I normally avoid posting on controversial things but this is a topic that shouldn’t even be controversial.
The world is full of a marvellous variety of people and they come in all shapes and sizes, with a staggering range of ways of thinking. People are different due to things like gender, race, ability, sexual orientation, cognitive difference and all sorts of other things that affect identity. Importantly people are never just one of these things, real people exist at and between all of the intersections.
In the software industry we often rally behind people based statements such as “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools” and yet discrimination and unfairness are rife in the technology industry with “brogrammer culture”, sexist pay situations and the infamous glass ceiling. And yet we talk about being open and inclusive in how we do software in teams? And wonder why there aren’t more women taking technology courses at universities?
Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.
Women aren’t less than men. Men aren’t better than women. Instead people are just people, and each individual isn’t just a woman or man, they will be different in many other ways, expressing their identity, individualism and indeed diversity in each of them. There is value in diversity, and as people that can understand recursion we should be able to grasp that concept. The more ways we have of looking at a problem the better our solutions will be.
I believe that everyone should be treated fairly, that equal opportunities should exist for individuals, that if we need to differentiate between people (e.g. in terms of who to hire) that we should do it on merit, on skill, attitude and behaviours not on what makes a person different. I guess that makes me a feminist.
I’m a feminist because I believe in equality. Gender is one axis of difference that is used to discriminate against people and women are generally treated less fairly in the tech industry than men and so that’s why I’m a feminist not an “equallist”. I realise that this is an unpopular stance to take amongst some groups, especially those who are uncomfortable with a man using the word “feminist” but I think those people should take a good long hard look a themselves. If you’re not a feminist, you should probably go and explain why to your mother rather than argue with me about it.
Men, and women, and in-betweens and neithers, all need to stand up for equality, need to challenge unfairness when it raises it’s ugly guise. The amount of times I’ve seen sexist treatment, casual racist and homophobic language in the tech and gaming industry is shocking and it needs to change. Otherwise we can hardly call ourselves civilised. Of course, there are always weird situations where it’s not clear whether something is discriminatory or friendly banter – exploring those situations in an open and honest way, discovering if behaviour, language or tone has crossed a line helps us all understand each other better. Conflict is best avoided through clarity of understanding between people. Ultimately though the meaning of any communication is that which is received, regardless of the intentions. If you accidentally offend someone it’s still you who are offensive, not the victim who needs to grow thicker skin.
As men, we are morally bankrupt if we leave standing up for equality to those who are marginalised and discriminated against. Equality requires us to collectively act.
The idea of a self-organising team is pretty established in agile software development, as a (post-)agile coach/mentor I sometimes find myself working with teams who are trying to self-organise. Here’s my approach for transitioning a team from being externally organised to becoming autonomous and self-organising.
The first thing to point out is that I believe that the result of a self-organising team practice is an organisation. I don’t know what the the organisation will be ahead of time, that’s what the team work out. What I do (and I think others should do) as an agile mentor/coach is:
- Bring to the team methods and techniques they can use to self-organise
- Information of self-organising and how to interact with other teams in an organisation
- Experience of different structures and behaviours
- Facilitation and support of the organisation
It’s not my job to organise a team, it’s my job to help them organise themselves.
Being an architect/designer at heart I take a simple approach to this kind of thing and think about it in terms of mission, structure and behaviour.
Team’s need to have a purpose. I believe in team’s seizing autonomy and declaring their purpose, even in a complex bureaucratic organisation. So long as senior management are willing to let people they employ to do a complex technical job actually do a complex technical job then there tends not to be a problem. Unfortunately it sometimes takes enlightened leaders to do this but I’ve seen more and more of them in both the private and public sector. A team needs to know it’s purpose and agree on it.
Structurally there are some nice ways of working out who should be in a team and what their role is. I recommend using competencies rather than roles. Competencies are a description of the skills required to deliver the mission of the team and come in levels ranging from the most basic to the most advanced form of e.g. Tester. Either grab some from a suitable process.
Get the team together and get them to score themselves on the range of competencies required. This achieves a couple of things:
- Builds mutual understanding between team members of where the various skills lie and what level they’re at leading to mutual respect and avoiding misunderstandings around what people are “meant” to do
- Establishes whether the team has enough coverage of the required skills for the job, without this knowledge how can a team commit to anything?
Team’s need to know how they’re going to work so they need to understand their functions. As a starter I’d suggest that software development teams have the following functions:
- Production (delivery of working product)
- Communication (both internally with customers and with external stakeholders)
- Decision making
- Way of Working
- Buy-in to the mission and direction
- High level scope
- Changes to agreed scope
A true agile team does all of these things as it includes all of the people and skills necessary (from devs, testers, users, customers, ops people etc.) to achieve them. The team is the vehicle for doing these things.
Each of these things is the tip of a fairly large iceberg. But the team need to work on understanding their Way of Working to do the production job. The team need to agree how they’ll communicate with each other and externally. Both of these are Ways of Working decisions. All function in a team comes down to decision making. Ways of working, communication techniques, scope management etc. need to be constantly refined which means you need constant decision making within a team.
Even buy-in to the team mission and direction (planning and/or technical) is a decision making process. It often happens implicitly with someone charismatic selling a vision and everyone kind-of nodding but that’s not the only way of doing it.
Different decision types deserve different methods
Just because a team is groovy and agile doesn’t mean that every decision should be fully democratic. For example when doing a customer demo to see if the product is on track it’s not normally open to a general vote on whether the product meets the customer’s needs or not. Usually the customer tells you and you have to put up with it.
– identify the different categories of decisions the team needs to make
– identify (using a variation of the Vroom-Jago model) the mechanisms the team will use to make each decision type
– facilitate the decison making process reminding the team of their chosen mechanisms
The output of a self-organising practice is an organisation. Since I believe in honesty and transparency I think that the best way to define and communicate this stuff is in a Team Charter. A Team Charter can simply be:
Some blurb about what the team does – Mission statement
Assertion of rights the team assumes – Autonomy
Who the team is
Who’s in the team, what’s their ability, how do they contribute to the required competencies – Structure
How the team works
A little bit about the practices the team uses. Such as using a continuous flow model, an iterative approach etc. Including the decisions the team makes and how they make them – Decision Making
If you’d like me to help your team self-organise get in touch. Do you have any other ideas on self-organising? Do you use a different approach?
I’ve previously blogged on a decision making model that involves understanding the decision making process and then the different ways a group can reach agreement and how to choose which method to use in which situation. This post covers some real case studies from my own experience that apply this model and help discuss some the issues involved.
This post won’t make sense without reading How to reach agreement in a group – autocracy vs. democracy as it contains the decision tree and questions this post refers to.
In the first part of this blog (A model for making group decisions) I talked about the rational decision making model and how it is the basis of making a decision. Part of that model is gaining agreement amongst a group on an option out of a set of options which becomes the decision. This part is about different ways of gaining agreement and when to use each.
This model is a variant of the Vroom-Jago (1) contingency model in situational leadership theory first developed in 1973 and then refined in 1988. My take on it changes the language here and there to alter some of the emphasis and changes the decision tree a little.
This model defines a set of decision making models ranging from autocratic to democratic and then helps you choose which is appropriate for different situations.
This model applies to decisions involving a group that have an “owner”. The owner is the person who needs the objective decided on. The owner could be the customer, a representative, the group as a whole or the team leader. An important consideration when using this model, as discussed in part 1 is knowing who the owner is and realising that it may well be different for the different decisions the group has to make.
For each type of decision that needs to be made by a group:
- Identify the owner
- Clarify the objective
- Identify the team/group involved
Decision making models
The following decision making models are appropriate for group decisions:
- Autocratic 1 (A1) – The decision owner makes the decision based on the information available.
- Autocratic 2 (A2) – The decision owner requests information from the team (not explaining the situation or why they want information) and then makes the decision.
- Consultative 1 (C1) – The decision owner explains the situation to individual members (socialising and pre-integrating the decision) but does not convene them as a group, then makes the decision.
- Consultative 2 (C2) – The group discusses the situation and then offers ideas and suggestions. The decision owner then takes the decision.
- Group 2 (G2) – The whole group makes the decision with the owner acting more as a facilitator. Reaching this discussion can be discussion leading to emergent consensus, planning poker style or explicit voting solutions.
I don’t know why there isn’t a “Group 1″… maybe we should ask Vroom.
Which one to use
These options range from autocratic to democratic. One of the interesting things is that sometimes leaders want to be democratic but don’t really need to be or are not expected to be. This can lead to a conflict in expectation of approach. A leader may wish to be inclusive and democratic but their team may just wish they’d make a decision once in a while!
The alternative also causes conflict where a group expects their opinions to be heard and taken into account but the owner ignores their voices and makes autocratic decisions. This will create distance between the owner/leader and the group/team making the team feel undervalued.
Having understood the decision characteristics and the different decision making models you can then select one by using the following decision tree to identify the most appropriate model.
Each horizontal numerical bar indicates a question for the decision owner. Answer that question as honestly as possible, in terms of how relevant it is to making a good decision then move to the next part of the tree (sometimes skipping a question bar) and see which question you should answer next. Pretty quickly you’ll arrive at a circular blob with the short name of one of the options described above. I’ve written up some case studies to help explain by example.
- Are the stakeholders known, available and engaged?
- Are the people who will be materially affected by the decision identified, are they available to join in the decision making and engaged in the team to assist in making a decision?
- Is a high quality decision/solution important?
- Is this a case where lots of alternate options can be used and it doesn’t really matter which is selected? If so then answer “no”.
- As the owner do you have enough information available to make a gooddecision?
- If the owner is unsure, or wants to involve other opinions then answer “no”
- Is the problem well understood and does it have well known standard solutions that apply in this context?
- Is it’s a standard problem with a standard (or set of standard) solutions that will work in the current context then answer “yes”
- Do the members of the team or group have to accept this decision for it to work?
- If you (the owner) make the decision yourself will the group accept it?
- Answer this honestly, being in an organisational structure that means the group should accept it isn’t good enough. This question is about the real, honest dynamic between the owner and the group. This is affected by rapport.
- Are the group members aligned with the same motives and goals as you the decision owner?
- If the other members of the group have a different mission, agenda or motives then answer “no”
- Is disagreement likely among group members in reaching a decision?
What if you don’t want to do this model? What if your stakeholders object?
So if you’ve followed the decision tree and it says you should use Autocratic 2 (full autocracy) when you were hoping for Group 2 (full democracy) what should you do? This model is a bit like flipping a coin to decide something. The important thing is not which side of the coin comes up but how that decision makes you feel. If this process highlights to you what you were really hoping for then you’ve learned something. However it’s worth looking at the decision tree and seeing why you ended up where you did, and if other’s in the group would expect the same thing.
To explore this a little I’ve described three real examples here: Decision making case studies – please feel free to add your own. I’ve quickly written:
- Agile team customer sprint demo and assessment
- Process Improvement Team way of working decision
- Process Improvement Team scope agreement
The important part of this process is to make you, your team and your stakeholders consider the types of decisions they need to make, and how they should make different types of decisions. I recommend that as part of a team charter a team describes the types of decision it will make and how it will make them. That gives stakeholders, customers and other teams the opportunity to get involved and question the decision making dynamics if necessary.
Decision making as a team building exercise
During the formation (or reinvention) of a team you can do the following exercise:
- Brainstorm the decisions the group makes. Categorise them into a few groups such as:
- Achieving team buy-in to approach and activities
- Timebox assessment, regular reflect and adapt
- Balancing scope, cost, resources, time
- For each one establish a good definition of an example decision and it’s owner.
- Each team member then puts themselves in the position of the owner (this is even better if the owner is in the room and is included) and privately follows the decision tree answering truly honestly
- Each team member then shows the resulting decision making option they’ve chosen
- Consensus or conflict is then discussed. Outliers on the scale should be discussed first.
This simple exercise will get the team to understand each others motivations and approaches to problem solving as well as open their eyes to some of this stuff from a different perspective. Finally unknown conflicts in terms of decision making way well emerge where people had different assumptions of group input vs. directive management allowing them to be solved practically before a real personal conflict occurs.
To see how I apply this stuff to self-organising teams see: What does a self-organising team really mean? Organisation!
Try applying this approach to personal relationships and decision making, not all of it will apply but it’s interesting to see where you act collaboratively with a partner vs. when you make an autocratic decision (or expect them to) and what the justification is for such a perspective. A misunderstanding between assumed decision making models is one of the underlying causes of many personal conflict situations, you can avoid these by understanding them.
Spend some time understanding how and why you make decisions both personally and professionally and you’ll reap some great rewards.
This blog is part of a series on Holistic Communication: The linguistics of business change. Introduction, ethics and table of contents is all in the first post.
I’ve been working with some interesting group structures recently which got me thinking about decision making dynamics. I’ve been using a decision making framework for a while and intend to apply it to some different shaped groups so thought I’d share it.
There are a number of irrational ways of making decisions such as divination, looking at guts or rolling a dice but generally in business we like to make logical rational decisions. However often we don’t really think about how we make decisions, or more importantly how we should make decisions.
The techniques described in this blog are applicable to any situation where a group needs to make a decision, however the language is focussed on business groups/teams.
This blog is in two parts, the first is pretty simple and obvious and covers basic decision making, but it’ll lead on to the more interesting second part about different ways of reaching agreement and when to use each method.
How decisions are made
Rational decisions are made via a fairly simple process, at least in my mind:
|1. Objective: We start with an objective or goal, it needs to be clearly understood and have an owner/leader2. Alternative options: we create some alternate solutions.
Idea generation is an interesting topic by itself and lots has been written, but that’s not the topic of this blog.
3. Tentative Solution: We analyse the alternates against some criteria and then choose one to be our tentative solution
Again lots of ways to do this depending on your problem domain
4. Deeper Analysis: We perform deeper analysis on the tentative solution to try and ensure it’ll meet the objective
5. Agreement: We get the group to decide on the solution (see part 2)
6. Communication: We communicate the decision
There’s no point making a decision unless it’s communicated!
Person icon I used in the decision making diagram used as per attributable license from http://www.elegantthemes.com/
Different Types of decisions
The first thing to consider is that different types of decisions may need different types of decision making processes, specifically around gaining agreement and analysing options. This seems obvious to me, and is normally obvious to anyone I talk to about it, however when business change people are talking about creating/redefining a group to make some decisions they usually say how they’ll make decisions without differentiating between the types. Unfortunately common sense is often left out of planning.
A decision can’t be made unless it’s understood. To understand why a decision needs making someone, or the representative of some people, needs to have an objective which requires a decision by the group. Again, this seems rather obvious but if you consider it the other way around it means that a group can’t make a decision unless it know who wants the decision and why they want it. Apply that to many traditional management groups/boards, CCBs, business change projects, process improvement groups etc. and you’ll find it doesn’t always hold. In these cases groups are being dishonest and self-serving.
I don’t mean that you can’t make a decision without the customer present (models for that follow next) but that you can’t make a good decision if you don’t know who the customer is and what their objective is. In the case of speculative development for a market this might seem impossible but that’s what market research is for. So, given that we know how decisions are made, and that we should consider different ways to achieve agreement for different types of decision how can we actually get agreement?
See part 2 for How to reach agreement in a group – autocracy vs. democracy
This blog is part of a series on Holistic Communication: The linguistics of business change. Introduction, ethics and table of contents is all in the first post.
What is rapport?
Have you ever been in a situation with someone where you could finish each other’s sentences? Ever had a friend you could communicate with with just a glance and you always seemed to know what each other were thinking? Have you ever felt than in tune with someone? Ever had people follow your reasoning without really questioning it because of the relationship between you at that moment?
The word “rapport” is used to describe this relationship, people in these situations are said to be in rapport with each other (you don’t pronounce the last “t” because it’s based on a French word). Hard to define but everyone’s experienced something along these lines.
Most people have some experience of rapport at least in their personal lives indeed as it serves an important purpose in forming close friendships and intimate relationships. I think of every relationship as being on a big sliding scale from anti-rapport (total conflict) to full rapport (complete hypnotic trance) and putting this scale on a fulcrum to make a see-saw I can push in each direction. I call this the “See-saw of Rapport” because I’m a sucker for a silly rhyme.
Complicated endeavours are built upon specialist knowledge and can’t be done by most people. They might take a lot of time and skill to do but are ultimately predictable processes. For example, a recursive sorting algorithm in computer programming is complicated, it involves variables, loops and recursion it’s not easy for everyone but it’s very predictable. Building a car engine is complicated.
Complex endeavours are those which have many influencing parts and events whose interactions are not simply predictable. Running a large software project is complex, it has people (who are complex) interacting in unpredictable ways based on events and stimuli we can’t predict. Driving a car is complex.
Complicated is easy if you can get the right skills lined up. Complex is always hard.
One thing that interests me is that humans are good at the complex, or at least we seem to be, after all most of us seem able to hold a conversation with another complex human and interact with communities etc. And yet despite our innate understanding of complexity we’re generally really bad at managing it.
Heuristic methods are those which sacrifice accuracy for the sake of speed. Essentially they’re a practical simple way of getting an answer that’s roughly right rather than a complicated time consuming process to get the perfect answer.
In software they’re used all the time to do (almost) 3d graphics calculations that aren’t exactly what happens in the real world but are close enough, they’re also used wherever a “best guess” is provided by a bit of software. Generally we apply heuristics to complex systems to be able to make timely observations or predications.
One of the problems with managing complex systems such as businesses or software teams is that we sometimes forget their complexity, believe the heuristics as fact, and treat them as if they’re merely complicated.
This blog is part of a series on Holistic Communication: The linguistics of business change. Introduction, ethics and table of contents is all in the first post.
A colleague and friend of mine, Caroline Clewlow, recently blogged on “Giving Empowerment or Taking Autonomy” which makes some excellent points. Note sure when the second part will be published, but I’ve already read it and it’s good too (Edit: Part 2 has been posted now). One of the good points contained is
A colleague said that in the simplest terms empowerment is given whereas autonomy is taken
10 internet points if you can guess who the colleague mentioned was, and in terms of the linked vid see here…
Anyway, there’s something I thought I’d add to this topic which is some discourse on the element of moral responsibility.
Because an empowered individual or team is given it’s mandate for action from a higher power (i.e. management) the moral responsibility for it’s actions is at best derived from the high power but normally resides with the higher power. An autonomous individual or team however assumes their own moral responsibility. To this is an important distinction that, on top of the points made in Caroline’s blog, makes empowerment and autonomy distinct.
An autonomous team has the right to do what it wants without asking permission, without external limitation to the scope of that right. This is in contrast to an empowered team who are empowered to “do something” and therefore by implication anything that falls outside of that “something” from the managers interpretation is contentious.
In business change this can be both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing as means the blinkers are taken off and the change team can do whatever is necessary to achieve the business change goals (within ethical constraints) ignoring and presuppositions about how business change can and should function. That sounds pretty good so what’s the downside?
The downside is acting with autonomy is acting without permission. That means acting without management mandate, and therefore without an “organisational push motivation” for the change in question. That’s not an insurmountable problem, a collaborative supporting statement from management can achieve the same thing in a relevant culture.
The best way to achieve buy in by the relevant stakeholders to the moral responsibility of a team and it’s autonomous actions is to ensure that the team includes those stakeholders. In the business change example, this means an autonomous team must have part of the organisational management as part of it’s membership.
For a software team this means that the autonomous team can decide to take whatever action necessary to achieve it’s goals only when the customer is part of the team making those decisions.
Business change teams acting in isolation, or at arms length from organisational management and the practitioner community they serve have the same problem as agile software teams acting without a customer representative. These teams have assumed moral responsibility but no representative conscience to provide balance to the decisions made by the team. If those teams are “empowered” then they’ll have to keep checking what they’re doing with management/customers to make sure they’re still on the right track decreasing efficiency and increasing rework. If those teams are “autonomous” then they run the risk of creating an ivory tower of zealous self-perpetuating “moral” correctness.
In both Business Change and Software Development contexts I agree that an empowered team is better than a simple instruction following team. I also agree that an autonomous team is a progression along this path from an empowered team however I believe an autonomous team is operating unethically if it does so without true customer/management/practitioner representation.
Achieving an organisational environment that enables autonomous teams means management taking an open collaborative supportive role.
I’ve been hearing a lot about mindfulness in business change circles recently so thought I’d comment. It started when a fellow mentor came to me and asked if I’d heard of “mindfulness” to which I responded somewhat frivolously “as Jedi we are mindful of our thoughts and feelings”.
“Mindfulness” has roots in Buddhism as one of the seven factors of enlightenment and has was then adopted by clinical psychology, especially in “positive psychology” over the last few decades in the way that good ideas are often recycled by new belief systems ;p Recently people involved in people management, professionalism and business change have started using the term somewhat interchangeably with emotional intelligence. Interestingly, all three uses roughly fit in with the Jedi interpretation. From my perspective the definition is a bit fluffy and the current trend is simply a fad but that doesn’t mean there’s not some value behind the chatter.
Psychology today tells us
Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.
I think there’s some value in this idea of separation of emotion from logical thinking in a professional context. Emotion tends to complicate things and needs attention otherwise it can override everything else. In any given situation there is always an emotional context, both on the part of yourself and the others you’re interacting. To me, mindfulness is about understanding your emotional context and their emotional context.
“Mindfulness” has a role in conflict resolution as the first part of resolving conflict is to understand each perspective, you can’t do that if you ignore the emotional context. Rapport between individuals is force multiplied by acknowledged sharing (or perception of sharing for the sneaky) of emotional context so being aware of it is a good thing.
So how can we achieve “mindfulness”? Various schools of thought have ideas on that from meditation, “consciousness raising” exercises etc. but I prefer a more simplistic approach to achieve awareness of emotional context. At first this is a bit slow and something you’d do retrospectively but with practice you can get quite quick at it and do it in realtime during a session.
Imagine a moment of communication, especially one with emotion. Ideally consider an event where the result wasn’t what you expected or intended or a moment of conflict.
1. First play back the event from your perspective, focussing on your emotional responses during the event and visualising enough detail to consider the opponents emotional state. Hopefully this will give you some insight into your actions.
2. Second play back the event again from the opposing person’s perspective. Put yourself in their place and try to interpret both their emotional intents and responses to your original communication. Hopefully this will give you some insight into their actions.
3. Finally, play back the event again from the position of an objective observer. You could imagine a fly on the wall or a psychologist studying the event with a bunch of curious students in tow behind a one way mirror. The point is to examine the event, the communications, actions and responses with emotional detachment to again consider the emotional motives behind what happened.
Doing this little exercise will increase your understanding of the emotional context of any event, especially conflict events. You’ll most likely gain significant insights into your own motivations and actions and those of the other parties. I always do. This exercise helps you achieve mindfulness regarding the event.
I always do this following a moment of conflict whether it be professional or personal, as both are things I try to avoid. These days when I’m in a moment of conflict I find I immediately do a quick comparison of the situation from three perspectives, it takes a fraction of a second but enhances my understanding, and therefore response, to conflict situations significantly. This is an example of “anchoring” from NLP.
Of course if there’s a little too much conflict in a situation a different approach might be necessary!
“Be mindful of your feelings, they betray you”
In my opinion there’s little place for negative emotion in a professional setting. However sometimes business change activities may cause negative emotion of conflict, it’s these situations in which an eye on mindfulness or emotional intelligence can help.
There’s nothing new in “mindfulness”, “emotional intelligence” or (my term for it) “emotional awareness” but as with all of these things, to ignore it is to tie one hand and both legs behind your back before going for a game of tennis.
Remember also that Master Yoda said we should “be mindful of the future”… but not at the expense of the moment.
Business change is all about changing people’s behaviours. To understand how to change a business we therefore need to understand how people change. There are three main mechanisms for behavioural change, pain, push and pull. Finally I’ll talk about a balanced approach to creating an environment ripe to change.
Often characterised as “the stick”. Pain based change involves people either feeling some form of discomfort and acknowledging the situation. Obviously people can be in a bad situation but in denial, managing people to acceptance of the truth of their position is a complex skill to which all of the holistic communication techniques apply.
There are a number of dimensions for pain in a business change context. Organisational pain refers to a problem felt by an organisation. Organisational pain is a poor motivator for individuals unless they are exceptionally engage which is why many change programmes actioned by management in response to a perceived organisational pain can fail to get buy in from teams and individuals.
Team pain refers to difficulty faced by a team collectively when trying to function. Often team pain will be manifested by multiple team members raising the same problems in retrospectives or reviews. Team’s will often innovate in process or tooling locally to overcome team pain and apply peer pressure to individuals in the team who don’t personally share the pain. Team pain can and should be harnessed to drive changing behaviours, if it isn’t managed it will have an effect anyway but it’s unlikely to be the effect you want. If an individual is well aligned to the team then team pain will also be individual pain.
Individual pain is a discomfort faced by an individual which can lead to poor morale, resistance to team or organisational actions and people leaving. Individual pain can be an excellent pressure for changing behaviour but I believe it’s unethical to deliberately cause pain in business change activities.
Often individual pain is caused when the team and the individual want to pursue different practices. That is if the individual is not-aligned to the rest of the team there will be both individual pain and team pain. The team is likely to exert pressure on the individual to align to the team, this can be positive but also very negative if the team aren’t careful in their approach. When someone’s in pain, adding more pain to their situation is not an effective way to drive them to change.
Push motivation is the least effective form of motivation to make lasting change in behaviours. Push motivation, also characterised as “the stick” and usually the direct cause of pain in an organisation, team and individual is simply telling people what to do. This can have an immediate effect but it’s often only paying lip-service to the change and will quickly regress when the push directive is removed. A continuous push directive that isn’t aligned to solving individual pain will increase individual pain and make people leave.
Sometimes managers think this is the best approach, and that people should be able to deal with it and JFDI. However if you need to be persuaded of how wrong this approach is consider the following thought experiment:
Let’s suppose that a professional working environment is based on mature relationships between adults. Let’s change the context to an inter-personal relationship between mature adults: you and your spouse/partner/whatever/cat. If you want your partner to change their behaviour (say they don’t line up the food cans so the labels all show perpendicular to the cupboard door or some other OCD request) be it a reasonable or unreasonable request do you think the most effective way to get them to permanently change their behaviour is to just tell them “Do this!” and if they don’t just keep telling them? Most people will consider this a dysfunctional relationship between two mature adults and a bad behaviour on the part of the directive partner. So what’s the difference in a business context? To my mind very little.
This is an example of “reframing“, changing the context to get a different or wider sense of the interaction.
A change in environment or external factors can also create a push motivation.
Pull is the most effective single method of long term behaviour change. This method involves creating a positive motivation for change towards the desired end goal, often categorised as “the carrot” however it’s just as much a minefield as the other motivators. Creating pull motivations is very difficult to get right and done badly can actually just cause pain, or feel like a push to people.
Pull motivations need to be targeted at team and individual level, they can’t be done at organisational level unless everyone is deeply engaged in the organisation (i.e. a small team in a small company that own the company and will directly reap the rewards of it’s success – unless you’re just about to start the next google this isn’t you). Note that offering people financial rewards like bonuses, a classic example of managers trying to motivate behaviour in a direction of their choice is actually demotivating and leads to negative results.
For pull motivation to be effective it needs to be aligned to human behaviour, not traditional managerial behaviour. Areas of potential alignment include:
- Biological imperatives – things like food, sex, going to the toilet etc. unlikely to be harnessed in (most) businesses
- Life-cycle progression – things like growing up, getting married, having a mid-life crisis etc. there actually is an alignment possible here in terms of professional maturity. As people spend time in an organisation they want to progress their careers as part of their life-cycle progression. Providing mechanisms for career development aligned to organisational and business change goals provides a pull motivation.
- Inspiration – which I’ll tackle outside of a bullet point.
Teachers, coaches, preachers, salespeople are always trying to motivate people by inspiring them. People spend countless hours trying to craft messages that will get into people’s heads and inspire them to change their behaviour. The holistic communication blog series is all about understanding the complexities of language that help us form these messages properly and effectively.
Think back on your life and consider when you’ve been inspired… Was it something you read? Saw on tv? Heard someone say? Some will be cynical and say they’ve never been inspired in which case we should ask why they’re doing the job they’re doing. If someone has been content just to fall into situations without ever expressing any desire or interest in choosing a direction they’re likely to be a business change managers best friend due to their lack of free will. It’s easy to mock a lack of inspiration like this but it’s very hard to quantify what will be inspirational
Aligning messages with individuals current direction will reinforce their belief systems and can be seen as inspirational, similarly aligning with their life-cycle progression may be considered inspirational. Establishing rapport and being congruent can help us be inspirational. More on that in a later topic, I’ll update the link here later. If we could bottle “inspiration” we’d make millions or at least sell a lot of self-help books
In business change terms to make effective pull motivations we should strive to inspire the organisation towards changing their behaviours
Behavioural change is complex, I’ve not even talked about resistance and over-coming it, just the motivations that drive change. To manage change in an organisation means understanding these motivators and, I believe, creating a balance between them so that the environment is fertile for individuals to choose to change in the intended direction. My favourite recipe is:
- a tiny bit of team pain that makes it just harder for people to stay where they are than change to something else, this should increase slowly over the long term naturally as more of the community move from the old state to the new state as peer pressure increases
- a tiny bit of push, just enough to let people know that the organisation is giving them permission to change and wants them to, but not a directive
- a lot of pull
- alignment of business change to career development so that as people adopt the target behaviours they are improving/progressing their life – gaining seniority and acknowledged value
- inspiration to draw people towards the target behaviours, the ultimate goal being to make adopting the change so attractive that people will choose to do it and tell all of their peers about doing so
Achieving this recipe is difficult but done correctly we can observe a movement in an organisation, led by the community and engaging the business rather than a change programme imposed on the community by the business.
So if you want to make a change or are in the middle of one currently, express as accurately and inspirationally as you can what you want to change and then consider what motivates that change, for the organisation, teams and individuals. Think about why and how you’ve changed your behaviour in the past to see if you can define the elements that made the change compelling for you.
Defining Communication Channels
Communication is transferring a message via a medium or channel from a sender to a receiver. There may be many receivers or no knowledge of who/how many there are. This post discusses the channels of communication. Stop for a moment and write a list (at least mentally) of the number of communication channels you have in your professional life and who they are communicating with.
I’ll rattle off a few for me:
- Direct verbal+physical communication to the people physically co-located with me
- Direct verbal only via phone
- Direct text only via instant messaging
- Direct rich text only via email
- Broadcast test via twitter/yammer/micro-blogging platform of choice
- Broadcast rich text/media via blog
I could probably go on all day.
Each of these channels has different strengths and weaknesses and so should be used for different purposes and to engage with different groups. There’s an implied purpose in most channels based on their technology, history and technical restrictions which should also be respected as otherwise the receivers can be made to feel quite uncomfortable.
For example, this kind of content which is relatively long, structured, inter-related and not aimed at an individual but broadcast to whoever is interested and chooses to search for it is broadcast on my blog. Links are automatically added to twitter and linkedin for the title but the content isn’t. Imagine instead of using my blog I’d used twitter to tweet this stuff in little 140 char snippets. I think after the first flood of1 5 posts all ending in “…” I’d have about 5 followers left. It’s considered rude and inappropriate. Imagine I’d direct emailed it to you!
Now all of this might be a bit obvious when I mention it but how often do you consider what the right channel is for a message you’re trying to deliver? Some of the differences in channels can be a lot more subtle than the example above and can therefore have unintended implications on the result of your message which is the true meaning of your communication.
Choice of channel isn’t just important when initiating communication it’s even more important when responding to communication. It’s just rude to respond to someone in a different channel than they contact you in unless explicitly stated. For example, if someone emails you they’ve chosen a non-immediate text based medium for whatever reason, if you phone them back you’re changing the gear of the interaction, taking away their opportunity to carefully consider their words by applying a time pressure and interrupting them from whatever they were doing.
All Many people have insecurities about communication and can even be neurotic about some channels, especially in highly technical organisations. Sometimes people feel vulnerable on the phone and would rather interact via text/im/email even when relatively close physically. Others find they’re uncomfortable with text based channels and would rather “speak to a real” person. Do you want to make someone uncomfortable when you’re communicating with them? Before the first action or word?
I operate a couple of golden rules:
- Respond to people on the channel they use to contact you
- Choose the channel that’ll get the best results by making the receiver comfortable
Obviously switching channel can be a powerful gear change if used correctly, as a pattern interrupt even. I consider deliberately doing that unethical, so don’t accidentally do it as the effects can be far worse than you’d think.
My opinions on these channels
Here’s my take on some of these from a purely personal perspective. You may well find you have a different interpretation of some of these channels, which is kind of the point of the previous bit.
1. Direct verbal+physical communication to the people physically co-located with me
Good for: Almost all, there’s instant feedback and the ability to use and read non-verbal communication. The best channel to build relationships and rapport as well as dealing with an emotional response from someone else
Bad for: Unplanned emotional confrontation. If you’re angry about something stopping to write it down can help you to make sense of your feelings rather than the immediate lashing out that can happen in verbal channels.The worst channel to deal with negative emotion from yourself.
Notes: You just can’t beat physically talking to someone
2. Direct verbal only via phone
Good for: Remote quick messages that don’t need a recorded history, reinforcing personal relationships, asking quick questions. Important time-sensitive information. Freeform discussion between 2 people.
Bad for: Anything that needs a long term response, action, complex work or analysis. Structured conversation amongst a group. Conference calls are hell people! Anything emotional as you’ve cutting out non-verbal communication, the majority of human interaction.
Notes: Remember a phone call interrupts people, most of the time they’re not waiting for it so you’re imposing your conversation on them and interfering with whatever they were doing.
3. Direct text only via instant messaging
Good for: Remote quick questions, q&a chat rooms
Bad for: Same as the Direct verbal phone one above except that you’re cutting out even more information from the communication by removing tone, speed, phrasing etc. of voice communication.
Notes: Tends to imply a certain informality despite the fact that most corporate IM solutions are recorded. Some IM solutions indicate when someone wants to talk, or is typing. Ones that don’t are just terrible.
4. Direct rich text only via email
Good for: Structured, recorded information. Group think.
Bad for: Anything that requires action, anything emotional.
Notes: The younger people are the less relevant email is, some consider it should be banned. Like all tools it depends on how it’s used. Unfortunately most people use it badly and have an inbox like a blackhole – massive amounts of stuff goes into it but there’s no observable result. Mass emial has a much lower impact than direct email.
5. Broadcast test via twitter/yammer/micro-blogging platform of choice
Good for: Short updates, social connection, short q&a, promotion of other content
Bad for: Long, structured or complex information.
Notes: Frequency of posts needs to match the local cultural norms to avoid flooding. Similarly excessive content promotion is considered spamming.
6. Broadcast rich text/media via blog
Good for: Structured complex information broadcast to a wide audience
Bad for: Information aimed at an individual or small group
Notes: Blogs can have a range of interpretations depending on their history within an organisation. One organisation I worked with considered blogs to “just be opinions and nothing important was communicated on them”. Another published everything from individual opinions to HR policy and corporate communications on their internal blog system.
As always I’m interested in your opinions. Do you have anything to addon the good and bad points of various channels. Any pet hates?
This blog is part of a series on Holistic Communication: The linguistics of business change. Introduction, ethics and table of contents is all in the first post.