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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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.

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.

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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 5 Traits of Real Workplace Leadership

Inspiring Lessons From the Life Journey of Mr. Warrick Dunn

__________

As many of us prepare for the big college football rivalry weekend, let’s take a moment to learn about leadership from Warrick Dunn, retired USA football star with a storied career in college and the National Football League. Although there is much to celebrate from his sporting success, Mr. Dunn’s real impact is now on full display through his inspiring and selfless service to society in present day.

His life journey inspires me to become a better person and leader. My hope is that his story will do the same for you.

For those who might not know of Mr. Dunn, his non-profit (Warrick Dunn Charities) is dedicated to giving the gift of homes to struggling single parents across the United States. A few weeks ago, his organization reached a heartwarming milestone by giving the 144th gift of homeownership to another single-parent family. Kudos to Mr. Dunn for making a difference in so many lives around the country.

The deepest part of human nature is that which urges people to rise above our present circumstances and to *transcend* our common nature. ~ Stephen R. Covey

Mr. Dunn first made an impact on me over 22 years ago, when…

…as a University of Florida graduate, I had a chance to experience Mr. Dunn at our annual rivalry game against Florida State in November 1993. With the game on the line and the odds stacked against his team, Dunn and the Florida State Seminoles broke my Florida Gator-faithful heart with this jaw dropping 80-yard touchdown reception that can be experienced through the YouTube replay of this classic game (starting at 3:09:19).

If you look closely enough, I think you can actually see me (and 80,000 other Florida Gator fans) shedding tears during this heart-wrenching moment. As I watched him race down the sideline for the game winning score, I remember thinking:

Wow, this guy is something special.

As we’ll learn in a moment, special is a gross understatement. I struggle to find words to describe Mr. Dunn’s humble servant-leadership and the impact he is making in our world today.

This is what makes Warrick Dunn such an inspirational leader

Sure, college football fans love ‘the game’ and yes, I was disappointed to watch my team lose that day. At the time, however, Mr. Dunn was dealing with unimaginable heartbreak and responsibilities off the field.

Earlier that year (in January 1993), his Mom (Betty Smothers, a single parent) was ambushed and killed while serving as an off-duty police officer. This terrible family tragedy put Warrick, at only 18 years of age, into the role of head of household by assuming the responsibility of raising his two siblings. As much as I try to empathize, I am unable to comprehend how difficult it was for Warrick and his family.

Looking back on that day, I am ashamed at myself for being so upset over the outcome of a college football game, especially while Mr. Dunn was dealing with real struggles that actually matter in life. If I could hit the rewind button, I would have responded very differently. Instead of tears of despair, I would’ve shed tears of joy for a young man who deserved that timeless highlight for the benefit of his family, his football team and his proud institution.

Just imagine the level of courage this young man showed as he faced the loss of his only parent and the tremendous responsibilities he had to assume as the Father figure for his family. Throughout that ordeal, he still found a way to continue his studies at Florida State and prepare for the upcoming football season. And it doesn’t end there — as fate would have it, he went on to help lead Florida State to its first National Championship that season.

Warrick Dunn’s relentless focus, purpose and selfless leadership have since elevated his life journey to inspiring levels of success, including:

  • A successful 12-year career in the NFL.
  • Founder of the Homes for the Holidays program, which has made home ownership a reality for over 144 single parents and their families since 1997.
  • Expansion of his mission into Warrick Dunn Charities. Since 2002, his organization has awarded millions in home furnishings, food and other donations to single-parent families and children across the nation.

All I can say is … wow.

What can Warrick Dunn teach us about real workplace leadership?

Within organizations small and large, there are many people who have a job title proclaiming themselves as leaders, but real leadership has nothing to do with our place in an organizational boss-subordinate hierarchy or a powerful job title.

Warrick Dunn is a living example of real leadership, and I encourage all of us to learn from him.

My professional journey continues to reinforce a powerful insight:

We need more REAL leaders in the workplace, especially in the Fortune 500 space.

To be clear, there are many great leaders on display in these big companies now. It’s wonderful and inspirational when I get the chance to witness the emergence of real leadership within the challenging corporate cultures that still exist within many Fortune 500-esque companies today.

However………I believe there is an opportunity to encourage even more REAL leaders in the workplace; leaders who are:

1. Selfless

Let’s all learn from Mr. Dunn’s leadership and what it means to give away a personal ego for a larger purpose. Despite making millions in the NFL, Mr. Dunn has chosen to invest his good fortune into others…lifting struggling single parents to new heights. What does it take for each of us to give away our personal egos at work, so we can mentor and grow others to become better than us?

2. Courageous

Imagine the level of courage Mr. Dunn showed in 1993 as he faced the loss of his only parent. His newfound Father figure responsibilities would’ve overwhelmed almost anyone, but not Warrick Dunn. He faced the moment with the courage to move forward, and look at where that took his life journey.

Workplace courage pales in comparison, but it’s still an essential element of real leadership in an organization. Exemplifying courage allows you to create conditions where your teammates can speak freely when it matters most. What challenges do you face at work? Are there certain situations where you feel scared to tell the truth? Courage is your ability to confront those fears directly, so you can lead your organization toward its larger goals on a daily basis.

3. Focused

Great leaders inspire others, but this inspiration is razor-focused on a shared purpose – which is the vision & mission of the organization. One look at Mr. Dunn’s charity website and you’ll feel the purpose that it serves. In your organization, great leaders understand how to translate the vision & mission into a focused set of business objectives that people achieve…not because they have to, but because they WANT to.

4. Humble

Mr. Dunn does not garner the spotlight. He celebrates the continued success of his work by deflecting the praise toward his charity’s Board of Directors (who are also quite inspiring people). This is a profound trait of great leaders; the ability to melt behind the scenes as others are celebrated for their success.

5. Masters of Their Craft

Great leaders bring a deep level of skills, knowledge and experience in an organization. Like Mr. Dunn, real leaders have lived in the arena (and might still play in the arena), and they use their knowledge and experience to thoughtfully mentor and grow others toward their full potential.

 

 

What does it take to become a *real* Leader?

What makes Warrick Dunn an inspiring leader to you? What other lessons can we learn from Mr. Dunn’s life journey? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below so we can all learn from each other.

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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.

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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.

How Powerful is Empowerment at Microsoft?

As you skim this oddly-titled post on your iPhone or Android device, you might be wondering what’s happening at that “other” company — Microsoft. Remember them?

Although it’s tempting to reduce Microsoft to a mere afterthought, I am quickly proven wrong simply by looking within my own household. While I edited this weekend post on a Microsoft Surface, I tested it using the LinkedIn flagship app – on an Apple iPhone and an Amazon Kindle (sorry Microsoft, but I dumped Windows Phone a while ago). Oh, and as I was writing this very sentence, my son informed me that our Microsoft Xbox One awakened with a magically improved User Experience. And I just had to ask my younger son to turn down the volume on Minecraft (purchased by Microsoft in 2014). And when I asked my oldest why she prefers an iPad over a Surface, her answer was “Because iPads are cool”.

Welcome to the innovation economy of today, where the technology market is as turbulent and competitive as ever.

How should Microsoft deal with this?

For the past couple of years, the software giant has been on an urgent pursuit to transform within a fiercely competitive environment – attempting to rise above companies like Apple, Google, Amazon and others. The company recognizes that it must reinvent itself to maintain relevancy over the long haul.

The question is ……… how?

What’s been going on inside the company?

This underlying sense of urgency has fueled a significant organizational transformation under the leadership of CEO Satya Nadella, which started in late 2014. My career has carried me in and out of Microsoft’s corporate culture many times over the past 20 years, and I’ve witnessed so many internal “re-orgs” that it leaves my head spinning. However, something about this re-organization “feels” different. Why?

One of the earliest changes was driven by Nadella’s philosophy to extend beyond the traditional, big-company hierarchy by empowering executives to work across previously-siloed divisions. Putting empowerment into action last year, Nadella appointed Julie Larson-Green (former EVP of Xbox and Surface) to the newly-created role of Chief Experience Officer, which crosses all of Microsoft’s product lines – from Office to Surface to Xbox and beyond. Great idea in theory, but how do you get past the silo’ed mentality that drives disconnection and hallway politics within an organization as big as Microsoft?

As part of the company’s journey into Organizational Agility, Mrs. Green sheds light on her own leadership style and the results achieved through Team-level empowerment and ownership. This gives some idea of how she is able to break down these silos and get people working toward toward a shared vision.

What is empowerment?

As we dive deeper, it begs this question: what does empowerment mean in an organizational context?

Empowerment – Power or authority given from one person (Team) to another person (Team).

Straightforward enough, yes? Actually — not really — because the implications of empowerment can be quite interesting. For example, if I empower others in an organization to own decisions that used to be my responsibility, then where does that leave me? Does it put my job and/or salary at risk?

Connecting empowerment to the “new” Microsoft

How do you feel about Larson-Green’s recent statement that Teams will walk over coals for a vision they own? Her views around Agile Leadership are well-aligned, purposeful and insightful – I invite everyone to give her post a read. For those of you who work at Microsoft, I am genuinely excited for the future of your organization under this type of leadership.

Let’s explore how Larson-Green has (and continues) to put an Agile Leadership stance into meaningful action within the company. A few [lightly paraphrased] highlights strongly resonated with me, including:

1. The ability to constantly look for new ways to do things and continue to evolve is a necessary part of any organization’s success.

This is certainly an imperative at a company like Microsoft – innovate & evolve, or risk becoming irrelevant. There are several high-profile examples of companies that did not do this effectively – like Blockbuster Video and Research In Motion. Where are they now?

2. People perform better when they are empowered to own the process and feel responsible for its outcome.

There is science that backs this up (consider Daniel Pink’s DRIVE, which has curated a lot of this research). To build further on this declaration – Agile organizations empower small, self-organizing Teams (and Teams of Teams) to completely own “how” they choose to plan and execute their work in a way that optimizes the outcome.

In this empowered situation, senior leaders have a profound responsibility, which is…

3. Leading…means creating an environment where each person has a voice and is working toward a vision that’s greater than themselves.

Creating this environment sounds simple on the surface, but it’s enormously complex – especially in big companies that foster challenging cultural belief systems that only value the voice of ‘experts’ (for example). In an Agile organization, everyone’s voice matters – the collective intelligence of the people offers incredible thinking power toward innovation and execution of the company’s vision.

How does a leader connect this collective intelligence to a larger vision? This recent post about Purpose at Work (from LinkedIn Influencer, Josh Bersin) sheds some light on this question.

4. If changes to projects and the work are necessary, you must be clear on (the) “why”.

When teaching and coaching within Agile organizations, I mentor heavily on the “why” behind everything. For example, if your organization is using Scrum or Kanban with your Teams, it’s not enough for people to learn the “what” (e.g., here are the meetings, how long they need to be, etc.). To truly anchor high performing behaviors, everyone must have a deeper understanding of “why” the meetings exist, the purpose & intent they serve, etc. More importantly, if an organization makes a strategic change in course, Agile leaders will help everyone understand “why” this change is necessary, which fosters an increased level of engagement across the workplace.

5. Leaders can struggle to let go of direct decision-making.

Empowerment is more than a buzzword – it means that leaders actually give their power away to other parts of the organization. In Agile organizations, the highest level of strategic (portfolio-level) decisions still live at the executive level (like at Microsoft), but what we’re finding is that Agile executives actively listen to the collective intelligence of the organization to inform their decisions – this is a powerful concept that’s playing out effectively, even in big companies like Microsoft. But as these broad decisions are made, senior executives give the direct decision-making power away to the parts of the organization that are closer to the delivery work. This empowerment continues down and through the organizational hierarchy, so that the countless number of detailed daily decisions can be made at the point of execution (i.e., within the Agile Delivery Teams and its alignment with Product Ownership).

The irony is that, as an Agile Leader, the more power I give away (responsibly, of course), the more effective I become as a leader. But what does that really mean? How much risk am I taking when I empower others to make direct decisions?

To better understand this new form of power, consider an insightful article from the Harvard Business Review that examines the shift from centralized power to decentralized empowerment in an organization.

Is this happening in your workplace?

6. Passing on day-to-day decisions allows leaders to really lead, focusing on creating the conditions for the team to make the right decisions.

Do you think that Microsoft CEO Nadella embraces this statement fully? Do you believe that he’s empowered Chief Experience Officer Larson-Green to lead in this way?

In Closing

How do you feel about Microsoft’s new leadership style? Will empowerment lead the organization toward a stronger market position in the future? Consider sharing your thoughts in the comments section below, so we can all learn from each other.

 

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