Five Minutes That Will Change Your Workplace Forever

2017 is up and running at organizations small and large, and the pace is already staggering. How about in your organization? Can you feel it?

Does this describe your organization?

There is a lot of buzz and an accelerating pace in the air. Kick-offs, planning meetings, lunch chit-chat, goal-setting, water-cooler chat … I can imagine the energy and sense of urgency within your organization as you press ahead on your plans for the year … the pace is fast and already getting faster … heck, my head is spinning just writing this post!

<deep breath>

With all of this speed and acceleration, I took a moment early this morning and carved out a few minutes to simply think and reflect, Given how fast organizations rally around their year (meeting after meeting after meeting ….), it can be hard to find these peaceful moments, but I did … and you should too.

How can you use “Five Minutes” each day to improve yourself and your organization?

During this valuable “think-time”, I focused specifically on the state of global workplaces and the little things I feel each and every one of us can do to make organizations better. As I searched for some serious inspiration, it led me to this 13-minute TED Talk entitled: Are you a giver or a taker?

I played the audio-version of this talk during one of my morning commutes into “work”. Just me, my car, and some enlightening inspiration. Wow – I was definitely inspired. For me, it was profound. It REALLY made me think about the reality of our largest global enterprises – on a lot of levels. I listened to it a couple of times, and I was still listening when I parked my car. In fact, I sat in silence for Five Minutes and thought about writing this post, so I could share it with others.

In the TED Talk, organizational psychologist Adam Grant shared a workplace practice called the “Five Minute Favor”, and I’m already convinced that this one small thing could make a HUGE impact in many companies…right now…and at all levels.

This incredibly-simple technique is to leverage Five Minutes of your workday to find *small* ways to add *enormous* value to other people in your organization — every single day.

For example …. (lightly-adapted guidance shared from the TED Talk):

It could be as simple as making an introduction between two employees who could benefit from knowing each other.

It could be sharing your knowledge or giving a bit of “tough” and compassionate feedback to a fellow teammate, so you can help that person learn and grow in the moment.

It might be something as basic as saying, ‘You know, I’m going to try and figure out if I can recognize a fellow employee whose hard work has gone unnoticed.’

Perhaps it could be something like … <insert your “Five Minute Favor” here>

I believe that most workplace professionals give “Five Minute Favors” all the time. I’ve experienced these favors countless times during my career, and I try to return the favor every chance I get. I need to get better at it…

However, you might be shrugging your shoulders at the “Five Minute Favor”. If so, then perhaps one of these discouraging patterns describes you or your organization:

  • The “Organizational Politics” epidemic.
  • The “I want to feel more important and have more power in the hierarchy.” organizational design challenge.
  • The “I care about making more money than I do about helping my fellow employees.” greed syndrome.
  • The “I will use this technique to manipulate others into getting what I want.” self-serving belief system.
  • The “I can’t implement this practice because it will threaten my job” paranoid attitude.
  • And more…

Watch out for those patterns, because they can block the value of a “Five Minute Favor” on a moment’s notice.

In Closing

I’d love to hear what you think of the “Five Minute Favor”. Does this happen in your organization now? Should you be doing this more? Are you an executive leader who needs to promote this behavior in your company? What other wisdom from the TED Talk do you feel would help foster an awesome workplace in your organization?

Here’s to an awesome 2017 and making the most of our “Five Minute Favors”!

 

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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.

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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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.

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 throughout the week. 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. Since Scrum 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? What are you doing to solve for it?

 

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

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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.

 

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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.

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.

 

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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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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 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.

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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.

6 Tips For Mastering Workplace Courage

Have you ever been in a situation where you were afraid to share a difficult, but truthful statement? Was “the obvious” in the room the whole time, but no one would speak up and talk about it? If so, then the time has come for your organization’s leadership to embrace the importance of workplace courage.

Organizations that appear Agile and responsive on the outside usually have inspiring leadership dynamics on the inside. One essential behavior is when senior leaders support the role of courageous communicators. These emerging workplace leaders bring a mastery of skills and emotions to bear when circumstances are difficult and will surface the “hard truth” that is necessary for the success (or perhaps survival) of the organization.

For a culture of courage to thrive, however, an organization’s senior leadership must be supportive of open and honest behavior in the workplace.

What do you think of this courageous situation?

What if a software company ships a broken feature to your smartphone prematurely and it causes you (the customer) a big headache. Application Developers might have known that the quality was suspect, but perhaps they felt management pressure to ship it because of a competitive threat or a customer obligation. Or even worse, maybe the Developers have a financial bonus that will only be awarded if they ship the feature immediately.

If you were a Team Member in this situation, consider the answers to these questions:

How would this management pressure make you feel?

How would your fellow Team members feel about all of this?

What is important to both the Team *and* Management in this situation?

How can you be truthful to management without getting in trouble, losing your bonus, or getting fired?

This situation can be avoided with Courageous Communication. Perhaps someone would respectfully and calmly step up to senior management and say something like:

I feel like the management approach is forcing us to do something that could be damaging to our customers and our company’s reputation. This feature doesn’t meet our mutually-agreed standards of quality and completeness. If it isn’t “done”, what will happen if we ship it now?

What is Courage?

Courage is a profound value of great leadership, but it requires skillful communication, emotional awareness and a degree of professional safety to be effective in the workplace. Let’s use an abbreviated definition from Wikipedia to dive a bit deeper:

Courage – the ability and willingness to confront fear, pain, uncertainty or intimidation.

I’ve seen many great moments of courage unfold in the workplace, especially in organizations that experience a breakthrough moment in the pursuit of higher performance. Someone steps up and makes a truthful (and possibly painful) statement, but at the same time, this person fosters alignment from everyone and creates a better outcome for all. Have you ever seen this play out in your organization?

Try practicing with this situation

Okay — let’s try this one out:

Imagine you’re invited by a Team to observe a critical lessons-learned meeting at the end of a 3-week software delivery effort. This meeting, called a Retrospective, is part of The Scrum Framework – it’s where a Scrum Team inspects its own ‘ways of working’ and examines its performance for improvement opportunities. It can be a powerful learning event if the conditions are healthy, but sometimes, it becomes another wasteful meeting where nothing is accomplished. In a productive Retrospective, Courageous Communication is critical.

As you are observing as a fly-on-the-wall, the servant-leader of the group (called a Scrum Master) intentionally breaks (or bends?) an important rule of this event & invites senior technology managers to participate, so that the Team’s performance can be “evaluated”. You sense that the environment is uncomfortable for the Team, so when it’s time for the Team to examine its own challenges, the room becomes eerily silent – you could drop a pin on the floor. The managers break the silence with feedback: “We have evaluated each Developer’s performance and here’s where you all can improve ….”

<silence gripping the room>

Now what? Where’s the real leadership in the room?

Out of nowhere, a leadership moment emerges from one of the Team Members that sounds like:

I feel like we all understand the importance of this work and the impact it will have on our company’s success. However, I am afraid to admit that none of us understands how The Scrum Framework is really supposed to work. To be successful, we must acknowledge this and commit to a better understanding of Scrum and how we can all work together for a great outcome.

This person goes on to share the issues with an individual-driven performance evaluation process and how it is putting the Team on the defensive. Suddenly, the other Team members come out of their shells and nod their heads in agreement. This person even admitted a fear of being fired right on the spot for honesty, but felt that it was the right thing to do for the organization.

Wow … I mean … Whoa.

That incredible moment of courage shattered the current reality for the managers, but it opened the door for a shared understanding of the real problem (judging individuals), so they could move forward in the right way (empowering and trusting the Team). It changed everything for this Scrum Team’s performance and the relationship with senior management.

 

6 Tips For Mastering Workplace Courage

This type of communication isn’t easy, but with practice, you can elevate your own leadership ability and exemplify courage to benefit yourself and others around you. Here are a few tips to consider as you examine your own capacity for courage:

1 – Establish a mutual purpose with everyone.

When you’re presented with a fearful situation, first communicate the purpose or goal that’s driving your need for honesty. For example, if we all care about delivering an outstanding customer experience, then we should be willing to accept your thoughts and views (no matter how difficult the truth might be to accept). In addition, if you confirm mutual purpose with an open-ended question, then it encourages open dialogue from others. Silence can also be quite telling, because it could mean that someone does not share the same purpose that you do (e.g., someone’s upcoming job promotion might be more important to them than delivering quality Product to customers).

I’ll sometimes start a difficult conversation with something like: “Since the quality of the Product is of urgency to us and our customers, then I feel that I must share the <reality>. How do others see this?”.

2 – Be open and honest about your own fears.

Courage requires a leader to be vulnerable in front of others. If there is something about the situation that scares you, be honest and say it — respectfully. If you do this, you will help others feel safe to speak their own views in an honest and open manner.

3 – Do not judge.

Read through the example above (again). Notice that the person did not point fingers or verbally attack anyone. Rather, this individual took a non-judgmental stance and did not blame the stakeholders. Point a finger at an issue and not at a person. If it’s a sensitive conversation with your manager, point a finger at your fears and the behaviors that are making you feel that way. Then, seek a common purpose between both of you (see Tip #1), so you can open the door to a fruitful dialogue.

4 – Stay calm.

Don’t let emotions get the best of you. I have seen many situations where someone tried to show courage in the workplace, but emotions were out of control and everyone tuned out. A Courageous Communicator can state “the obvious” in a calm and seasoned manner that helps everyone accept the reality and move forward.

5 – Don’t wait.

The worst thing you can do is go silent and wait until later. If a situation has escalated and the “hard truth” needs to be understood by all, then a great leader will step in on the spot and communicate the truth and foster alignment. The time is now, not later. Just make sure your skills and emotions are in check first.

6 – Encourage and celebrate moments of courage from others.

Courageous Communicators are influential leaders that live in all levels of an organization. Be on the lookout for well-timed and skilled moments of courage, and if you witness courage in action, show some appreciation and praise it! This is a demonstration of your own leadership when you celebrate and encourage others to be courageous in the right way.

 

Are you a senior leader who just read this post?

If so, then Courageous Communication starts with your willingness to lead by example. If you embody this value within your organization, then you will encourage a healthy environment of professional safety where people are completely comfortable to be open and honest when it matters most. If you don’t, then you will hear what you want to hear, but it might not be the truth that you need to make effective business decisions. Agile leaders constantly reflect the mirror on themselves in an effort to continuously learn & improve. Are *you* a Courageous Communicator? Are you fostering a culture where courage is valued?

Have you witnessed Courageous Communication in action recently? What was it like? I invite you to share your experience 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.