To improve people’s work, stay in the work context

As mentioned in a previous post, I have a general unease about bringing non-work related elements in order to improve a work-related situation. Wellness activities at work, companies retreat, sponsored afterwork drinks, etc. A couple managements books I was reading lately helped me put this gut feelings into more intelligible words.

So what was my gut feeling about?

“Do we really have to do this?”

You’re in for a paintball with your colleagues. Are you willing to unleash your funny, super nasty self with them like you do with your friends? You went to a company ski “seminar”, actually that’s the first time you saw snow in your life. Wouldn’t you have shared this with a loved one instead? And did you really want to discover Mike-from-accounting when he’s drunk?

These management approach implies that in order to do a great job the employees have to open a part of their personal life, and even their privacy to their employer.

On the other side, are you going to miss out for your career if you don’t go paintball, don’t go for the drinks, don’t go skiing with them? So you went, with that lingering feeling: “do we really have to do this?”.

Here’s my first unease: aren’t we forcing one’s work & life balance for the sake of “happiness at work”?

“The truth is in the cheese”

they say. I would transpose this into “what is in the work is what makes the performance”. So why are we looking elsewhere to solve work problems? Isn’t a failure of work management if we have to go outside of work to get the job done?

Now I had these gut doubts, but several authors I digged into lately such as Yves Morieux, Daniel Pink or Isaac Getz went to my rescue to draw a more clear-cut principle

You only change the way people work by changing the work itself

corollary of

Introducing non-work related elements doesn’t really change the way people work

The authors hints:

A more pleasant job is motivating by itself

My friend works in a design agency. a year ago, the general manager realized that designers where unhappy so he created Friday afterwork drinks. I’ve been invited. Free flow, karaoke, good stuff.

As you guess, this didn’t change anything, because people were rational in disliking the work. Stress from last minute rush and unrealistic deadlines were the normal way of business. Too many jobs were half-assed and designers had to endure disgruntled clients. Exhausted, they made more mistakes and creativity was damped. Final note, their personal time was basically spent resting from work, so none of them had much of a life beside work.

The designers didn’t need to be pumped up for the company, they just wanted a job that doesn’t suck. My friend left.

Baseline: you don’t restore people lost motivation by bringing the like of free drinks, offsite weekends and in-house yoga session. You restore their motivation by changing something that makes the job less taxing.

Reference: The fallacies of hard+soft approach in “6 Simples Rules” by Yves Morieux

Improving your competence is its own reward

People feel good just by feeling more competent and capable at what they do. Think about the best waitress you know. Does it feel like they’re doing it for any other reason that getting the job done well.

Reference: Daniel Pink describes in his book Drive how evidence and experiments proves that increasing your autonomy and mastery is an effective incentive, while external incentives like financial rewards are actually counter-productive (good luck accepting this controversial belief).

We just like to do our job better.

Reference: “Drive” by Daniel Pink, “6 Simple rules” by Yves Morieux, “Freedom Inc.” by Isaac Getz

Trust at work is better built through work collaboration

When you played together with a colleague at a company fun activity, it doesn’t mean you find this person more competent at her job. I had a colleague, Djamel, who was an absolute trash talker at poker, very fun player to have at the table, fair looser or fair winner, and not a bad one. I trust his ability to make any game a good time. Do I want to see that at work? Nope. (thankfully Djamel at work is a very acute mind with a way more subtle side).

People build trust after they work together and found their cooperation mutually beneficial. We build trust through the work.

Reference: somewhere in rule 1 of “6 simples rules” from Yves Morieux

To help people, understand their work

If you ever seen “Undercover boss” reality show, here’s 80% of the baseline:

Boss experience field work and realize the policies from the organisation headquarters are bogus for what employees have to face in their stores. Also boss find absolute gems of employees who solve every day a tremendous amount of problems she had no clue about, then still manage to get the train on time and the clients delighted.

There’s no point implementing any organizational principle and theories on people before you understand what is their work, what is it that they do and what is their day to day goal in reality.

Reference: the Genba principle from Lean, 2nd rule of “6 Simple Rules” by Yves Morieux

Takeaway: stay lazy, no need to look elsewhere

This resonates a lot with my past experience as coach and consultant.

When approaching a situation to improve -usually I’m first told by my client before I get a sense of it myself- have a sense of the scope of the problem as described, and be wary of solutions that actually extends this scope. It is tempting to add that new happy disruptive practice, that new psychology angle you just red from the latest book that triggered you, but it’s just adding complexity to the problem. Changing something or removing something is usually way more influential than adding something.

Most times, a great solution is within the problem or in its direct vicinity.

[video] How to run your transformation right (Voxxed Days) – The talking points list

“How to run your transformation right” is out on YouTube.

For the impatient, the 4 lines take away is at 30’30”, timed link

Here’s a table of content with timed links

0′ – intro – the sensitive coaching case that led me to “Transformation”
2’15” – inherent complexity of transformations and the failure of end-to-end plan
8’20” – Transformation principles to address complexity
9’00” – My main 2 books on transformations
9’35” – Strategy instead of plan
12’15” – Being Great is the goal
13’35” – First, Do it Right
14’09”- Gardening an organic growth
16’50” – The cost of a failed attempt at transforming
19’20” – Going slow is much faster
20’44” – Nurture, don’t scale
21’15” – Do you really need an Agile framework?
22’50” – Loosen Up
24’30” – The Secret Sauce of transformation no one talks about
27’19” – The problem with the scholarship attitude (vs learning organisation)
29’10” – The problem with Transformation Teams and Coach Armies (aka being High on Change)
30’30” – Take away & conclusion

Tell me in the comments if there’s any topic you want me to dig in!

Lateral Insight – on company afterwork, yoga sessions, financial rewards

Where I beg to differ –
Company weekend gateway, in-house wellness sessions, incentives, are missing the point

While crossing books lately from Good to Great (Jim Collins), 6 Simple Rules (Yves Morieux), Drive (Dan Pink) and a couple of others, a general principle have surfaced: 

You change the way people work by changing the work itself or the work context
Introducing external, non-work related elements don’t really improves how people work

This dismisses many mainstream company practices such as

  • organised afterwork to build trust between coworkers
  • in-house yoga and giant floor pillows to improve personal wellness
  • financial incentive to motivate employees

This connects to a more general idea : most of the time the best solutions are the one you find within the problem (strong guiding principle in my coaching). It’s a reminder to look further into a situation in order to improve it instead of looking outside of it or looking to adding more external things to it.

What I‘m busy with –

  • working while traveling a bit in the philippines
  • finding my pace with blogging
  • reshaping my session “How to do your transformation right” in a more natural fashion, eventually split in “what doesn’t work ; what works”

Question in my head

Why I can’t find any “Agile Transformation team” example that got a transformation done well? Is this inherently a false good idea? Good to Great has some brutal findings on this topic. My feeling is that the way to have such a team makes it practically not a team but more of a “chapter” (topic-oriented network going across the organisation structure). 

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Lateral Insight – Certified Scrum Master training should be retired

Where I beg to differ –

Scrum Master training certification has worn off

For some years, anytime a client brings a Scrum Master fresh out of Certified Scrum Master training I have to clean up the mess. Some key mistakes are taught, and I’m not talking about details or things that the learner have misunderstood, I see them in learning materials:

  • iteration planning being scope oriented (nope, it’s goal oriented but the scope is totally flexible)
  • Scrum Master to assign tasks to teammates (nope, teammates assign tasks to themselves in a self-organised and concerted fashion, SM helps by facilitating the discussion eventually)
  • Progress forecast done by planning tasks estimated in man.hours or man.days (nope, progress is forecasted a projection of past performances, and work chunks just loosely weighted relative to past work chunks, in points or size categories for example)

I had to fix these mistakes probably 80-90% of the time, to the point were I prefer my clients to not have undergo a CSM if I don’t know their trainer. So should we keep running this training at all?

I relate this to the attention to certification. 

Originally, the certification served as a guarantee about the content and the delivery of the training, but to which extent can you guarantee that? This training has been around for more than a decade and now the Agile mass adoption is here. There is a huge market of consumers for this training and it attracts a lot business attention. I’ve been contacted numerous time by business contacts willing to get their “share of the cake” (true quote) with relative disregard for the quality of the training. If the quality of the certification can’t be enforced, it becomes a cheap token of reputation to sell a training.

Last comment: honestly CSM was never a good Scrum Master training! It’s a general Scrum training, and it doesn’t teach the skills required to be a Scrum Master (that’s why I train to Agile Facilitation instead).

My take today after pondering a lot on this for the last years: I think we should take CSM to retirement. It was useful but now we know better and the certification has worm off. Get the client back to the old school way of finding an appropriate training: what’s the reputation of the training? what’s the reputation of the trainer? 

What I’m busy with –

  • reusing the immense material that came up while building “Transformations done right” at Voxxed Days
  • setting up new workshops for Startupers who care to become great bosses
  • finding partnerships to build Agile trainings that don’t suck

Questions in my head –

Are Scrum Masters going to disappear? 

I see already extended variants of this role: melting the role to a set of activities handled collectively by the team ; or evolving to an organisation coach helping inter-team cooperation. Here and there some company see SM as best positioned to be delivery managers with a very empowering management style (manager coach / servant leadership). If done right, I don’t disagree, I coached some managers Scrum Master myself and it made sense.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we were about to see the Scrum Masters role pattern disappear and some new organisational pattern emerge in its wake in the coming years.

This was Lateral Insight, your weekly dose of lateral thinking by Giom
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Lateral Insight – when gamification is misleading

I beg to differ —

Against gamification when it comes to team practices
Gamification has popped up a lot lately on my social medias as a way for a team to improve. More precisely, it’s about using achievement badges and scores. That’s where I beg to differ ✋🏻.
I see how attractively fun it seems, but in my experience it encourages a misleading pursuit that many passionate practioners fall into. In gaming linguo let me call it “practice hunting”. New automated testing framework, new iteration retrospective format, more elaborated kanban, higher “done” criterias, catch’em all!

This pursuance contradicts several high performance principles

  1. do not fix what is not broken
  2. repetition and consistency lead to mastery

On the later, the more you do something the better you get at it, and in this sense boredom is to be seek for a technique to be mastered. If you’re out for novelty, disciplined practice means the novelty is to be found first in the evolution and betterment of a known technique, not in the discovery in yet another technique.

Practices are not pokemons, you don’t need to catch them all

What’s keeping me busy these days —

I’m trying to reach a new type of clientele and be more differentiated but that gets my work a bit all over the place to be honest so I’m having a hard time prioritizing my next steps. On top of if

  • sorting out the most sticky messages for my talk on Doing Transformations Right at Voxxed Days 2019. Only 30 minutes, dang
  • crafting a set of services for startups in a more biteable size, like workshops and one time coaching sessions
  • adapting an Agile Management program I’m running to be more relatable to an asian / non-westerner audience

oh gosh, there’s so much more on this list. Well, you know my struggle now

Questions I’m trying to sort —

I have the intuition that bringing an army of Agile coach is counter-efficient to scale up a transformation, but I’m still not deadshot clear about why. I feel it’s violating a couple of change principles but I want more practical examples of what’s wrong with it.

My best work in scaling Agile was solo or in teams of 2 or 3 coaches when there was no option to bring more coach. Our options were limited to adapting our approach and leveraging more on the people of the organisation themselves. Am I biased by that experience?


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