The Incongruence of Organisational Hierarchy

The Incongruence of Organisational Hierarchy

The incongruence between facts and claims in many organisations often bothers me. One of the biggest bogus claims that I have seen is the lack of hierarchy or the flatness of an organisation. What that means is that organisations claim to have very little or no hierarchy in their organisational structure. Such claims make an organisation look modern, open and cool. The flatness of hierarchy (do you see the contradiction here?) is used as a marketing tool to attract talent. After all, who wouldn’t want to work for a company where management teams are approachable and where one doesn’t have to worry much about too many titles.

Sadly, more often than not, organisations that claim to not have hierarchical structures, have unwritten ones. Worse, some of these places have a command and control culturer where the top boss or someone else in the upper echelons control everything.

Few years ago I worked for a financial organisation that did not have many levels in their organisational structure. I was leading a digital project with a budget of few millions. What I found surprising was that the senior management team asked for so many details from projects that the monthly report was over 200 pages long. Did they read the report? I doubt that. Soon I figured out that the structure was less hierarchical because the bosses wanted to keep all the control and didn’t trust others enough to delegate. Unfortunately, that culture flowed down and made that organisation a typical command and control driven culture despite trying to be Agile in vain.

Are their any positives of a hierarchical structure?

One vendor that I can think of is that a hierarchy gives you a possibility of climbing the organisational ladder. It is easier for a company to move people one level up but adding a ‘Sr.’ to their titles. It doesn’t cost much and employees stay happy with yearly promotions. Result is that everyone stays happier.

What to do if you end up in such an organisation?

Well, it truly depends on your own circumstances. If you enjoy your work and the hierarchy does not impact you and your attitude, then you have no problem. What matters is whether you continue enjoying your work or not, and whether you have the right opportunities available for you.

However, if you feel claustrophobic in there, or if you want to climb the organisational ladder fast, then may be you need to consider other options. Again, that’s all circumstantial.

 

 

 

Do you bring problems or solutions?

Do you bring problems or solutions?

This is a classic phrase , mostly with the managers of a traditional mindset. However, this phrase, “Come to me with a solution (or options), and not with problems” can also be debatable. 

Look, any good manager would want his or her team members to apply critical thinking and spend time on thinking through possible solutions. Such a manager also wants their teams to take more responsibility and accountability of their work instead of being spoon-fed by their manager. So, hearing this phrase from a good manager should give you an idea of their support to their teams.

On the other hand, lazy and incompetent managers can use this phrase to avoid responsibility. If team members come up with options which, together they often can, then the manager’s job is only to choose the one which suits them. Easy! Isn’t it?

Sometimes, an organisation’s culture also doesn’t let the managers delegate responsibility. When managers do not delegate powers, employees do not feel empowered to even suggest options or solutions of problems. Even worse is, in such cultures even when employees have to come up solutions, they find something that aligns more with managers’ opinion than being a good solution. 

Anonymous feedback sucks, but we give it anyway!

Anonymous feedback sucks, but we give it anyway!

A little while ago, the team coach at one of my clients suggested that we collect feedback from the team anonymously to understand the ‘team health’. My opinion has been that you can explore and understand a team’s health by frequently talking and working with them. So, I wasn’t really in favour of gathering data anonymously, but since I had started working at that place  only a few days ago, I asked for more information. 

Turned out, the team coach, who was a nice person and was quite experienced, was actually not in favour of collecting anonymous feedback either. However, the inexperienced manager of that group truly believed that feedback should be collected that way and therefore commanded the coach to follow the process. 

I believe that most of us don’t like receiving anonymous feedback. To validate my assumption, I spoke to a number of people. However, I wasn’t entirely surprised when many of them told me that they didn’t mind providing it when asked. Some even admitted that they have exaggerated while giving feedback anonymously. Giving and receiving feedback can be daunting, however, it can be worse coming from an unknown source.

My experience is that managers who have a command and control mindset do not like transparency, conflict or challenge. They see that as confrontation and try to avoid that.

How people engage with each other, and how managers and team members give or receive feedback often tells a lot about an organisation’s culture. Correct?

I can see that you are nodding your head, most likely in agreement. Well, if you trust me enough then tell me about it.  

Let’s try to analyse the feedback given in an unidentified and unspecified manner. An easier way to analyse that is break it down.

Analysis points:

  1. Is anonymous feedback good or bad
  2. What happens when people are allowed to give feedback anonymously
  3. How do we feel when we receive anonymous feedback
  4. Criticism or critique
  5. What does good look like
A person giving feedback to another while hiding his face

Is anonymous feedback good or bad

The debate about anonymous versus face to face feedback isn’t new. In my work as a coach, consultant and sometimes as a manager, I have come across scenarios where leaders were looking for, and at times, encouraging, anonymous feedback. Their logic or assumptions often were similar. “People feel confident providing anonymous feedback and we learn what our teams actually think about the organisation or the processes or the management or all of these.”

Nonsense!! If the culture of a place isn’t conducive to openness, people will not tell the truth even in an anonymous survey.

If people in a team find it hard to offer direct honest feedback, then it is clear that the group has trust issues. Because if I trust you enough, then I’d feel confident that you would listen, pay heed and won’t mind about my feedback.

So, in general, it seems that anonymous feedback isn’t a good thing.  

What happens when you are allowed to give anonymous feedback? 

How people respond to a request for feedback largely depends on how they feel in the setting in which they are. We respond and react passively or negatively in an environment that makes us feel unsafe. That’s why the ‘feeling of safety’ matters a lot. When employees feel safe to challenge the management, they inadvertently also save their employers from a lot of trouble. When they don’t feel safe, they won’t bother telling the management that the organisation was on fire, and in some cases, literally.

In a blame culture, while some people give up hope that the management would take any actions on their suggestions; few others find the request for anonymous feedback a great opportunity to vent their frustrations. They may exaggerate situations, they may skew data by giving the lowest score for everything and they may even lie if they feel vengeful. And  why wouldn’t they? Anonymity provides them the veil to do things that they wouldn’t otherwise do.

Receiving anonymous feedback: 

Here is a scenario that you will possibly recognize.

“Hi, we need to talk”:

Your manager comes to you and says,”I have received some feedback about you from some of the team members. They think that your quality of work is poor, you delay their work by not responding on time and you arrive to work late. I’ll have to take some action if you don’t improve.”

Naturally, you are taken aback because you thought you had cordial and honest relationships with your colleagues.  You considered them your friends and you always assumed that they would approach you for any concern they had about your work. Anyways, you always believed that you produced high quality work. You have been praised for your work by the clients and this feedback did not seem to make any sense.

So, you ask,”who has given that feedback?”

Manager says, “All feedback that we receive is anonymous. We don’t want people to feel exposed or unsafe for providing information or feedback. And we also don’t want people who receive feedback to be vengeful.”

“That’s a load of bollocks!”, You feel like saying to your boss, but decide to keep this thought in the mind and don’t actually utter it. Times are tough and saying that could be a career limiting move.

Instead you mutter, “I understand that, but without knowing exactly what the issue is, I can’t accept or even take action on this feedback. Actually, I think all of that feedback is incorrect. If you tell me who’s provided this feedback then I will work with them to fix things.”

Of course you never get that information.

The problem in the above scenario is that you don’t have any specific information. The feedback was vague, you didn’t know who provided that. You also don’t know whether your boss misunderstood what your colleagues said about you or whether they all were truly two-faced people. If you have a weak manager, then the first thing that comes to your mind is whether your boss was making up all that feedback. 

Whatever the case maybe, now you have a dislike and distrust of almost all your team members and also your boss. The damage has been done.

Criticism vs critique:

Criticism is always an attack on someone’s person. When you give critical feedback, you’re talking about that person and how bad they are. However, when you critique, you talk about an attribute of a person, and not the person.

Brene Brown says this about anonymous feedback:

“If you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

What does good look like?

The good looks like working in a culture where people feel safe speaking out, respect is a common behaviour, the management folks are open and honest in accepting mistakes and failures and actively ensure that their teams do the same by encouraging them.

I worked with few such teams (I have yet to see an ideal organisation) where people openly expressed their opinions and views. The leaders there created a culture where we felt safe to debate and challenge in an honest, healthy and respectful way.

In an environment like this, team members as well as managers can offer genuine and meaningful feedback in a supportive way. There you talk like mature people. And that not only helps the individuals to grow, but also helps their teams and organisations to stay on course. These cultures also encourage frequent and just in time feedback instead of waiting for a quarter of a year to deliver bad news.

Biases, mindset and tools

Biases, mindset and tools

Few recent conversations made me think about the approaches and tools that we choose for delivering valuable work. Many people rely solely on tools that they’ve always been using. They never change their ways of working. Or, they may change the labels, but not the actual approach.

This is the snippet from the first conversation:

One of my ex-colleagues mentioned that his primary stakeholder, who happens to be the executive of the department, told him not to bother her about the process and frameworks he was using. She hated any mention of Agile, Kanban or Jira. She needed detailed plans, roadmaps and estimates and believed that other approaches didn’t work.

Why was that? 

The other conversation happened during a recent event. A participating senior manager of a large organisation was concerned that stakeholders don’t understand iterative approaches. He wanted to collect and use more data points to prove that work was happening. My personal observation was that his team and he himself lacked an iterative delivery mindset.  Was his approach to rely on data right?

What seems to be the problem? 

“Elementary, dear Watson!” (Actually, Sherlock Holmes never said those words in any of the stories. At least I didn’t come across those words. I have read Sherlock Holmes more than once, I enjoy that so much.)

These conversations remind me of a few cognitive biases. Primarily of the curse of knowledge bias and Dunning-Kruger Effect.

It might be true in both cases that one party thinks that the other one knew more than they actually did. My colleague possibly was talking in a jargon laden language that the business executive didn’t understand and decided that it was all nonsense. All the while the ex-colleague assumed that she being an executive knew more about what he was talking about. That’s the curse of knowledge. 

It is also possible that the same executive believed that she knew more about all delivery approaches. And the ones she actually knew more about, were the better ones, because she knew more about them (sounds dumb, but that happens). That assumption by her makes the other ones bad automatically, at least for her.  

That’s the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

The third point I want to make is not about bias, but about data. 

Data is ruining everything.

Well, not really. We rely on data for decision making. However, over-reliance on anything is bad, isn’t it? I must remind you of the Challenger catastrophe if you disagree with my assertion. You can read about that here. If you read the report, pay special attention to Richard Feynman’s observations and findings. Every word there is insightful.

In a nutshell, what happened then was that NASA wanted to make decisions purely on data, while an engineer had a gut feeling that there was something not right with the O-ring (type of a valve that stopped gases from leaking from the spaceship). That engineer didn’t have data to prove, only a strong gut feeling. 

We all know about the disaster where few astronauts sadly lost their lives.

The CTO in our scenario is focusing on data. It has been proven many times either through research, or in real life, that statistics often fails to influence us compared to social proof. 

Not convinced? 

Think how many times you have made decisions based on a friend’s advice. We approach our family or friends and read online reviews when we buy cars, houses, electronic equipment and other stuff. We look for social proof there.

So, I’m not surprised that by offering data to executives, this person is hardly making a difference.

What else is happening?

What do you think is happening in these scenarios? I’m looking for more insights before we jump into potential solutions.

Let me know either by commenting or emailing. 

Is Remote working doing more harm than good?

Is Remote working doing more harm than good?

Is remote work doing more harm than helping?

In the past weeks some of my clients, friends and ex-colleagues have told me how they’re working longer hours, getting lesser exercise and spending less time with family.
That indicates a big problem. And that problem is burnout.

While working longer hours you may see high productivity in short term, but the consequences can be disastrous in the longer term. So, please stop it!

What can/ should you do:

– Block your diary for breaks. Have short breaks if you’re worried about disruption to work.
– Use lunch breaks for exercise and walks. Can you attend meetings while walking?
– Talk to your colleagues about good practices and prepare a working agreement. (I’ve written about how to create these. Visit my blog.)
– Stick to your delivery or release planning process. Agile releases allow you to flex the scope. What would your stakeholders prefer? A massive surge in productivity now and a massive drop later; or a continuous flow of delivery?

What else can we add here?

I work with teams and individuals in improving their delivery practices. Connect with me if you need help.

Using Kudos Cards to Recognise and Motivate Your Colleagues

Using Kudos Cards to Recognise and Motivate Your Colleagues

We’re living in a world where economy has been constantly affected due to one thing after another. There have been natural calamities such as floods, Bush fires, typhoons, earthquakes and as if those things weren’t enough, we are now dealing with a virus that doesn’t seem to stop creating havoc. 

A suffering economy means that people’s livelihoods have been affected. Mostly in an unfavourable way unfortunately. That also means that our motivations have taken a hit too.

Those who are still working might be dealing with anxiety, stress and panic and they may not even know about it. In such circumstances where people are dealing with heightened emotions, keeping their motivation high becomes difficult and even more important. 

What can we do so that we can help our colleagues, peers and friends motivated?

The Factory School of Thinking for Reward and Recognition:

Traditionally, organisations have been using monetary awards for rewarding or recognising employees. The old school thinking has been that if someone has demonstrated good behaviour, or has done some good work, offer them some money and they will be happy. The management also believed that if one person got a reward, that would motivate others as well.

Contrarily, the monetary awards often made a situation worse. That created a rift among employees. It seldom happens that everyone celebrates one person’s success. In some cases, one person’s win is also seen as everyone else’s loss.

We humans have tendencies to laugh at others’ misery. Don’t believe me? Remember the last time you laughed at someone who slipped and fell. That might even be in a TV show. Schadenfreude is a real thing unfortunately.

What Should Companies Do? 

Motivating employees and keeping their morals high is not an employers job only. Since we are all in these troubled times together, each one of us has to do our bit to improve our work practices, keep our work enjoyable and keep our colleagues in high spirits. 

How do we do that?

There is a simple and effective way of doing that and that is called Kudos cards! These are also known as Hero cards but let’s stick to ‘Kudos’.

Paraphrasing Management 3.0, Kudos cards are a written and public expression of appreciation and recognition of a team member for something that has contributed to the team.

As an employer, what you can do is either buy a deck of cards for your teams or provide them with a virtual or online version of Kudos cards. That would be a very little expense for a large gain. 

Kudos Cards: An Effective Way to Increase Intrinsic Motivation:

Jurgen Appelo is the creator of Management 3.0 methodology, which is a way of modern management thinking. This is what Management3.0 says about Kudos cards

Kudo Cards are simple cards that play the role of a physical token of appreciation. The cards can be placed in a box, and every now and then the Kudo Box is emptied and the workers celebrate those who had received a card.

Kudos cards are simple notes that focus on one and only one attribute. For example, they may show “Well Done”, “Thank You”, “Great Job”, “Congratulations”, “You’re Awesome” etc. Who wouldn’t love being recognised as a badass by their colleagues?

In their physical form, they look like this:

If you and your colleagues work remotely, consider using an online version of these cards. These cards are available for free download from the Management 3.0 website. There are several other websites that allow you to do it for free or for a small fee, for example Kudoboard (https://www.kudoboard.com/).

If you use Trello, Microsoft teams or Slack, they can also be very effective tools for Kudos.

One of my teams created a separate channel in Slack for Kudos and another one used Microsoft Teams Planner for that purpose. In fact, I found that using Slack was a fantastic idea considering that it was constantly in use. 

You can also create your own card in PowerPoint or other drawing tools. The idea is that since the receiver feels appreciated, it is highly likely that they would prefer keeping the card as a memoir. In one of my teams, we used to stick the physical cards to the wall (please see the photo). However, some people decided to take them home because they were proud of their achievements and wanted to show the cards to their friends and family. Isn’t that nice?

Why use Kudos cards: 

I have been using kudos cards for a while now and what I have experienced is that when team members do recognition of each other, the feeling is much more stronger and the positivity lasts longer. It is completely opposite to what I have observed with management rewarding employees on special occasions.

When team members recognise each other, they feel appreciated. They believe that the recognition is honest because that is based on the work or the deed they have done. It is all fact based. Another good thing about mutual recognition is that they don’t have to wait for a ceremony. There is no need for a quarterly or annual function. Employees take care of their own happiness.

Some observations about when to use Kudos Cards:

First of all a word of caution. Don’t use Kudos cards too much because then they’ll lose effectiveness. Also, you should only give a kudos card to someone who has done something right in terms of contribution and you really want to recognise their effort. These cards are for genuine and honest recognition. Without honestly they are worthless.

What I have experienced is that each team creates their own timeline, space and frequency for recognising each other’s work. 

In one of my teams, they used Scrum events like Sprint Review and retrospectives for recognising their colleagues. Another one decided to use every possible opportunity to use them. It totally depends on the team.

Luis Goncalves has written a post about how Agile teams can use the cards in Retrospectives. Read it here.

What might be useful for a team is add something about Kudos cards or regularly recognising team members in their social contract. If you do not know how to create a social contact or a working agreement, visit this page. Since teams do or should refer to their social contract frequently, that should remind them of using the cards regularly.

In conclusion, I believe that Kudos cards are a very effective way of appreciating your colleagues. These cards help improve team bonding, generate positivity, enhance collaboration and peer to peer relationship. There’s no rule for not using them for recognising your boss or an employee through them, but you’re the best judge for their usage and your context. In difficult times, we have a responsibility to support our colleagues and peers. Why not use Kudos cards for that.

If you have used Kudos cards effectively, let me know by adding a comment.