Friday, September 20, 2013

The utility of consensus

When teams choose to work together they need to commit to the betterment of the team leading in consequence to a betterment of their individual situations. This commitment towards the best interests of the team is what leads to teamwork and is a key element for achieving consensus.

Earlier I had written about situations where it is futile to seek consensus. When it is necessary to take some quick, hard decisions, a tough leader (think Welch, Jobs etc.) has no business building consensus. But tough times don't last and crisis is not an everyday phenomenon. If it is, then it is better to take a hard close look at your business model and dynamics.

In Business As Usual times it is far more advantageous to actively build consensus as part of your leadership strategy. While in the previous article we saw a study of futility of consensus, let us examine here the utility of consensus.

  • Write your own lottery ticket - When your team decides what they want to do, instead of being told what to do, they have a personal stake in the outcome. As a leader your job is to lay out the larger vision, while letting the team carve out the mission for themselves. Writing your own lottery ticket was an experiment performed in studying human behavior.  In this experiment, half the room was given printed lottery tickets while half the room was given blank papers and asked to write their own random six digits to make up a lottery. Before drawing the results, the researchers tried to buy back the lottery tickets by bidding for them. Guess what? The people who had written their own numbers were more reluctant (five times more reluctant as per the research) to part with their tickets, even though they had exactly the same probability of winning the jackpot as those who had been given printed numbers.  
  • A convinced team is a committed team - Even where the leaders like Jobs or Welch were seen to be autocratic in their approach, they had a larger than life reputation preceding them, which made teams want to tag along with their decisions. This conviction of the team in your abilities cannot always be presumed by all leaders. A bad year or a failed business decision is likely to erode your dictatorial powers pretty quickly. We had Groupon CEO Andrew Mason stepping down on the back of a ruining financial quarter and plunging share prices. In his open letter to employees he says "... My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what’s best for our customers."  That says it all, doesn't it?
  • Et tu Brutus! - You may be able to pull rank on your team and get them to agree to certain decisions. You cannot make them deliver the success you envisioned if you had the super human capabilities of carrying out all the actions themselves. An unwilling team led into a battle they are not sure they will win, or even want to win, will either desert the ranks or find ways of sheltering themselves by simply going through the motions. It is far better to have the team solidly behind your ideas by listening to them and adapting the plans to what the team feels is the best way to achieve success. That buy in from the team, while costly in terms of timelines and compromises to the original goal, is what will guarantee a do or die attitude to achieving the goals the team has set for themselves. 

One of the pitfalls to avoid is faux-consensus. This is a false feeling of consensus based on team's sign offs on paper while in reality, doubts still linger. Often leaders will get teams into a room and lay out the 'what' they want to achieve and ask the team to come with 'how' they will achieve it. Larger teams often are broken into cross functional groups and asked to brainstorm on the 'how'. What emerges is a purely academic exercise with no clear ownership or buy in for the action items assigned to this team.

What is necessary is for the team to first deliberate on the 'what' agree on a common imperative they all feel is worth achieving. If this goal can be signed off by the team with commitments of timeline and individual ownership towards goal breakdown items, the 'how' can be left to the teams to work out over time as they proceed working on the goal.

It is to be noted that majority agreement is not consensus. Consensus is when everyone agrees to the common goal. This means arriving at a solution where diverse views and agendas have been addressed everyone feels there is something for him  in the end result. Such a result is indeed likely to be robust and may turn out to be far better than the original idea.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

An Agile Journey

I will be speaking at the Scrum Gathering India in Pune this Friday - 26th June 2013, about the components of a successful agile journey based on my experiences in Agile and Scrum. It will be exciting to address this gathering after two years of conducting Agile and Scrum Fundamental classroom training and hope to bring forth a view from the accomplishments of scrum projects executed.

My session is part of the 'Scrum Accomplished - Inspire 3' track from 1230 to 1330.

The discussion will cover Agile Maturity Models assessing readiness of organizations to be agile, the various metrics and more interestingly the non-metrics used to get a view of where we are and where we want to be on the agile journey.

How to select projects for scrum at various stages of the journey and finding the secret sauce for successful scrum forms part of the agenda. This is topped up with a discussion around the Scrum values and how we can relate to them in our quest.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Have you the courage of your convictions?

Having the courage of your convictions .... (def.) saying or doing what (you think) is right even when others disagree

We set out on our goals and missions with great ideas and visions. Few of us end up reaching our destination as we end up being waylaid by naysayers, distractors and obstacles. Having the courage of our convictions is what leads us through. The ingredients necessary to build this courage is passion, determination and perseverance.

Courage, or the lack of it, is built and demonstrated in small, daily actions. There is no need for a big show of 'Joan of Arc'-ish behavior to display courage. Believing in what is right as per you and staying on the course to see it happen takes a lot of small steps.

The courage of your convictions is very personal to 'you' and hence is uniquely interpreted by each one differently. The added emphasis with parenthesis above is meant to focus on 'what you think' is right. There is no one definition of what is right and what is wrong. One man's meat is another man's poison. Hence one's belief of right and wrong depends completely on their own moral upbringing, childhood experiences and environmental circumstances of tolerance and justice.

I am not advocating sticking to one's dogmatic beliefs and not tempering our views of right and wrong as our experiences mature. Our beliefs and thoughts are dynamic and our actions would be remodeled as we uncover new experiences and beliefs.

Speaking is one of the biggest fears people face. Speaking up - even more so. People think they are avoiding trouble by falling in line. We are only inviting greater problems by not speaking up at the appropriate time. If what we are doing does not fit in with the core values of who we are, then this inner conflict will surface in some form or other.

Having done the right thing would rather put us at peace with ourselves first, put a sense of purpose in what we are doing and make us succeed in much larger proportions.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Hard Work, Smart work, Inspired Work - Part II

In Part I of this article we examined the characteristics of Hard work and Smart work. Let us take a look at how to up the ante and level up to inspired work.
A great quote I found in Jeff Haden's article says "Great employees follow process. Remarkable employees find ways of making those processes better, not because they are expected to, but because they just can't help it."
While hard work and smart work have their measures of productivity, is it really possible to accurately measure the hours that went into creating a vision or idea? Inspirational works of art, music, drama seem to come into being as though by sheer magical. The aura and influence that truly inspirational ideas create are indeed described in terms like 'out of this world'. However, there is much truth behind Edison's words and these geniuses and inspired masters indeed are often toiling away and burning the candle at both ends before revealing the fruits of their labor onto a mesmerized world. There would be tons of reading and calculations which would have gone into creating the Eureka moment. What sets the genius apart from the hard worker and smart worker which enables him to perform inspired work? 
Jeff Sutherland states in his blog that one can actually be more productive by working less! He quotes a Florida State University study which found that our bodies work in short sprints of 90 minutes. The study concluded from observing "elite musicians, artists and chess players that the best performers typically practice in uninterrupted sessions that last no more than 90 minutes. They begin in the morning, take breaks in between sessions, and rarely work more than four and half hours in any given day."  
Applied to the work place, this can be used to maximize productivity, creativity and innovation. In any typical day, whether you spend 8 hours at office or 16 hours, your actual productive hours will be rarely more than 5-6 hours when you get some work done. Point to note here is that checking your mails, attending calls, planning your holiday, catching up on your reading and filing reports to your boss does not count as work, just because you do it at your office desk. Work is what adds value to the organization in achieving its key goals. After removing these non-work activities if you still find yourself doing 5-6 hours of 'work work' in a day, you are a truly remarkable gem and a rarity indeed.
For those engaged in thought leadership or creative or strategic fields, the 90 minute sprint makes great sense. I find it effective to file away this category of work into my subconscious (and of course my notepad :)) and let it mull over while I get going with the routine. When the time comes, I find a lot of ideas accumulated on the subject and one just needs to sort them out, find the logical order and communicate them in a comprehensible manner. This can be often be achieved in the less than 90 minute sprint. On the contrary, working long hours on deadlines constantly, leads to sub-optimal work produced. We end up ignoring the mind's state of alertness or fatigue and relentlessly keep going against a dead end. The shorter sprint also brings focus in your work. The curse of creativity is that there are always too many ideas floating around your mind and you don't know which one to work on. The short period forces you to focus on what you can do now and here and this way you accomplish more with less. 
This series of the blog was written in less than 90 minute work periods. :)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Hard Work, Smart Work, Inspired Work - Part I

One will find hard work and smart work very prevalent in most organizations. There will be cases indeed where smart work will replace hard work, thus bringing in productivity, efficiency and all the gains of not doing unnecessary and non-value add tasks.

Hard work does not distinguish the value of the work. It is mostly concerned with the volume of work. If something needs doing, it will be done by sheer brute force, if need be. Manual labour, data entry, accounting and audit related record keeping are instances where hard work thrives and is rewarded. Hard work recognizes heroics of individual persistence. You will find energetic hard workers jump in to help their over-whelmed colleagues regardless of their role. Motivation for hard workers can be external or internal. Carrot and stick routines of motivation work best when one intends to extract hard work. Qualities that are appreciated in hard workers are punctuality, reliability, stamina for slogging into late hours. Vision or direction is usually left to managers and supervisors while work is left to workers. This leads to a thriving command and control structure. Edison's quote - "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety nine percent perspiration" is often the guiding mantra for hard workers. Edison indeed practiced what he preached, working more than 20 hours a day on his inventions, his 1093 patents a testimony to his efforts.

There is a different school of thought on the other hand that tends to side with Oscar Wilde who said "Hard work is the refuge of people who have nothing to do". It is a well established fact that work expands to fill the time available. Time can also be replaced with resources including finances available as can be seen from the spend of many governments who are able to boost economic activity by pumping quantum heaps of monetary instruments into the system.

Smart work starts with prioritizing and time management. Important tasks are actively sought while trying to minimize urgent tasks. Smart work seeks out inefficient processes and continuously tweaks them to weed out non-value add steps. Automation is often the simplest of strategies for doing work smartly, but it doesn't stop at that. There is a recognition that all automation is not smart and even automated processes can stimulate hard work syndrome. Creativity and flexibility are the hall marks of smart work. Motivation for smart work comes from the feeling of satisfaction in making something better than it was. Smart work aligns itself to the organization's goals. People in this category are eager to learn, asking questions and challenging the status quo. Organizations where smart work thrives generally have flat hierarchies and open cultures which encourage not just following the process but questioning the process as well. Risk taking is generally higher and it is considered ok to fail sometimes in the quest for smarter solutions. Work life balance is also an important consideration and the goal is to ensure getting more benefits out of less efforts. Thus instead of a hard working 16 hours, a smart output of 8 hours is considered to have generated higher value for the organization.

... To be concluded in Part II (Inspired Work)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Gamification of the workplace

Social apps and games are today omnipresent and you can see people engaged in one or the other of these activities while traveling, waiting at airports or generally filling up their free time. Some facebook updates even show people climbing various levels or achieving new powers when they are supposed to be at work. :) The levels of engagement that gaming is able to generate got me thinking on how to harness the same levels of energy and engagement and apply it in work scenarios. I pondered on a few attributes which enables the gaming industry to keep people occupied for long hours on end. 

Read more on my linked in blog - about how the concepts of the gaming industry can be applied to the workplace.

Introducing these concepts into the workplace would of course have impacts on hierarchies and processes.
Is it possible to apply these principles to lead to a 'gamification' of the workplace leading to an enhanced sense of ownership and higher engagement levels? Would love to hear your feedback.