Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Accountability ... not a polite word for blame

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Organizational Decay

I have seen a number of organization become so high performing that many would come to see the buzz. Visitors would be in awe of the company's high productivity and quality and wonder what the secret was to attract talent that was customer focused and passionate about delivery and innovation.

Sadly, I have seen the same organizations become but a shadow of what they were. Why is that? Why can't a high performing organization stay high performing? Looking deeper you often see a change in leadership or a leadership that never bought in that proceeds the organizational performance decay.

Leadership matters!

I have been learning to become a high performing lean leader. I am learning its value and the results it can produce. In the coming weeks, I will share some of the concepts I have learned and my experiences with them. I just finished learning from Joe Murli. He teaches about "The Lean Management System".

What I have learned is amazing. Joe focuses on leadership and its' behavior and accountability. It has filled many gaps in my quest to leverage agile to help organizations become  sustaining high performing organizations. Joe's book will be released soon. I recommend you watch for it.

More to come ...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

You Can Tell Alot About a Team by the Way it Swarms

Bees swarm for a purpose. Swarms are self-organizing demonstrate intelligence and emergent behavior. Swarms move in similar direction while avoiding collisions.

I have witnessed the swarming behavior of a number of agile teams. There may be no better single indicator of a teams functioning level than observing its ability to swarm.

When a team is faced with a challenge, swarming may be triggered. I have seen team members simultaneously gather to understand a problem and then quickly organize to resolve the challenge.

I have also seen teams not swarm. Consequently teams unable to swarm tend to become blocked. One set of members may believe the problem at hand belongs to someone else. Their stuff is working and the part of the system impacted is strange to them. The person or persons that attempt to solve the problem are not certain were to start. They don't know if the issue is with a piece of the system they don't understand or belongs to code they know.

Since the team does not swarm a problem (whole team takes ownership and uses it collective intelligence to resolve the issue), problems take longer to resolve. Some members are idle while others may be overwhelmed. The team become frustrated. They know something is wrong but believe someone else needs to resolve the problem.

Any team that experiences the later should take this as call to improve. Lack of collective ownership for any blocker is a sign that a team is not really a team but a loose collection of individuals. A team becomes a team once it learns to swarm by instinct. A team that swarms is a whole team, a highly functioning team!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Great Leaders Create Great Cultures

Great leaders create companies that are fun to work for. Old school thinking is about power and and self-serving behavior. Agile leadership is about an open environment with no offices, flat organizations, continuous learning and improvement, information sharing and aware of your mission for making a difference in the world.

What is culture? A set of shared beliefs, values and practices.  Check out Hubspot's culture at

Look at a company's culture. It says much about that company's leadership.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Five Bad Habits of Leaders in Poorly Performing Organizations

Five Bad Habits of Leaders in Poorly Performing Organizations

There is a cultural war taking placing within the enterprise. It is between the unwashed commoners and the executive ranks. Between those that are adding value vs those focused on advancement. 

In recent years we have seen many bottom up efforts that introduced agile and lean practices into IT and software development organizations. Much has been written of the value realized by such efforts. 

While Agile has focused on effective self-directed teams, it has not addressed a key blocker, dysfunctional leadership. Since Agile values visibility, transparency and courage, it is time to name the blockers manifested by dysfunctional leadership. Once we have named the blockers the next logical step is to remove the blockers.

Remember, a poor performing organization should be laid at the feed of it leaders. The organization performs as it has been led. Lead poorly and the organization is likely to perform poorly.

Below are 5 bad habits of leaders frequently witnessed in poor performing organization. How many have you witnessed?

1. Managing up
Since the first and foremost goal of the eager executive is to get promoted, he or she must focus on those that have the power to promote. Consequently,  a fast riser can little afford to spend time where the work is being done. Instead he or she will focus on being visible to ones superiors. Remember, it is the bosses boss that has the power to promote.

Identifying behavior : ask the staff about their leader. Is she or he available to communicate goals and vision, coach the team and remove blockers or does he or she spent the bulk time in corner offices with other executives.

2. Manage perception
While managing up, the ambitious executive has to influence his or her superior’s perceptions. A favorite matra is "percetpion is reality". It doesn’t matter if you are actually adding value, what matters is that your superiors perceive you as adding value. This will require great presentations and speaking skills. You won’t have time to actually add value as you are consumed with managing the perception of your superiors.

Identifying behavior : ask the staff if they see their bosses boss. Communication is frequently filtered by the boss and never goes directly outside the organization, especially upward.

3. Avoid accountability
By “holding underlings accountable” you can avoid blame. Instead of taking ownership of the system, i.e., they way work is done, and utilizing root cause analysis and the flow of work between departments, the dysfunctional executive finds someone or some group to blame. By doing so he or she is seen as being a strong leader because he or she has identified the guilty and were swift to dole out the consequences.

Identifying behavior : avoids risks and accountability at all cost. Does well at placing others on the hook for any deliverable.

4. Claim credit for other’s successes
This is the sister bad habit to avoiding accountability and blame. Once something has been viewed as successful, a dysfunctional  leaders will attach his or her name to it. It is important that the leaders superiors see him or her as the reason for the success. Should a leader attach his or her name to something that later fails, he or she must declare it a success anyway. Remember, a ambitious leader must avoid fault at all costs. Nothing can bring a fast climb to an end sooner than a highly visible failure.

Identifying behavior : finds out what his or her boss views as valuable and claims credit.

5. Optimize Locally
Since everyone is at risk for being judged by the performance of his or her organization, it is essential that one do all one can to make it appear ones organization is highly functioning. If it means one should sub-optimize the whole i.e., negatively impact a neighboring organization or the company, so be it. What is important is not the end result to the company but how others see a leader’s organization.

Identifying behavior : person has little interest is what is good for the company. He or she is only focused on what is good for his or her organization.

There is one more unspoken dysfunction a leader of a poor performing organization. It is not being caught with any of the 5 dysfunctions identified above. If accused, said leader must deny practicing any of the dysfunctions identified above. A real career killers is to admit to possessing any of the above dysfunctions. Odd thing is, the dysfunctions are very visible to the rank and file but are touted as exective skills by the leadership. The emperor has no clothes.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Our Leadership Pandemic

Corporate America : Our Leadership Pandemic

The disease is rabid self interest. Not the healthy sort of self interest that we all need to employ to provide for our families but the short sighted self centered sort of self interest. 

Look at the symptoms. Almost exclusively you see leadership managing up. There is more interest in managing perception than managing the business. Future leaders are taught that managing perception is a critical skill if one is to advance. This is a key symptom of the leadership pandemic.

Look at a leadership meeting. It is about making oneself look good and avoiding blame. Problems don’t get solved. Instead, everyone is jockeying for position. Net result is the creation of a culture that teaches the underlings to do the same.

In lean and agile, leadership goes to were the work is done (i.e., gemba walk). Managing perception is  not needed when one sees things with ones own eyes. Leadership is on the floor observing the work frequently. Such behavior is the pulse of a healthy organization.

In lean and agile, leaders take accountability for problems, they don’t run from them. What is valued is the ability to collaborate with others across the value stream to resolve issues. This is fundamental to continuous improvement. This is a primary responsibility of leadership.

Unfortunately, the culture of “managing up” keeps the leadership from going to where the work is done. There are no gemba walks. Instead, leaders go to rooms with closed doors and manage perception via PowerPoint slides, elegant phrasing and distancing oneself from any blame. Such a culture teaches future executives how to “kiss the ring” of the current power brokers. Instead of managing the business, everyone is managing ones career.

Thus, problems don’t get solved, continuos improvement is but an empty phrase, the organization becomes dysfunctional and ineffective.

Is it any wonder we see so many American companies stagnate or in decline. Is your organization infected with the leadership pandemic?