Let’s take a look at education and agile, two awesome topics that fit together beautifully, and how they come together to help people become professional web developers in a very short period in Montana.
A great deal of my blog has been devoted to my experience of the Agile Software Development movement and trying to apply this beyond just code. When I sought links from my blog to reference, so much of the last 10 years of my blog is about agility in one way or another. So I won’t bother adding links. Just scroll down, read, and click on the “older entries” link and you’ll find more, and yet more. All of my career has been focused on agile in one way or another.
As for education, it’s been an area of interest since just after high school when I encountered a radical book Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich which exposed me to the idea there might be much better ways of educating. On thumbing through the aging paperback I bought probably in the summer of 1980 during frequent bicycle trips from Queens to Manhattan, I was surprised to see a reference to the work of Paolo Friere who “discovered that any adult can begin to read in a matter of forty hours if the first words he deciphers are charged with political meaning”, and that Friere “moved from exile to exile mainly because he refuses to conduct his sessions around words which are preselected by approved educators, rather than those which his discussants bring to the class.” Returning back to Agile, Paolo Friere and Augusto Boal were topics in an Agile 2010 conference from a speaker from South America who more lastingly introduced me to the work of these amazing gentlemen from Brazil. Both Friere and Boal know the deeper level of engagement that is possible in students when they are treated as subjects who steer their own learning, rather than objects into which learning is deposited or pushed.
Montana Code School is a community based initiative to train and educate professional web developers. Montana businesses needs them. May 2015 it became the only topic at a Lean Coffee conversation that was convened by Missoula’s 1 Million Cups community, which sparked Paul Gladen director of University of Montana’s Blackstone Launchpad (a resource for entrepreneurs on campus) to found the code school after that conversation. And I’ve been honored to be part of the founding team. We’ve been successful at training absolute novices with no coding skills to get full time development as junior web developers. Our first and second cohorts have attained at least 95% placement with an annualized wage increase that amounts to over $30K more income. The reason for siting our success isn’t to sell our school. We have professional marketing people from the community (often probono) already doing that better than I could. The reason to site our success is to hopefully help motivate you to look into the agile philosophy and practices that have supported and been foundational in our success at helping students learn rapidly.
How have agile philosophy and practices been incorporated into the school? We start our 12 week class the first day by briefly explaining the Agile Manifesto which we leave on the walls of the school. We explain Scrum, and we employ it with a week long “Sprint” that includes a flexible plan for the week on Monday that includes some of expected subject matter (though each week’s plan is always adjusted based on students needs, visiting mentors and employers who might share what their company does), and a demo and retrospective on Friday. The plan is on a kanban board, also on the wall. We start each day with a short standup meeting that incorporates the Core Protocols check-in and a short improv game to help the team develop their social and emotional intelligence. And during the teaching process we lean heavily on mob programming so the students can learn and teach each other as well as become powerful at collaboration. So most of the work students do are in small groups of three to five.
For people visiting our class, the level of trust and cooperation are very high. The informal atmosphere encourages vigorous engagement, and often requires breaks. Sometimes they’ll enjoy a humorous video together or a video game. There is frequent laughter, as well as staring at the screen working on a problem together. Student teams often take control of the set up of their desks during projects for their own needs. There are post-its and diagrams on all the walls. Although we have a course plan that works, most of the learning and the assessments are self-directed and managed. But we keep learning and adjusting, so what happens each week is a new adventure.
Although Montana Code School has definitely been powerfully influenced by agile philosophy and practices from the community of practitioners, and it is a cornerstone of our success, I’d really balk at the question “Is Montana Code School Agile?” After a week at the amazing Agile 2016 conference in Atlanta (the biggest conference ever for agile practitioners, which sold out at 2,500 attendees from all over the world), if you think you know what Agile is, or that you can tick a box and say “we’re Agile”, you’ve missed the point. Agility is a direction and a journey that never ends. Joshua Kerievsky‘s opening keynote moved many of us to update our understanding of the Agile Manifesto to a more modern approach that goes beyond a software focus to something more comprehensive: making people awesome, ensuring safety, continuous delivery of value, and rapid learning. Montana Code School continues to work on learning how to get better at each of these. Agile is a journey.
The Statue of Liberty seemed so small from Battery Park in Manhattan. We visited that statue as part of a cub scout event, but for me the statue’s relevance didn’t truly register until high school when greater awareness dawned of how many left poverty and oppressive regimes for the promise (if not always the reality) of Liberty.
But this isn’t a post about Liberty. It’s about Responsibility.
Victor Frankyl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning “that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast should be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast… Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.”
A Statue of Responsibility seemed a vague fantasy some people wanted to install on Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay Area where I lived in the 1990’s. Alcatraz actually was in some sense already our Monument to Responsibility. A prison. But I searched for it recently and was shocked how far we’ve come to having an actual Statue of Responsibility somewhere in California or Seattle. It seems a worthy dream for many reasons. The proposed design according to Victor Frankly mentee Alex Pattakos shows two hands clasped, the hand at the base representing personal responsibility, and the one from the sky “representing us reaching out to whatever ‘to’ is, humanity, some higher power, the world, nation to nation, people to people.”
Many have emphasized the importance of responsibility as a core element of accomplishing anything worth while. It helps to look at the actual word to understand it. Responsibility is the Ability to Respond. A very powerful essay by Yasuhiko Genku Kimura, “Toward a Culture of Responsibility“, notes “Responsibility is the individual’s ability to respond to any situation in life as the cause, not as the victim, of the situation.”
One of my deepest joys at present is my involvement in the Open Space Technology community, about which I have frequently written. But in relation to Responsibility, what I love about Open Space is what Peggy Holman identified as how it supports each participant in stepping forward to “take responsibility for what we love as an act of service.”
So now for the main reason I’m writing this post. Since 2009 I’ve been studying with Dr. Christoper Avery who teaches something called “The Responsibility Process”. It has been invaluable in my personal evolution not just for it’s deep and detailed understanding of the psychological process required to move into a state of true responsibility, but also in the individual and community support it provides for practicing responsibility for a greater experience of freedom, power, and choice. By choosing awareness around my intentions and confronting what is actually going on both within and without, I can, as Kimura-san states, respond as the cause, not the victim. I won’t benefit financially if you join this community, but it has amazing leaders who are choosing responsibility rather than victimhood to create a better world for themselves and those around them. Let my writing here be my hand reaching out to you to support you, in some way, in advancing on your path towards claiming the Ability to Respond.
Other than Dr. Avery, some of the other hands that reached out and helped me up the path of responsibility since my early 20’s are: Anthony Robbins, Dr. Maxine Kaye, Gay & Katie Hendrix, Howard LaGarde’s Alpha Leadership Training, Jim & Michele McCarthy’s Core Protocols, the Man Kind Project, the Coaches Training Institute, and Byron Katie.
What hands have helped you up? How will you keep reaching?
If you are reading these words, welcome to my Revolution. Or Evolution. This is a post about Authority. The slides below were from the talk I presented in Cambridge, Massachusetts at Agile CultureCon this past June. The question of authority has been a passion for some time. The bumper on my first car sported a sticker commanding people to “Question Authority”, which seems oddly authoritarian to me now. And though I liked my own presentation at Agile CultureCon, I’m also questioning it. Uncomfortable as it may be, I love to outgrow and shed paradigms and grow into new ones. Maybe like the caterpillar from MarSea’s poem.
So please, I invite you to enjoy my slides, included here for your convenience. At the SlideShare site, there are notes for most of the slides if you view notes instead of comments. The notes will be easier to see if you click the “Show Less” button.
Many moons have passed since my last post, many moons cocooned from engaging with you here. This post surfaces after a deep period of reflection, activity, and change. From studying coaching to becoming an Associate Certified Coach with the International Coaching Federation; from being a student coach in the SAP Coaching Pool, to becoming an official SAP Internal Coach; and from being an employee to becoming independent and my own boss. This period has certainly felt like a rather tumultuous revolution. And I hope that my revolution will continue.
Revolution means a change in who holds the reigns of authority, whether that be a government or a ruling scientific paradigm. Yet just changing bosses alone won’t make for true change. There’s a clue in a song from The Who, Won’t Get Fooled Again. In the song, it seems to start out nicely. “Take a bow for the new revolution, smiling free with the change all around…”, but the punch line of the song is “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
So, if you viewed my slides, you may have noticed the Dr. Sapolsky reference to a revolution in a tribe of baboons where the alpha males were all killed off due to them eating from a stash of poisoned meat they found that they didn’t share with the betas or any of the females. See my slides for the reference, or do your own research. But I conveniently ran out of time after that slide. It was a grand punch line. Down with all the alpha males! And not the message I (consciously) wanted to convey. I had hoped to show how the use of Open Space Technology and other participatory leadership methods like Sociocracy could help us make the shifts we need in a gentler less wasteful way than through bloody revolutions and grand catastrophic crises.
Since my talk in Cambridge this June, I participated as a staff consultant in training for a Group Relations conference, The Merit of the Other. Group Relations conferences come from the Tavistock tradition which does an experiential deep dive into authority in organizational life by creating a temporary institution where the participants can explore and experiment. The work in a Group Relations conference focuses deeply on the roles we take up. The Merit of the Other was a creative mash up of Group Relations work with Family Constellations. Dr. Kate Regan directed the conference, and the Family Constellations portion was led and facilitated by the talented Lisa Iversen who also spoke at the first Montana Agile Culture House conference, MACH One, in Missoula this past April. Family Constellations, conceived by Bert Hellinger decades ago, enables exploration, understanding, and healing of deeply held ancestral trauma. I’ve participated in more constellations than I can count and have found them more effective than I could possibly express in words.
Perhaps you’ll be inspired to investigate both Group Relations and Family Constellations. With respect to authority they’ve taught the following:
- From Group Relations I can see how much authority we already hold in ourselves to both help and to harm, often times without conscious awareness, as we both audition and are auditioned for roles in dramas. We play victim, perpetrator, and rescuer, and many other roles. It can happen as quickly as a “funny look” when we pass a stranger on the street or someone gives us less clearance room than we feel appropriate on the freeway when they shift into our lane.
- From Family Constellations, the power and authority role of the parent naturally transmits traumatic patterns that children almost invariably pick up, and they pick the patterns up out of love. Surfacing the traumas so we can love more intelligently is possible, but it requires deep awareness, mindfulness, intention, and usually assistance.
Right now, I am listening to Gabor Maté’s brilliant book, “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction“. This eye opening book speaks of Dr. Maté’s work with addicts in Vancouver’s skid row, and follows with deep insights about the nature of addiction based on the latest brain science as well as his own experience. The drug addicts all have had traumatic childhoods, sadly lacking in love and full of abuse. The child’s sensitive nervous system can not process the trauma, and their nervous system uses the addictive chemicals to shut out the pain.
When thinking about a revolution of authority, if don’t want to “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”, it will demand that each of us individually and collectively face the places where we shut down to the truth of our own experience. Of course, starting right here, with me. Long Live my own Revolution!
In May at the World Open Space on Open Space 2013 in Saint Petersburg, Florida, I convened a session concerning one of the official roles in an Open Space Technology conference, the butterfly. This “role”, the butterfly, is quite loose and it is a role one can easily slip into and out of. The butterfly in an Open Space conference is not a session. Instead, a butterfly might be at the food table, or outside the facilities getting some fresh air.
The butterfly role in an Open Space conference invites a great deal of serendipity, as often someone being a “butterfly” will attract another “butterfly” into a spontaneous transformative conversation. My session in Florida was asking those hosting and organizing Open Space events what they thought about dedicating an area in facilities for a such a conference that would intentionally be attractive for butterflies and supportive of their needs, like a “butterfly garden” which contains flowers that draw these beautiful winged insects.
Some of the interesting conversations at that session involved the nature of the butterfly, and the metaphor of the butterfly as used in chaos theory, especially the “butterfly effect” used in the study of weather where sensitivity to initial conditions can mean a butterfly flapping it’s wings in Brazil could theoretically cause a tornado in Texas. But the most important of these conversations involved the path of the caterpillar becoming a butterfly. Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar digests itself into a soup which feeds the imaginal cells that gradually group and cluster to become the butterfly. Open Space is a wonderfully rich place supporting transformation, both in individuals and in organizations, and the butterfly metaphor is a very potent story.
One of the attendees, MarSea Amani, presented me this poem in Florida which she has given me permission to publish here in my blog.
butterflies turn into slime
a poem by MarSea Amani Nov 12, © 1999. All Rights Reserved.
You think it’s so lovely
becoming a butterfly.
You’re fond of saying it.
I wonder why?!
You think it sounds pretty
to do what butterflies do
You think you’ll be pretty
if you change the way butterflies do…..
If you but realized
what we butterflies do
to become butterflies
you wouldn’t want to!
stay pulpy worms
hugging the earth
eating all day
for all that it’s worth.
you really won’t want
to do what we do
when we melt into mush
and turn into goo.
It’s really quite horrid,
this melting into slime.
it burns and it hurts;
it certainly isn’t sublime.
all that you were
turns into a soupy goo;
and that’s what you eat
to become the new you.
You say you will transform
you offer self sacrifice.
wish that such pretty talk
for such change could suffice.
When caterpillars melt
you can’t hear their screams;
our voices have melted
along with our dreams.
we write in the horror
of losing ourselves,
all that we cherished
and all we once felt.
for such transformation
you wouldn’t be wishing
if you knew what it took
for all that submissing.
stay a fat worm
eating and sleeping
dodging the birds;
no thought of leaping.
don’t wish for bright wings
to carry you high
into the light
of the limitless sky!
don’t wish to soar
in the clean air above
with no remembrance
of the things you once loved!
stay who you are!
you’re pretty enough!
don’t wish for change!
the way is too rough!
it’s hard enough
to turn worms into goo;
the fire’s even hotter
for creature’s like you.
surely you’ve noticed
that after your prayers
things really heat up
and you’re up to your ears!
surely you’ve noticed
that after you’ve prayed
to be hollowed out
you feel you’ve been slayed!
yes, it’s death you pray for
to be so transformed,
just like us caterpillars
before our new state was formed.
we die to the world
of eating up leaves
of clinging to branches
of fearing bird’s beaks.
you say you want a better you,
but you wouldn’t, if you knew
just what was in store for you
what dying to your old self
would do to you
metamorphosis isn’t something
that you do in a day;
it takes all that melting
…day after day.
and it really does hurt.
and it takes a long time
to turn a caterpillar
into a puddle of slime
so that all he once was
is the stuff he can eat
to become his true self.
it’s no small feat!
transformation isn’t something
that you do in a day;
it takes all that melting
…day after day.
O humans! my advice to you:
stay a caterpillar!
life’s easier that way!
your job is just eating!
…day after day.
It’s been months since I visited Chad Holdorf, the agile “ninja” who walks the halls of the John Deere Intelligent Solutions Group (ISG) in Des Moines. Chad also influences all of ISG organization out to Illinois, Germany, India, and more, affecting at least 1200 people.
When I think back on my experience, I’m still in awe. I’m almost speechless. There’s a powerful fire that’s been lit in the minds and hearts of this tractor company and it is being beautifully fueled and maintained. Chad introduced me to coaches he’s brought in to help their unusually successful transition from traditional “waterfall” development practices towards a more agile approach. I met managers and developers he’s inspired and motivated. I even spoke to non-developers who have been impacted. After seeing the improvements, and the fun!, it’s hard not to just wax so effusively that I sound like a crazed rock star groupie. Luckily, time has helped me reflect and be more coherent about what I discovered there.
First of all, a word from our sponsors. One of my mentors, Christopher Avery, introduced me to Chad. Christopher Avery teaches a profound understanding of how to be a leader in your own life and have greater impact on others with more responsibility, effectiveness, and power through his Leadership Gift program. I’d also like to thank my employer, SAP, for their support in making the visit possible. As John Deere is a customer of SAP (as is so much of the rest of the companies on this small blue orb) I could learn how SAP was benefiting John Deere at that location, and how we could benefit them even more, as well as bring back some of the Agile Goodness being spread around John Deere ISG.
Ok, now back to our program. To summarize in bullets, this is what I saw.
- Meaningful work
- Catalyst Leadership
- Servant Leadership
So what exactly did I see? The Intelligent Solutions Group provides the brains for tractors and online presence for John Deere. In Des Moines, I got to witness the tail end and beginning of an eight week cycle where all the teams come together to look at what they’ve done, ship something to their stakeholders, and plan the next cycle. Chad also invites representatives from other companies working on agile transitions to view what ISG has done, as well as share their own agile transition processes. More on that later.
Chad talks about this right away and even shared with me some of the slides he shows when he starts to talk about what they’ve done. John Deere helps feed the planet. The population of our planet has been growing and is expected to grow much more. The people at John Deere know they make a difference and it shows in their enthusiasm for making things better.
Even if you’re not familiar with the late Robert K. Greenleaf’s book of the same name, it’s unlikely you’ve not heard this term. The executive team at John Deere have provided ample support to Chad, letting him introduce unconventional practices. They continue to empower him to make a difference. They keep saying yes, providing funds for coaches, equipment, furniture, and trainings. They’ve not needed to take the credit. Chad too embodies this. He doesn’t have an office. He has no one reporting to him. And he was excited to see others be brilliant in the company, encouraging colleagues to bring in new practices that constantly improve their processes.
This is a term I first encountered at Agile 2008 in Toronto from the book Leadership Agility by Bill Joiner. But it’s also a term used in the book The Starfish and the Spider, a book about the power of leaderless organizations. Chad has no authority to command obedience, yet he personally and single handedly took on the responsibility for making his entire division jump on board the Agile train. How does Chad catalyze instead of control?
This paragraph will be hard for me to keep short. One of the first things that Chad showed me on arrival was pictures of him covered in mud and dressed up as Forrest Gump when he ran a crazy mud drenched race that required him being hosed off afterwards. He brought that level of fun to his work the whole day. Look what cool things are happening here! Look at the crazy challenges we’ve overcome. It was fun for him that ISG has 50% less warranty claims, 7% higher employee engagement, but even more fun for Chad was seeing how awesome things were happening that he had nothing to do with. Chad uses fun to teach agile practices. Instead of a boring powerpoint presentation, Chad bought hundreds of dollars of legos himself and brings it to groups from 20 to 200+ and tells them to build a city. Then they learn Scrum, Scrum of Scrums, and other agile practices to build their lego metropolis.
Rather than keep things secret, John Deere ISG courageously brings in agile practitioners in from many companies to see exactly what they’re doing. Chad is open and frank about their challenges, and humble. The Brene’ Brown book, The Gifts of Imperfection, helped me understand the power of not just what they’re doing by letting others come visit them, but why. Even though they call it a benchmarking process, there wasn’t a lot of time spent comparing. There was much more time sharing and collaborating with how both John Deere and SAP could do better. Chad’s incredible openness engenders courage and trust in his own company, as well as in others. According to Brene’ Brown, letting go of comparison helps cultivate creativity. And there was much of that evident, including really fun product demos made by teams to show off their work the last 8 weeks.
The conclusion is I’m not done pondering or thinking about Chad Holdorf’s work. I got to meet him again in Dallas at the Agile 2012 conference, learned more about his dreams and aspirations for himself, John Deere, and the software industry. He’s definitely someone to watch out for. If you’re interested in learning more, or maybe applying to be one of the fortunate companies to witness the power of what they’re doing there, feel free to email me and I’ll put you in contact. And take a look at some of these other blog posts and articles praising Chad’s work at John Deere ISG:
Scaling Software Agility – Dean Leffingwell blog post about Chad’s work
Joe Justice gave the closing keynote at Agile 2012 a few days ago. I’ve written several times about the shifts that are happening in the software industry because of this “agile” stuff. Joe shows how he’s produced in 3 months a street legal safe beautiful car that competed in the X prize and has also been with top auto models at a Detroit auto show between Ford and Chevrolet.
These new methods of building stuff better, faster, and with more fun are coming and changing everything, not just the lives of some programmers. This video will give you a taste of how Joe did it – and why it’s profound – and how he’s also working to bring these techniques for social change. Please, for us all, watch this video!
Jim McCarthy, author of the Dynamics of Software Development and co-author with his wife Michele of Software For Your Head, showed up at the Agile Open Northwest conference last week with a protective plastic layer he unfolded on one of the lunch tables. He sat there with blank canvases, paint, and a menu of conversations – and invited people to dabble paint along with him. This post is about the “Culture Hacking” menu item – for which Jim also held a late night 8pm session in the Seattle Center with about 15 other attendees.
If you’re not familiar with Jim and Michele’s work, the best introduction is probably their entertaining “McCarthy Show“, a podcast with years of recordings. And there are more concise writings available there as well, though my experience is the only way to really get the power of their work is to try a bootcamp and feel the power of a “booted” team. But some of this power is evident in Jim’s speech attached to this post.
Jim delivered a rousing and mobilizing talk calling forth those who work with software, and especially those who are reinventing the way that we do work through forward leading organizational and management tools like Scrum, Kanban, and “Agile” and “Lean” ideas in general – to bring on a new Golden Era like Classical Greece, circa 500 B.C. He believes we can do this by programming culture with the same hacker ethos that helped them reclaim the hardware and access to it from mainframe elites of the 60’s and 70’s, and which was moved forward by the Open Source movement.
Jim’s claim is that we’re only at the “pong” level of cultural hacks with tools like Scrum, Kanban, eXtreme Programming, and the other tools of the Agile Software movement. In a short time, we’ll start to see cultural programmed applications that are orders of magnitude from even the leading edge of what teams are doing right now.
Simon Sinek delivers a powerful message about how great leaders inspire action. Do you know the “why” you do what you do, or what your company or team does?
I have a confession. I judge that judgment sucks and that exploration, discovery, and growth are better. Before you flip the Bozo Bit on me for judging judgement, let me start by saying that my preference for exploration is leading to a greater understanding of the power and place for judgment and evaluation. But first please let me dump on the Performance Review, the subject of a workshop I’ve already co-facilitated at the North Bay Agile Meetup last week, and which we’ll be leading again at Agile 2011 in Salt Lake City this week.
Since I left college, every year I’ve experienced the pain and the drudgery of evaluating my performance to my employer. The appraisals that I judge were the best were the ones that had the goal setting happen well after the goals had already been accomplished, and that were very appreciatively delivered by my managers. The ones I judge were the worst were the ones made most conscientiously and carefully, with objectives set well before the event and a serious attempt to bring about improvements.
If you’re lucky enough not to have gone through the dreaded Annual Performance Review with a manager in your job, you’ve either been self-employed your whole life or you’re like 13. But if you can read, you’ve almost certainly gone through a massive amount of social induction through the process of being criticized and judged yourself. Joel Spolsky says this with the most humor in a blog post “Incentive Pay Considered harmful“:
Most software managers have no choice but to go along with performance review systems that are already in place. If you’re in this position, the only way to prevent teamicide is to simply give everyone on your team a gushing review. But if you do have any choice in the matter, I’d recommend that you run fleeing from any kind of performance review, incentive bonus, or stupid corporate employee-of-the-month program.
The most depth I’ve seen on this topic comes from American management guru, Dr. W. Edwards Deming. I’ve known about Deming for many years, but it was thanks to Bob Payne’s awesome Agile Toolkit Podcast with Kelly Allan that I found out he’d already chimed in decades ago about my topic. Deming passed away in 1993, but he’s most famous for his work in Japan starting after WWII from 1950 onwards. Many credit the economic miracle of Japan after WWII to Deming. The Japanese listened to his advice and took it to heart. Deming’s work was extremely influential in Toyota Production System which led to the Lean Manufacturing movement. In one of his books, Out of the Crisis, Deming listed performance evaluations as one of the seven deadly diseases, and he went on to say:
Evaluation of performance, merit rating, or annual review… The idea of a merit rating is alluring. The sound of the words captivates the imagination: pay for what you get; get what you pay for; motivate people to do their best, for their own good. The effect is exactly the opposite of what the words promise.
A video that made the rounds quite a bit last year called “Drive: The suprising truth about what motivates us“. If you haven’t seen it – watch it! Then do what several colleagues and I did after that – and read the book – Drive – by Dan Pink. The basic idea is that extrinsic motivators like pay for performance, bonus pay, etc. do not lead to better performance. Extrinsic motivators actually make it worse for anything but the most simple and menial tasks. What does lead to better performance is intrinsic motivation which comes from Autonomy, Purpose, and Mastery. Great book!
To go back to Deming, what makes a difference in performance, what helps trigger and grow the factors that can nurture intrinsic motivation are healthy relationships. Deming said in the introduction to The Team Handbook:
The fact is that the system that people work in and the interaction with people may account for 90 or 95 percent of performance.
Bottom line, what will make a difference is building relationships – creating a high trust environment. This has been written about elsewhere and often, such as in Stephen M. R. Covey’s, At the Speed of Trust. But the Annual Performance review puts a kind of power into the hands of managers that does not empower the relationship. It encourages a split agenda with the employee trying to focus on why they should get a raise and a promotion, and the boss trying to get more out of the employee within their limited budget. Samuel Culbert writes eloquently about this in his 2010 book, Get Rid of the Performance Review! His 2008 Wall Street Journal article of the same name caused quite a stir at my company and spurred me on to propose a workshop on the topic. It’s exciting to be exploring this in more depth with the amazing Chris Sims of Agile Learning Labs in just a few days! What seems evident is that managers can have a much greater impact on team performance by both being a coach and encouraging teams to support each other. I’ve taken this lesson so much to heart not just for improving performance, but for becoming a transformational change agent, that right now I’m writing this article on a challenge from a fellow student at my Fulfillment class from the Coaches Training Institute at their headquarters in San Rafael.
But my research into the topic led to a trail of discovery that keeps going deeper, in a way that evaluates evaluation itself. Westley, Zimmerman, and Patton wrote a powerful book titled Getting to Maybe that resonates with my explorer’s soul. The story has nothing to do with employee performance reviews, but it has everything to do with the title of this post even though I’ve only glimpsed the shore of this, for me, strange new land. The book relates multiple stories of normal people instigating enormous changes, accomplishing the impossible, but not by being superheros. I can’t hope to describe this other than through the hints and clues from a friend that led me to pursue the book. In a nutshell, much chaos is caused in evaluating and funding social innovation without an understanding of complex systems. A simple system might be compared to baking a cake. There is a formula and a recipe that will produce consistent results. Then there are complicated systems, which might compare to sending a rocket to the moon. There are many moving parts and teams that have to be coordinated. But if you solve the problem once, you’ll probably be able to solve it again. A complex system might compare to raising a child. The child has a will of its own. Although the experience of raising one helps, it most certainly does not guarantee success for the next child. The answer I have yet to explore in this new land is called Developmental Evaluation.
I have a preference for exploration and discovery. And it seems that my explorations are showing that there is a way to make judgments and evaluations in a helpful way. I’m certainly clear that there are times when choices are necessary. The exploration and discovery continues. There is more ground to uncover before our workshop in Salt Lake City: Undoing Performance Review Damage – Coaching Towards Customer Purpose. But here are some additional places on the map you might want to visit for this topic:
Catalytic Coaching: End the Performance Review – a book by Garold Markle who founded a company that has replaced performance reviews with a coaching process at over 100 companies.
Software For Your Head – a book by Jim and Michele McCarthy about their team development laboratory bootcamp which includes an amazing feedback process called the Perfection Game.
Sense and Respond – The Journey to Customer Purpose – a book by Barlow, Parry, & Faulkner. This book was part of the inspiration for the presentation we did in San Rafael and that we’ll do again in Salt Lake City. Coming from the perspective of Lean Manufacturing ideas implemented at service organizations and beyond, the transformation is multifaceted and involves coaching as well as a greater understanding of what the customer needs to succeed.
[Addendum: The research for my Agile 2011 conference session can be downloaded from the Agile Alliance website here.]
Most of you are probably familiar with the adage, “Physician, Heal Thyself!” The miracle of internet search revealed to me that this actually came from the New Testament as a quote of Jesus from an even older proverb. The meaning might seem to be transparent, which is that healers should use their own knowledge on themselves before attempting to use it on others.
As a student of coaching, this simple meaning was what came up for me on a phone call with a master coach, Michael Spayd. Michael along with Lyssa Adkins, author of the book Coaching Agile Teams, are working together to advance the practice of coaching in the world of agile software development. When most people think of the term “coach”, they probably see someone on a football field or basketball court on the sidelines giving guidance and helping the team perform while not actually playing the game him (or her) self.
But the term “coaching” as intended in this article comes out of the increasingly relevant field of professional and life coaching. The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” There are executive coaches, success coaches, and many other “niches”.
Alright, so I just completed Coaching Fundamentals, the first class of the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), which is one of the leading coaching training and certification organizations. It was inspiring being with such a diverse group of people who wanted to help others – from technologists to teachers to managers to real estate brokers. What strikes me most about coaching as taught by CTI is “nobody gets to be wrong”, which means that the relationship between coach and client works best when you go outside of evaluation. In other words, good coaching is not about handing out grades. We’re not in school any more. Coaching especially isn’t about making judgements. And this can be quite tricky. I wonder if a good researcher has measured how much of most of our self-talk is evaluating and judging whether we’re getting it “right”? And what’s funny, is that judging and evaluating itself isn’t ‘wrong’ either.
So when I thought “Coach, Coach Thyself!”, I think mostly for me that was about doing what the manual of coaching as taught by CTI teaches. Here’s a quote from the beginning of Co-Active Coaching: “Naturally Creative, Resourceful, and Whole – The primary building block for all co-active coaching is this: Clients have the answers or they can find the answers. From the co-active coach’s point of view, nothing is wrong or broken, and there is no need to fix the client. The coach does not deliver answers; the coach asks questions and invites discovery.”
Wow, that’s a refreshing way to look at ourselves too. Imagine if we stopped being the judge and stern schoolmaster to ourselves, and instead we were coaches that were curious, asked useful questions that encouraged discovery rather than self-judgement.
I wonder how I might start asking myself better questions and be a better coach to myself? And maybe how can I put away that ugly free clip art whistle too?