Three Reasons Driving The Performance Management Revolution

Last year on my lightly-viewed LinkedIn blog, I wrote a short post proclaiming 2015 as the year of performance management reform – this was after several years coaching in organizations that had an urgent need to evolve into an Agile environment, but continued to drive traditional (and conflicted) performance management & reward/punish appraisal programs through their respective HR departments.

Fast-forward over a year later. We are witnessing the growing momentum for a revolutionary overhaul – especially in knowledge-work organizations. The most recent treatment of this subject is in the October 2016 Harvard Business Review piece entitled The Performance Management Revolution. Consider setting aside some focused time to dig deep into this article, as I found it quite valuable — especially as it directly references the Agile Manifesto within the context of coaching & feedback, the need for frequent learning & growth, and other aspects that optimize for business outcomes in a complex world.

Why Drop Traditional Performance Appraisals?

Three explicit business reasons are shared in the article:

  • The return of people development – With talent now in short supply, optimizing hiring practices and attracting “growth mindset” oriented professionals is key. These are people who have a strong desire for continuous learning, candid feedback and mentorship. Companies must offer strong development opportunities to attract this type of talent.
  • The need for Agility – In today’s world, annual (or bi-annual) performance appraisal “reviews” are not frequent enough to adapt and optimize an organization based on changing business conditions.
  • The centrality of teamwork – Shifting away from appraisals and emphasizing accountability helps foster a team-based behaviors. The article shares experiences from Sears and Gap — two companies that are surprising innovators in performance management.

The case seems strong enough, but there are implications to an overhaul – including goal alignment, rewards, how to identify ‘poor performers’, and the potential for subjective and biased performance assessments. The article discusses these issues, the research, and how some companies are dealing with it.

In Closing

What is the performance management system like in your company? Do you need an overhaul to optimize for people growth, agility and teamwork? What experiences can you share?


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What Does This Retweet Tell Us About Agile and Scrum?

I must confess that my Twitter knowledge and expertise is limited. I’m even skeptical of its value. But after July’s Agile2016 conference in Atlanta, GA, I found that engaging via Twitter enriched my overall event experience. I learned quite a bit from the real-time chatter and continue to draw new learning moments from the pile of #Agile2016 tweets that amassed throughout the week. There is an overwhelming amount of content, so I sorted by the “top” tweets to see which moment might have resonated the most. What do you think it was?

Credit: Shane Hastie (tweet) and Joshua Kerievsky (speaker)

Most of the retweets happened within a few days of the keynote, but the message continues to strengthen. To put into context, the keynote focused on the proposed 4 principles of Modern Agile, one of which is Make Safety a Prerequisite. The website offers some clarity within this principle:

Safety is both a basic human need and a key to unlocking high performance. We actively make safety a prerequisite by establishing safety before engaging in any hazardous work. We protect people’s time, information, reputation, money, health and relationships. And we endeavor to make our collaborations, products and services resilient and safe.

Why is this?

A reasonable level of engagement was fueled by this moment. Why might this be? Do many of our talented knowledge-working professionals still work in a toxic culture of fear in their organizations? Are people just embracing the obvious? Was it just ‘conference crowd bias’ kicking in?

What do you think?

The impact of a fearful company culture is nothing new.

In the world of Agile and Lean Thinking, the impact of a ‘culture of fear’ is well understood in practice, and a quick Amazon search turns up thousands of books on this very subject. A common use case is when a company attempts to enact and grow Scrum within a software Product Delivery organization. SinceScrum is an expression of empirical process control, it requires transparency so that inspect & adapt interactions will result in informed decisions based on reality rather than fantasy. In a company culture that promotes transparency through courageous communication, I’ve often seen it lead to some amazing business outcomes.

Is your organization attempting to scale using SPS/Nexus, SAFe, LeSS, etc.? If so, all of those frameworks are empirical as well, so to maximize the business and economic benefits, all arguably require that the organization Make Safety a Prerequisite.

Why do I feel so strongly about this?

Each of us has a professional story that is emerging each day we enter our workplaces. I’ve been fortunate that, in my 23+ year career, I’ve only lived in a couple of organizations that promoted an aggressive culture of fear. In both cases, the outcomes of the work were a mess, the people were miserable, the environment drained my soul, and success was defined by something radically different than a shared team goal.

I’m hopeful that these toxic situations are a rare exception, but I imagine that they will always exist to some extent.

What does the future hold?

The tweet is chock full of insight. Without an open, honest and respectful company culture, people struggle to tell the truth and create a shared understanding of tough problems and solutions. That said, I’ve seen situations where some implementation of Agile & Lean practices garners a small benefit, even in companies that have a culture of fear. And lastly, I’ve also seen situations in transparent and healthy cultures where people made incorrect assumptions and placed the fear on themselves. So although the tweet sounds simple…it’s actually more complex than we might realize.

In my mind, the real benefit is when Agile & Lean shine a light on the issue, so that an organization can acknowledge a culture misalignment and choose to solve for it.

In Closing

To tie this back to empirical scaling frameworks like SPS / SAFe / LeSS, the following is another popular retweet from the conference. Is your “Agile” operating model helping illuminate the culture of fear in your organization?


Credit: Paul Wynia (tweet) and Ryan Ripley (speaker)


What do you make of this? Have we largely solved this problem in the Agile space, or is it a widespread issue that needs to be addressed at global scale? I hope you’ll consider engaging with this post by sharing your views in the comments section below.



If my writings resonate with you, please consider spreading this message so we can energize and inspire the entire professional world together. I invite you to ‘Follow’ my professional journey through LinkedIn. I am also on Twitter.

Is it Time to Evolve Beyond the Agile Manifesto?

The colorful wall posters are ubiquitous in organizations small and large. If you’ve used the word Agile at least one time in your company, then I bet you’re keenly aware of the 2001 Agile Manifesto, which expresses the 4 value statements and 12 principles of Agile software development. Sometimes compared to the Declaration of Independence, many cherish it as the timeless artifact that ultimately spawned the Agile transformation movement. Over the years, I’ve relentlessly referred to it and have respectfully challenged organizations to learn from 15+ years of wisdom embedded within the Manifesto.

From 2001 to 2016 – Where are we now?

Fast forward to 2016 and you’ll see that we’re in a much different place than 2001. The pursuit toward Enterprise Agile and scaling is an industry buzzword and was a major theme at this year’s Agile Alliance conference. With Agile2016’s attendance at 2,500 strong, the learning and cross-industry collaboration is at an all-time high.

As a conference participant, I used the week as an opportunity to exchange learnings and experiences with Enterprise Coaching peers, as well as other leaders and practitioners across this vast space of “Agile”. Through various conversations during the week, the following two themes emerged for me:

  1. Large Enterprises continue to share many of the same opportunities & challenges.
  2. We agree that a principles-first approach toward Enterprise Agile is essential for the most effective adoption of processes, practices and tools.

In short, a guiding set of organizational principles helps adapt processes and practices in an organization’s context while successfully moving the Agile needle in a meaningful direction.

That said, I invite us to ponder the following question:

Are the principles in the 2001 Agile Manifesto still relevant in 2016?

The mid-week keynote seemed to offer a compelling answer to the question. Joshua Kerievsky’s talk on Modern Agile focused on the evolution of Agile and our need to keep pace via an adapted set of guiding principles. Here is a picture showing the 4 broad principles from the 2001 Agile Manifesto (left) and the proposed 4 principles for Modern Agile (right):



In his keynote, Kerievsky postulated that the Agile Manifesto was relevant when drafted in 2001, but in present-day, Agile has evolved far beyond its original intentions…rendering the original principles as outdated. What do you think?

This keynote article summarizes Kerievsky’s message better than I can, so I invite all of us to learn and draw our own conclusions. For those who weren’t at Agile2016, this amazing visual summary captured the essence of his talk (credit: Lynne Cazaly):



How do you make Modern Agile real in your organization?

Like the original Manifesto, there is a vast body of knowledge under the covers – including theory & science, thinking tools, practices and skills that must be understood, adopted and mastered in your organization’s context. I would also offer that, for the most part, the 4 principles of Modern Agile are easy to understand …. but extremely difficult to master – especially at the size and scale of our largest global enterprises.

How long have we been asking this question?

This question has been posed for a number of years now, most recently at last month’s Agile Europe panel discussion, and dating back to Steve Denning’s May 2011 Forbes article entitled: Applying “Inspect & Adapt” To The Agile Manifesto. Even The Scrum Guide eats its own dog food by publishing carefully-crafted revisions every few years. But it was intriguing and provocative to see this question reinvigorated yet again on the big stage of Agile2016. So, what’s next?

I’m not smart or wise enough to predict the future of the Agile movement, but I do feel that now is the time for many larger organizations to figure this out if they want to continuously deliver valuable outcomes and effectively compete in their industries.


Is it time to host a well-earned retirement party for the Agile Manifesto and align toward Modern Agile? Where should Lean principles be considered? I invite all of us to engage with this post by sharing your views in the comments section below.



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What Does it Mean to be Authentic?

Brené Brown’s latest post on authenticity captivated me early this morning. In this short read, she responded courageously to Adam Grant’s recent New York Times piece entitled: Unless You’re Oprah, ‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice.

So, what does it mean to be authentic? And is it acceptable to bring authenticity into the workplace? Rather than having an opinion, I instead draw directly from Brené Brown’s research and conclusions – after all, she studies authenticity for a living.

In my research I found that the core of authenticity is the courage to be imperfect, vulnerable, and to set boundaries.

As noted in her post, her research and books, authenticity doesn’t mean that we just say what we feel to anyone and everyone at any moment. It requires a fine-tuned sense of self-awareness and a keen eye to the situation at hand.

I strive to be fully courageous and authentic in the workplace – each and every day. That said, I have much room for improvement. For example, I sometimes struggle to recognize and throttle my high-energy native wiring within context. Courageous moments evoke strong internal emotions – however, I feel that expressing one’s emotions with compassion is key to authentic workplace interactions.

That said, my working assumption is that compassion is best shown once a bond has been formed (which takes time). This is another area of growth for me, since I have a strong desire to help others — perhaps a bit too soon though. There is much nuance behind empathy, compassion, authenticity and sincerity.

This is part of what Brown means by ‘setting boundaries’. Know your audience, know your imperfections, set boundaries — and then just “be yourself”.

Why is this so important? This is how Brown sees it:

“Vulnerability is courage and also the birthplace of trust, innovation, learning, risk-taking, and having tough conversations.”

To enrich this further, tough & authentic conversations promote transparency, and I have found that responsible transparency leads to better workplace decisions in the face of complexity – think Lean, Agile, Scrum, Large Scrum, SAFe, etc. Without transparency, all of these scaling approaches tend to lead to sub-optimal business outcomes.

I see much depth in her words and conclusions.

What does it mean to be authentic? Is is okay to bring your whole self into the workplace? Consider sharing your experience and views in the comments section below.



If my writings resonate with you, please consider spreading this message so we can energize and inspire the entire professional world together. I invite you to ‘Follow’ my professional journey through LinkedIn. I am also on Twitter.

The Most Powerful Word in the Workplace

As we approach the mid-year point in our jobs, I often find that knowledge workplaces have a tendency to slow down a bit and lose some steam. Early-year milestones have been met (sometimes at an unsustainable pace), Teams are in ‘recovery mode’, and forecasts for the rest of the year are taking shape for a second-half push.

However, this is an ideal time of year to avoid momentum loss by aggressively reflecting and implementing improvements in ourselves, our Teams and our organizations. How can we influence this behavior in others? In last year’s LinkedIn Pulse post entitled The Most Dangerous Word in the Workplace, I shared my own insights on the word “why” and its potential for driving negative toxicity in an organization’s culture.

However, this very same word can foster positive dialogue that leads to significant organizational improvements.

Asking “Why” About … Everything

I recently witnessed this mindset on display in my own company – it was inspiring to watch. It involved a number of software Product Development Teams who had just completed the launch of a highly successful new Product. Fresh off a big win, it would be easy to relax and let this success carry the organization forward on cruise control.

Instead, these teams were aggressively seeking new learnings and challenging the status quo – with thoughtful retrospection and purpose – simply by asking “Why?” about everything. Some questions that emerged for the Teams and Leaders included:

“Why” do we exist?

“Why” are we working on these particular Features? What makes it essential for our Customers?

“Why” do we use Scrum to optimize business outcomes? How can we make it better and more focused?

 “Why” do we have to follow this operational procedure in this way? How can we change it to improve our organization’s Agility?

This powerful collaboration resulted in a reinvigorated improvement backlog for the teams and the larger organization. And despite their recent success, there was zero complacency – teams immediately started implementing improvements that will lead them to even greater success for the rest of the year and beyond. This is relentless improvement in action!

As you enter your workplace this week, consider challenging the status quo – politely and respectfully – using “why”. Discover “why” your work matters to the larger organization. Seek out a wasteful process and ask “why” do we do it this way.

“Why” wait? What improvements will this drive into your organization? Consider sharing your experience and views in the comments section below.



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The Power of Appreciation

On more than one occasion over the years, I have encountered software delivery teams working day and night on a “challenged” project. Perhaps you have lived through one of these situations: a long project that is behind schedule, over budget, and over-pressured on many levels … and with no end in sight.

On one of these projects, the management team (who was also stressed) had put a reward system in place to motivate the teams to work harder in an effort to finish:

We really appreciate all of your hard work, and we’re almost there. If you can help us get this project done in the next two weeks, we will add a 20% bonus to your next paycheck.

I invite you to ponder these questions for a moment:

  • If you were the recipient of that message, in what way would it motivate you?
  • If you are the manager, how do you feel about controlling the terms of the reward?
  • What if both of you knew that a two-week deadline was impossible?

As expected, this reward system did not work. In fact, it made the situation worse and resulted in more delays, poor quality software, unhappy managers, miserable team members and dissatisfied customers.

Appreciation and High Performance

High performance software development & delivery teams operate in a very different manner than described above. It starts with creating the right environment for these teams to take shape and thrive – an environment that promotes collaboration, creativity, transparency and sustainability. It is difficult to transform the former into the latter, but it often starts by learning and speaking a different message in your organization.

One characteristic of high-performing teams is the emphasis of peer-level appreciation over manager-handed rewards:

  • Appreciation – The recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something.
  • Reward – A thing given in recognition of one’s service, effort, or achievement.

What does it mean to emphasize appreciation over rewards?

If you are an organizational leader, consider empowering your Teams with small tokens of appreciation that they can use to recognize each other; for example, a thank-you card, or a small but meaningful gift.

Rather than rewarding for the work and the output, a Team member recognizes a quality or attribute of a peer that is stimulating a culture of collaborative Teamwork and high performance.

If done right, it can be healthy to incorporate a small reward into this setting, but genuine appreciation is the emphasis. The reward is simply a small, but meaningful surprise to the recipient. This can have an incredible effect on team performance in the workplace. The ‘Kudo Box’ is a method that is gaining traction. I encourage you to explore this tool and learn more about the six rules of rewards.

In my world of organizational Agility, this often happens within an event called a Scrum Retrospective. This is a regular event where Team members inspect and adapt the ways in which they work together in an effort to increase overall team performance. If this event is facilitated in the right environment and with the right leadership support, then genuine appreciation will often surface in an open and honest manner. A surprise reward between peers, small & simple, can go a long way as well – but only if given through a genuine gesture. I’ve witnessed thank-you cards or even small gift cards ($10) exchanged between peers while appreciating honesty, courage, openness, helpfulness, leadership qualities, etc. It is an inspiring and infectious dynamic when it plays out.

In closing, the following are a few compelling business benefits that peer-level appreciation can bring to your organization:

  1. Strengthens Relationships – When team members appreciate each other, it can be an accelerator into the four stages of group development (Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing). Stronger relationships stimulate the tougher conversations that ultimately drive actionable improvement and higher levels of performance.
  2. Promotes Transparency – High performance Team environments are built on a solid foundation of trust, which promotes open and honest behavior that is relentlessly transparent. In other words, everyone knows what everyone else is thinking and doing. In the world of complex software development, for example, transparency is often a contributing factor to the success and failure of projects.
  3. Makes People Happier – There is accumulating evidence that correlates increased happiness in the workplace to increased productivity. Consider measuring it, along with other measures of organizational performance to see if it makes an impact.

Will you show some genuine appreciation to someone in your workplace today? The results might surprise you.


If my writings resonate with you, please consider spreading this message so we can energize and inspire the entire professional world together. I invite you to ‘Follow’ my professional journey through LinkedIn. I am also on Twitter.

Are You a Manager or an Enabler?

Are you a Manager that believes in this whole Agile thing? There is a difference between thinking, believing and knowing. Don’t miss out on a huge opportunity to become the next market leader in your space. It’s time to understand your role and how it needs to change in order to survive in a creative economy, and it starts by transforming your mindset from Manager to Enabler.


At the turn of the century, I was a proud and young Manager. I had the job title, a ‘corner office’, people reported to me, and life was good. I was entrusted to manage a lot: people, projects, programs, customers, company strategies and the like. But I could tell that something wasn’t right with the world. What was it?

At the time, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but the signs were deceivingly clear and compelling. Experience a few pieces of painful evidence from my own 360 feedback around the Y2K period, which looked something like this:

  • Subordinate: He is a good Manager and very smart, but he doesn’t trust us.
  • Superior: He is an extremely hard-working Manager, but needs to improve his ability to “drive the teams and the results” to customers.
  • Peer: (blank)
  • Self: (???)

Clear as mud, or clear as crystal? Was I a Manager or an Enabler? What did the organization want me to be?

Transforming from Manager to Enabler

It took some time for me to fully process and understand this feedback, but I eventually had a breakthrough moment that launched my own professional transformation. If you are a Manager who lives in a bureaucratic and controlling company hierarchy, then you might be receiving similar feedback.

Are you ready for your own breakthrough moment? Is this YOUR time? If so, then consider embarking on a challenging and rewarding personal journey from Manager to Enabler. If you are able to transform from a Manager to an Enabler, then great Agile leadership ability will be attainable for you.

Welcome to the innovation economy – where Enablers allow their organizations to effectively compete and succeed in a turbulent and relentlessly-changing marketplace.

I offer a few introductory questions as a thought provoking tool to evaluate your professional frame of mind. These are just some questions – I invite you to think about the answers for yourself. Write them down on sticky notes and take some time to think about each one. Use situational awareness as you reflect on each of these questions and what they mean to you, your teams, your organization, your customers and your competitors.

This is not a formal assessment tool and you won’t receive a chart or graph that explicitly tells you whether you’re a Manager or an Enabler. But I assure you that if you invest some time to think about these questions, you’ll start to understand where you are now and if a journey from Manager to Enabler is right for you. If you’re already an Enabler, then you might be ready for an even more fulfilling journey into great Agile leadership.

Are you a Manager or an Enabler?

How does it feel to coordinate a large group of people and own the results of their work?

Do you enjoy being the go-to person for the answers? Do you pride yourself on being the source of business and technical knowledge in your company?

If you’re a people Manager, what does it feel like to invest in those people? Could their own professional growth and autonomy threaten your position in the company?

What does the concept of self-organization mean to you?

Are these 5 secrets of enablement new or foreign to you?

Does “work” feel like work to you and others in your organization? What would it mean for work to be fun?

Is money the motivator for you and others? If not, what is the motivator for you and others in your organization?

As you work through this on your own, read the beginning of this article again and try to answer these questions from the perspective of the young Manager. This will test your sense of empathy, which is a powerful component of great Agile leadership. What were my answers back in Y2K? What do you think my answers are now?

Are you a Manager or an Enabler? Share ‘your answer’ in the comments section below.


If my writings resonate with you, please consider spreading this message so we can energize and inspire the entire professional world together. I invite you to ‘Follow’ my professional journey through LinkedIn. I am also on Twitter.