is suffers from current reality, negative bias. It focuses on only the negative, and subordinates the negative(s) to the positive. As a result, we often don’t leverage what is working right, and use the positive to reinforce anything that emerges as a good solution. In CAS, these are called reinforcing loops: the stuff that keeps a CAS in its current state, or the stuff that allows the CAS to exist in it’s future state.
This is what makes the question, “What am I grateful for?” such a profoundly powerful question. It helps us see the reinforcing loops that will make whatever future state or future self emerge and exist without recidivism. And while unintended consequences can and will happen, it gives us a framework to become resilient in the future state.
“What am I grateful for?”
Today I am grateful for knowing that most powerful question.
Originally posted August 12, 2013. Updated October 20, 2015 with newer data.
Corporations adopting Agile practices on their way towards being Agile often struggle with many legacy operational policies and procedures. One question that always comes up is how to conduct performance management appraisals with employees when Agile Teams are supposed to be Self-Directed, Self-Managed and mostly autonomous? Adobe and Motorola have given us two good examples of successful transformations. Most companies not wanting to jump that far just yet don’t know where to go. This article will cover one of many paths we are exploring/piloting with some of our clients.
The typical scenario we find in organizations is a line manager who is responsible for the management of a team or group of teams, who is also responsible for the career development plans and performance appraisals of the people within those teams or groups. This has always proven to be a fool’s errand for managers. As New York Times columnist Phyllis Korkki notes:
Many businesses feel that they must use formal reviews and rankings to create an objective measurement of performance and goals, so that managers can reward and promote good employees, and give poorly performing ones a chance to improve (while creating a paper trail in case they must be dismissed).
Making matters worse, in the mid–90s, a popular system for front-line employees emerged from GE’s Jack Welch which
stated that employees should be lined up along a three-piece bell curve: the top 20% would get rewarded, the middle 70% would be told how to improve, and the bottom 10% would be discarded. This is called forced or stack ranking; according to an in-depth Vanity Fair report, it’s the system that “crippled” Microsofts ability to innovate.
The system at Microsoft, pitted employees against one another in an attempt to reward the best and weed out the rest. However, the system back-fired. Former employees have been quoted as feeing helpless and rewarded to “backstab their co-workers.” Bill Hill, a former manager, is quoted in Fast Company Magazine as saying, ”I wanted to build a team of people who would work together and whose only focus would be on making great software. But you can’t do that at Microsoft.”
It is also the system still used by many of our clients and the reason why we find their cultures lacking innovation, trust, and employee engagement. We are finding the very behavior illustrated in the 2006 MIT study that stated, “… the rigid distribution of the bell curve forces managers to label a high performer as a mediocre. A high performer, unmotivated by such artificial demotion, behaves like a mediocre.”
Motorola had a similar stack-ranking system which they dropped in 2013. Then CEO Greg Brown, noted in Crain’s Business Journal that, “People had an unbelievable focus on their rating. So we decided to forget the rating and just link performance to pay more directly. You no longer have a forced bell curve, which can be demoralizing and can create a culture of infighting.”
Fortunately for Microsoft, stack-ranking was dismantled in late 2013/early 2014. Not so for Yahoo, which decided in the same time period to adopt stack-ranking. Yahoo later backed-off of stack ranking but it appears it has had a lasting effect. One of many bad decisions that have had a lasting effect. Motorola also made a number of mistakes too. They linked performance to pay, which the Federal Reserve study quoted in Dan Pink’s book, Drive, showed is largely a disincentive for most knowledge workers.
Which company is doing well? Microsoft is turning around. Yahoo is on life-support as of this writing. Motorola has had to sell-off most of its business units at fire-sale rates leaving only a former shell of itself to struggle to compete in the commercial and defense communications markets.
At face value, it was never the annual performance review that was the problem. It was that the line manager that didn’t do a great job of ensuring the context, contents and resulting rewards matched reality. Very few line managers have the line-of-sight to knowledge workers daily lives. Complicating the matter is the very definition of a knowledge worker: someone that knows more about a domain then their manager. Now ask that very same line manager to stack-rank their reports. The results have largely been disastrous. Using a system meant for judging the performance of factory work in the early 1900s, we attempted to adapt it to services organizations and knowledge work when we should have just replaced it entirely.
Some companies attempted to do just that in the 1990s recognizing the new era of knowledge work. In the 1990s it emerged as a method for reviewing and improving the performance of managers. It has been extended and used with employees at all levels.
My favorite commentary on the 360 Review comes from PerformanceAppraisals.org. In their article on the “Strengths of 360-Degree Feedback Schemes” they state:
The 360-degree feedback process involves collecting information about performance from multiple sources or multiple raters. For example, a review of a manager’s performance might involve collecting data, opinions, and observations from his or her employees, immediate supervisor, colleagues, and even customers. A review of an employee without supervisory responsibilities might entail eliciting the perceptions of his or her supervisor, customers, and colleagues. Typically those perceptions are collected using a rating system, so in a sense 360-degree feedback is a subset of the ratings method, with all the advantages and drawbacks of any rating system.
The theory makes sense. If you want to improve performance, you can learn more by taking into account the perspectives of a number of “involved parties,” rather than only the perspective of the employee’s immediate supervisor. The implementation, however, is problematic.
Clouding the issue considerably is that the sale of 360- degree feedback instruments, particularly computer-based tools to make the process easier, has become a huge and very lucrative business. Because of the amount of money involved in the industry, there’s a huge level of hyperbole and a lot of exaggerated success stories out there. The 360 method has become one of the more common “management fads.” That’s not to say it can’t be useful, but often the problems associated with it are ignored in favor of an unbalanced focus on its strengths.
So what is the company to do when transforming themselves?
The goal should be to get to a system more like what Adobe Systems did in late 2012. They replaced their system with “check ins”. Some companies choose to jump straight to that once they have the basic organizational structures to support agility in place. (e.g. Scrum or Kanban with a Scaled Framework around it like SAFe) Others chose what I’ll outline here.
One option we are seeing happen a lot is the 4-part Performance Review. The review is broken down as follows:
- Part One: 1/3 of the score is a 360-Review from the team.
- Part Two: 1/3 of the score is a more traditional regarding career development goals
- Part Three: 1/6 of the score is the Team’s Performance to all of the delivery metrics (build the thing right and the right cadence)
- Part Four: 1/6 of the score is the Team’s Performance to all of the Pirate metrics (build the right thing)
The critical piece to make this work is to make sure all of the instrumentation is in place to make quantitative judgements.
Deeper Dive into the Performance Appraisal
To ensure that the performance appraisal is fair and an accurate representation of individual performance to plan, lets first discuss what a Performance Appraisal is and isn’t.
Again, from Performance-appraisals.org, there is a difference between Performance Appraisal and Performance Management. Performance Management. The Performance Appraisal is part of an overall Performance Management program. Where Performance Management is about the entire system of managing the performance of the organization, the performance appraisal is the natural end-point for assessing how an individual did during the performance period. It started with the development of a strategic plan that became and operational plan that became a tactical plan which became an individual development plan (sometimes called a Personal Development Plan or Professional Development Plan).
The performance management program is “an ongoing communication process, undertaken in partnership, between an employee and his or her immediate supervisor that involves establishing clear expectations and understanding” Topics of collaboration should include:
- the essential responsibilities of the employee
- how the employee’s job contributes to the goals of the organization
- what “doing the job well” means in concrete qualitative and quantitative terms such as specific markers for skills mastery using a framework such as the Dreyfus Model of Skills Acquisition and Bloom’s Taxonomy to inform goals in Hard Skills (Content or Technical Skills) and Core Skills (Soft Skills).
- how employee and supervisor will work together to sustain, improve, or build on existing employee performance including professional continuing education goals
- how job performance will be measured (What does below expectations, meets expectations and exceeds expectations really mean?)
- identifying impediments to performance and removing them
From every work written about Performance Management, it requires regular, two-way dialogue between the performance management (line-manager) and the employee. The emphasis should be on learning and improving.
Note that Performance Management isn’t:
- something that happens to an employee without their input
- a means to dictate how a person is to work
- used only for performance remediation
- checking the box once a year
If I get some time, I’ll walk through one transition plan to the type of Performance Management program Adobe is using.
HINT: They call them “Check-ins” and it happens almost every week. It kinda sounds like a Retrospective. The 360-degree appraisals should happen once a quarter and be like a private retrospective. If using SAFe, consider using the Program Increment (PI) Inspect and Adapt (I&A) as the point for the 360-degree review and resetting goals.
- D. Baer, “Why Adobe Abolished The Annual Performance Review And You Should, Too,” Business Insider, 10-Apr–2014. ↩
- J. Pletz, “The end of ‘valued performers’ at Motorola,” Crain’s Chicago Business, 02-Nov–2013. ↩
- P. Korkki, “Invasion of the Annual Reviews,” The New York Times, Job Market, 23-Nov–2013. ↩
- K. Eichenwald, “How Microsoft Lost Its Mojo: Steve Ballmer and Corporate America’s Most Spectacular Decline,” Vanity Fair, Aug–2012. ↩
- J. Brustein, “Microsoft Kills Its Hated Stack Rankings. Does Anyone Do Employee Reviews Right? – Businessweek,” Bloomberg-Businessweek, 13-Nov–2013. ↩
- D. Baer, “Performance Reviews Don’t Have To Be Absolutely Awful,” FastCompany, 02-Dec–2013. ↩
- C. Vaishnav, A. Khakifirooz, and M. Devos, “Punishing by Rewards: When the Performance Bell-curve Stops Working For You,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, Masters Thesis, 2006. ↩
- J. Pletz, “The end of ‘valued performers’ at Motorola,” Crain’s Chicago Business, 02-Nov–2013. ↩
- Bacal & Associates, “Strengths Of 360-Degree Feedback Schemes,” The Performance Management & Appraisal Resource Center. ↩
- Bacal & Associates, “What Performance Management ‘Is’ And ‘Isn’t,’” The Performance Management & Appraisal Resource Center. ↩
“Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter” — Yoda
I was watching Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back and this quote struck me given the scenes of Obi Wan and Qui-Gon as spirits in various episodes. What struck me is the following: our bodies are made of comic dust from stars that essential subatomic particles fused together due to gravitational forces. Yet we are sentient beings. How is that possible? Atheists have no reasonable explanation. As such, a certain “top of the food chain” pride sometimes creeps into our culture. Take the following example from a former Christian zealot:
“No one can stop us now ‘Cause we are all made of stars” — Moby
Me… I’m going to make it a point of not being prideful. Instead, I shall recognize my place in the universe as explained by the following passage.
27 “ Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven:“I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. 34 So the crowd answered him, “ We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.
(John 12:27-36 ESVST)
I don’t normally write reviews of automobiles.
I felt compelled to write this one because of its relationship to addressing market demands. The car I drove this week was obviously targeted at a hyper-niche of the global automotive market: The Millennials. The design concepts are what I think are a good example learning how to penetrate a market using good enough design that is hyper-targeted.
This week I find myself driving a brand new Hyundai Veloster, 2+1 door Kammback. It is a zippy little car even with the low-end engine that you get from a rental car dealer. The thing that strikes me is that the design seems to be a direct rip-off and mashup of a Renault Mégane RS or Renault Mégane III, and a Nissan 370Z. The ride feels controlled, tight, but unrefined. In Boston, I felt every single groove, rut, crack, bump and pothole on every single road… in my back. It was rather jarring. I loved the quite refined instrument cluster and controls, especially the sport mode 6-speed twin-clutch transmission and steering-wheel mounted, paddle shifters. I didn’t like the environment and audio controls. The door-mount controls for windows and mirrors were… silly with a handle going over the top of them so my big, drummer hands couldn’t find the controls without stopping and looking. The center entertainment and information screen was huge, and bright… so bright I wanted to scream at night when I couldn’t figure out how to get the brightness controls to work (they didn’t).
Driving it while wearing sunglasses and my typical Euro-preppy clothes made me wonder if people might think I’m a guy going through a mid-life crises.
What can we learn about hyper-local marketing from Hyundai’s example?
- The overwhelming success of The Fast and the Furious franchise has fueled a generation of kids who want something sexy and sporty, but something that is at least green-washed and affordable. By leveraging existing media penetration, Hyundai is able to figure out a really specific niche market to target… translation… a real Fast-Follower doesn’t just pay attention to successful trends, but also delivers quickly on the heels of the Innovators and Early-Adopters. Hyundai know who the Mavens and Salesmen for the Innovators and Early-Adopters of this class of vehicle, and has figured out how to iterate quickly on a niche-market design that is targeting the Connectors and Salesmen for the Early Majority which can’t afford the cars featured in The Fast and the Furious such as the Mitsubishi Lancer or Nissan NSX.
- Copyrights don’t handle “Stealing like an Artist” well, so many companies can get away with similar but not the same designs. In this case, Hyundai is appealing to their market niche’s tastes for more expensive and refined designs.
Hyundai definately knows how to ripoff the best parts of other designs, but I really wish they would learn how to build a car that doesn’t have hokey controls. Companies learning to mimic Hyundai’s approach might be able to reduce their innovation costs by being a fast-follower, but to do so they will have to learn to be hyper-local and/or hyper-targeted at a specific niche.
“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.” — Abraham Maslow
I had the rich pleasure to hear the William Peace University Peace Singers and Florida College Saturday night. That evening the Florida College students were spread amongst many volunteers hosts for lodging. Music has always been a part of my life. Music is largely why I love anything or anyone. In our home I have several percussive instruments, a piano, an electronic keyboard, a synthesizer, and a violin. We made sure that our guests understood just how important is in our lives as we drove from the theater to home. This morning, we had the distinct pleasure of hearing our guests playing our piano and fiddling around with various pieces of music in Jennifer’s deep locker of sheet music.
What struck me is that the guests were nervous staying with complete strangers. The way that they coped with the stress of being on the road and staying in the homes of complete strangers was by doing what comes natural… making music. The words of Maslow never became so real to me than at that point.
Turning to work, I realized if business leaders would let people do what gives them peace, then those leaders will always be rewarded with the sweet sounds of people at their best.
The implications are inescapable. Business leaders have to find people who’s passion is the work they are to perform. You must place people in positions that play to their strengths, not just making up for weaknesses. You must place people in cultures that encourages them to do that which they love to do. You must place people in physical environments that support the kind of work they love. And the work has to be the kind of work that creates intrinsic reward, the kind that fuels that passion within them. But it’s more than that, you have to create situations that let people make mistakes that they can learn and recover from.
Are you trying to make sure you create an environment where people can just be the best at what they do? Have you hired people that actually want to be best at what you need done? If you haven’t done these two things, I suggest you make a plan to course correct. You are missing out on the best parts of work life: watching people become fascinated with being the best. Fuel the passion!
Recently a old friend of mine from India, CEO Navin Kumar of iPRIMED, approached me about helping him bring his company’s services to the U.S. from India. iPRIMED is led by people from the IT industry and academia who are focused on enhancing workplace skills of graduates / entry / junior level professionals (for the IT and ITeS industry) by driving intrinsic transformation.
What he has done is nothing short of genius. If your company wants to offer up a way for your employees to grow some serious professional skills, Navin has what you need.
Inspired by his taxonomy of different skill sets, I came up with this canvas as a means for discussing a person’s growth areas. I share it with you: Navin gets the credit.
Download the Skills Canvas.
What we now call “the Agile Movement” seems to have gone mainstream around two years ago. When it did, late adopters showed up and started trying to do what they always do… re-define a concept in their own image. Well, if that image is big, fat, ugly and slow, I would rather they just “opt-out” and go extinct (aka allow market forces to let their companies die, thus freeing-up resources and people for higher purposes.) The irony is that the organizations that came late to the agile game tried to “adopt and scale agile.” In most cases they have not seen the gains they expected.
My hypothesis is that most are simply missing the point. Here is a review of the background context.
- Agile is an adjective, not a noun. Defining “Agile” as a set of processes won’t make an organization more agile in the market.
- Being able to give the market the product feature it wants when it wants it and for the price it is willing to pay while at least covering costs plus a profit that offsets inflation is THE only thing that matters. Any other focus and the organization will become extinct…and they are, at an ever growing pace!
- You can create reinforcing “double loop learning” structures that may create a culture that enables the right team dynamic in multiple teams; however, because corporations are complex adaptive human systems, you cannot scale a team dynamic.
- Being agile doesn’t mean automatically lowered costs of new product development or product operations and maintenance. Nor does being agile mean delivering the entirety of a product’s features to market faster than more traditional methods. It just means delivering the product features the market wants close to when the market wants them.
Based on these basic market precepts, I say the following not simply to be critical but to engage in much-needed critical response for the purpose of opening up rational conversation.
You don’t scale agility. You create a business-market fit with adaption capability.
Yes, you can adopt a framework that allows the organization to scale agility-enabling practices. The first attempt at large scale agility that I was aware of was the Scrum of Scrums pattern. The second was Scott Ambler’s Agile@Scale model while at IBM (later renamed Disciplined Agile Delivery due to branding/trademark issues). The one that has garnered the most attention as of late is the crowd-sourced, Dean Leffingwell-owned, Scaled Agile Framework for the Enterprise (SAFe). All three of these are good frameworks, each with their appropriate context and limitations. None of them enable business agility by themselves.
Consider this example:
The SAFe framework talks about quarterly release planning. It talks about release trains of Potentially Shippable Increments(PSIs) of product features in the form of releases.
This is good… sorta.
You see… the way that most organizations have adopted SAFe, the PSI/Releases end up codified into release cycles. The SAFe materials talk about an 8 to 10 week time box. Most folks I’ve talked to have turned the quarterly release planning cycle into a quarterly release cycle. For those organizations, generally this has been a huge improvement. It doesn’t mean that the organization is adapting to the needs of the market quickly enough to remain a viable concern.
The 8 to 10 week release cycle and quarterly release cycle are remnants of the dysfunction of big delivery thinking. I keep seeing releases larger than one or two features, or enough just enough features to be able to deliver an experiment of the business model to the market. This implies the organization hasn’t figured out how to get their releases small enough to build-measure-learn what the market actually will pay for. This also likely means companies are delivering product features that won’t increase revenues, acquisitions, activations, customer retention or referral business. In other words, the market is still evolving faster than the organization and thus at some point in time in the future, the organization’s product will no longer be viable. For some companies this is just for one or a few products. For others, it means the entire business model is no longer relevant.
Speaking of business models, I also don’t see where companies adopting scaled agile frameworks are also learning to evolve the business model with each release cycle. There is this assumption that the business model is correct for the entirety of the product development release cycle, when in reality, there are very few ways beyond business model experimentation using the build-measure-learn cycle to even test that the business model is correct. So businesses get really good at delivering a product that the market may or may not want using a business model that may or may not completely work. Again… the business is ultimately doomed because it cannot adapt to the market fast enough.
In order for a business remain viable it must:
- Manage its cash flow, maintaining generally a positive cash flow (I know… duh! It’s surprising how many people forget this, though.)
- Release a functional product that contains only the product features that Kano analysis would call “must-have” and “exciters”, leaving off as many neutral/indifferent features as possible.
- Release product features at a rate that the market demands as user-expectations shift as a reaction to the Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
- Understand and attempt to out-deliver new product features at a rate faster than your competitors can react to each product feature release. Sometimes this is a feature-per-day. Sometimes this a unique feature-set per quarter. Either way, it means the company must be able to…
- Understand the market demand cycle and adapt just before or at the point of inflection in the adaptation cycle.
Again, merely scaling “agile” (noun) won’t make a company agile (adjective). For most organizations, especially those late-adopters and laggards, it means fundamentally transforming to continuous, adaption of the business model for market-fit.Special thanks to Elinor Slomba of Arts Interstices for the kick-in-the-pants to get this out and for being the other set of eyes.
Stuart Scott “Making space for powerful conversations”
After 20+ years in the software business, Stuart tends to look at software development in terms of human interactions. After all, most of the effort that goes into creating, selling, and using software consists of people working with people to serve people. And most of the challenges we face with software have to do with working together, making mistakes together, and learning together. He keeps finding new ways to help people learn together how to work together in ways that amplify their effectiveness – and their enjoyment of the work! He is looking for people who are persisting in deliberate practice of new positive change behaviors to keep projects “Fun Until Done” and restart the joy of new beginnings with each iteration.
Elinor Slomba’s stories at the interstices of art, business and agility can be found at artsinterstices.wordpress.com.
SS: Any human system exists because individuals are interacting. A company, an organization, lives and breathes inside those interactions. So, if I’m in the process improvement business, I’m actually intent on improving the quality of human interactions.
When there’s a process problem, it’s a good bet that either a conversation isn’t happening or isn’t focused on the right issues or isn’t including all the right people. For example, people in one department will often get together to discuss how they wish people in another department would interact with them. But they don’t actually reach out to the people in the other department to include them in the conversation about how the two groups will interact.
How do we break this? I like to help groups focus on improving their interactions with other groups, and one tool I like is the “business interaction model.” It helps people identify the other groups they regularly interact with, and examine the quality of each of those relationships.
ES: Yes, because most human interactions seem to live in the interstices, the places where various groups come together in an organization, not inside the bounded categories. I’ve applied the old SWOT exercise of mapping out Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats to these in-between spaces. Inviting subcultures or groups within the organization to consider how to improve their interactions through this kind of Interstitial Planning (all rights reserved) seems critical to organizational pathfinding and sensemaking.
SS: I see enormous value in that. First you draw a line on the diagram to represent the connection or interaction between two groups. And then have a conversation about what’s working and what’s not working inside that interaction. This calls to mind a model of human relationships that helped me understand what I’m responsible for in a relationship with another person.
Imagine a piece of paper with two circles for the individuals and a line connecting them. How do we share responsibility for the relationship represented by that line? How much of that relationship am I responsible for, and how much are you responsible for? Most people I’ve asked have suggested that each party is responsible for 50% of the relationship. The person represented by the circle on the left is thus responsible for the left half of the line up to its midpoint, while the person represented by the circle on the right is responsible for the right half of the line. The goal, it seems, is to meet halfway.
In practice though, this approach doesn’t work very well. On any given day, I might feel you aren’t owning your full 50% of the relationship. So I might get annoyed with you because you’re forcing me to do more than my share. The only way the relationship can work is if we always believe the other person is doing his or her 50%.
Clearly there are pitfalls. How about this instead? Instead of saying that “we have a relationship” represented in our diagram by a single line, we can say that I have a relationship with you represented by a line from me to you, and you have a relationship with me, represented by another line from you to me.
In this model, I take on 100% responsibility for my thinking and behaviors in my relationship with you. That’s my line across the white space. My own creation. That means I can have a productive relationship with you without depending upon you for a certain percentage. Similarly, you are 100% responsible for how you choose to relate to me, regardless of my treatment of you.
Now imagine if you brought that conversation into an interdepartmental squabble. It might help those human relationships, which are so often filled with confusion and disappointment.
ES: You might bring the conversation directly into the conflicted space, or you might set it up outside the structure. In the spaces between departments, systems, and cultures, people can dip into a new way of relating, fill up and then return to their respective positions with greater clarity and perspective. Like a support group for people trying to find positive ways to handle interactions at work.
You almost need to be in a different space physically, where you can feel a new energy. That allows you to create what [our mutual friend and colleague] Devin [Hedge] describes as new neural and muscular patterns, in order to go beyond the situations in which the problems originally got created.
SS: Yes, it can help a lot to set up a different kind of “space” for the conversation if you want the nature of the conversation to change. That reminds me of how a group of my process improvement colleagues and I set up a weekly conference call so we could stay in a conversation about our efforts to get the right people involved in the right conversations. Our focus was on how we could contribute in any positive way. That was five years ago, and we still meet and talk even though we now work for different companies. People seem to find a lot of valuable in creating this kind of space for sharing interpersonal experiences and challenges within a business. We remember the power of being honest with peers on a regular basis. Indeed, it’s quite powerful.
ES: You mention positive contributions. With all the focus on organizational cultures, I’m often wondering how we could create structures that identify and support individuals who are good culture-builders. I’m working on one now, Scrum of One, which I’ve been invited to bring to Agile India. It’s a set of practices inspired by my work over the years with artists and arts organizations. These practices don’t depend upon a whole enterprise being oriented in any particular way. It’s both ongoing preparation for the creative individuals who get it as well as a way for enlightened organizations to find them so they can work with them.
What if positive culture-builders became fearless at work? How would business look if we could trust that if a system penalizes them for being authentic, another will be waiting that values them more and is a better match?
SS: You’re talking about raising the levels of personal responsibility. In other words, it’s about deciding what I bring to my relationship with you, regardless of how you are behaving toward me. It’s about reaching across the “white space” between the two circles in our diagram above, instead of just trying to meet you halfway. The motivation for that is not, of course, inside the system.
In organizations, the truly intractable problems span multiple functional areas. They have no single owner, no single cause, they aren’t linear. To address these complex problems effectively, we need to create new spaces for conversation so that we invite people to step in and contribute their unique needs and perspectives. I sometimes call this “creating space for the conversations that aren’t happening yet.”
ES: I can’t wait to see the energy and cohesion that will come when that occurs.