Saturday 21 July 2018

Why I Stopped Seeking Acknowledgment

One of the biggest improvements I made as a leader (and probably a work colleague!) was to stop seeking acknowledgment from others. I used to be one of those annoying people who would call out a shortcoming (or opportunity to improve) and talk about it with someone until they acknowledged that the issue existed.

We don't like admitting when we are wrong, I'm sure you can think of your own examples, be it with children abdicating any involvement, be it car accidents and traffic infringements, or at work when mistakes have been made.

As a result, these interactions were very frustrating for me, and I'm sure that they led to resentment towards me by these individuals.

I'd love to tell you an awesome story about how I reflected on these interactions and intentionally experimented with different ways to make these conversations more effective, but that wouldn't be true.

The real story is that I was having a conversation with a member of my team and something came up that wasn't working. I forget the topic now, but when it came up the reaction from the other person was very defensive. We were interrupted before I could delve into the excuses and blame that the person expressed (of which I thought there was plenty!).

To my surprise, the next week I observed the person changing the way that they worked, and I had the change that I had been seeking!

This was the moment that caused me to reflect and question the way I had been behaving and what my real drivers were.

It is quite uncomfortable (but probably not that surprising) to acknowledge that even though I saw the change that I wanted occurring, I still felt that something was missing because there had been no acknowledgment. My instinct was to bring it up with the person in our next catch up, and it was very hard to fight that strong desire.

This was a turning point for me, and I intentionally changed the way I offered feedback so that I fought against the urge to seek acknowledgment that an issue exists. This has led to a significant increase in the adoption of behavioural and technical suggestions by those I manage, mentor, and/or coach.

Even though it has been many years, and the desire to push for acknowledgement is long gone, it still feels nice when acknowledgement occurs. Maybe I am not fully cured after all!

I have since applied the same approach to organisational and product improvement suggestions, but I'll write about that in a future post.

Agile and the Spotify Yardstick

I was lucky enough to attend LAST Conference 2018 last week and it reminded me to finish my reflections on a session I attended 3 years ago at LAST Conference 2015!

At the time, one session in particular made me really stop and think about 'agile' and how organisations and teams just starting on their journey can so easily get lost in information overload. I believe this is just as true today as it was 3 years ago.

The session was @muir_maria's session "It's okay to be Hybrid" that started it all. @muir_maria very rightly pointed out that there is a spectrum (a very wide one) where at one end exists 'Waterfall' and the other 'Agile', and at the agile end, she has put Spotify as the yardstick. This represents what many in the industry believe (or seem to), that they aren't really agile until they have copied all the practices that Spotify are using.

Don't get me wrong, Spotify must be a great place to work, and they are extremely advanced in their agile practices, however, I'm not convinced that the Spotify model is the right model for every other organisation on the planet, nor do I believe that the Spotify model is perfect (their marketing machine has to be commended for the impact that this has had, I'm sure that their subscriber base is significantly higher because of it).

I believe that the key to their success is that they are continually identifying possible ways to improve, being brave enough to have a go at these new ways, and keeping the things that work while discarding the things that don't. If you rinse and repeat that enough times, you are going to be in a great place. They are doing great things, but if another company in another industry was that aggressive with continuous improvement, would they end up with the same model? Possibly. But I'm tipping they would end up with a different model, one that was appropriate for the problem domain that they are solving.

There are a number of problems with continually measuring ourselves against the Spotify, or Netflix, or Atlassian, or any other specific organisation's Model. The first is that it stifles innovation, we have all these organisations and intelligent people who are so focused on whether they are as good as 'Org X' that they try to apply aspects of the 'Org X' model to their business instead of identifying an improvement that is based around their problem domain (the team, the business model, the regulatory environment, etc.).

The bigger problem is that for organisations new to agile (and even a number of organisations who have been practicing agile for a while), they think that the only way they can be agile is to do all the things that 'Org X' does. That isn't going to be achievable, as it is a huge mountain to climb, and I'm not surprised that a lot of organisations aren't signing up to drop everything they know to do what 'Org X' does.

I'm not advocating that we stop observing and copying practices from successful teams, that definitely needs to continue, I'm proposing that the culture and practices of regular reflection, resulting in experimentation and further reflection using the shortest possible cycle time (weeks and days, not months) is the more important goal to be chasing.