These are rough notes I put together for a ~90 minute presentation to my company’s Agile Community of Interest. I have edited them to remove any direct references to who I work for…not because you aren’t smart enough to use Google, Bing, or your favorite search engine to figure that out :-)…but because it has to be clear that I do not speak for my employer, just myself.
(If you see “our company,” or something close to it, in this post, that probably was originally the company name. “Edited” on a slide means it was adjusted to remove my employer’s name.)
There are three options to view the associated presentation: PDF, PowerPoint, and the slides embedded into this article. If you use the PowerPoint version in slideshow mode, you’ll see the cool transitions. 🙂 Please do not reuse any images unless you personally have rights to them.
- I said rough notes. 🙂 I do not spend a ton of time making sure grammar, spelling, et cetera is accurate with speaking notes.
- These are my thoughts and my thoughts only, not those of the company who I am so blessed to be employed by.
Oh, one more note: I’m still new to Agile and DevOps, so I’m sure my perceptions will change. Heck, even if I was part of those powerful approaches from their foundations, my perceptions should change over time. What you read below is my best take on what I’ve learned so far. A massive thanks to all those who have helped me reach this point.
P.S. If text below is linked, it likely means “click the presentation for next slide or transition.” I couldn’t figure out a good way to align the text below and the slides that wasn’t a ton ‘o work. Since the PDF does not have transitions, you’ll have to figure it out a bit more for yourself with that form. 🙂
When I pointed Steven to an article I had written on my Data Guy (Me) blog titled, “Shook Change Model,” little did I know it would result in him responding, in part, “How would you like to do a presentation for the Agile Community of Interest?”
Not being smart enough to ever say no, I replied, “Sure, just let me know when.”
“When” was the very next Community of Interest. 🙂
Steven, I hope you appreciate the stress you caused me the entire month of March. 🙂
Counterintuitive IT™: How Do We Change Culture?
Now, in fairness to Steven, abject fear and great opportunities often walk hand-in-hand, and truth is, I am extremely excited about Agile, DevOps, Data Science, and Leadership & Development.
Especially how they intersect…
And their common themes, patterns, and motifs.
So, I am very appreciative of the chance to dialogue with everyone on this call.
And I’m hopeful you’ll feel the same way to afterward. 🙂
Counterintuitive IT™ — What Does It Mean?
The title of this presentation is “Counterintuitive IT™: How Do We Change Culture?” The term “Counterintuitive IT™” came to me as I continue to be blown away by the amazing things I have been discovering since I put a higher priority on learning again.
Amazing, surprising things.
Amazing, surprising, counterintuitive things.
Amazing, surprising, counterintuitive things that are just waiting out there for each and every one of us to discover…if only we’ll look.
It May Not Be Counterintuitive for You
Now, I’ll be upfront and admit that not everything I will share today will be counterintuitive…and some of the stuff I think is counterintuitive may be totally intuitive to you.
We all have had different experiences.
We all have different perspectives.
And you may just be a heck of a lot brighter than me. 🙂
There is a reason that Crucial Conversations encourages us to do whatever we can to get everyone’s input into what they call the “Shared Pool of Meaning.” You may be a heck of a lot smarter than me and other people, but together…truly together…truly together as a team…
We are brilliant!
Let’s Learn Together
The tagline for Data Guy (Me) has become “Let’s Learn Together.”
Ready to do that?!
Who Am I?
Okay, now for the most boring part of this talk…but probably needed. 🙂
Who am I?
On Data Guy (Me), in addition to “Let’s Learn Together,” I have:
Data Guy. IT Veteran. People Person. Leader. Innovator. Solver. Perpetual Newbie.
Okay, that may sound a bit egotistical, but it’s meant to be more like a marketing resume than a visit to the confessional. 🙂
At a minimum I am quit a bit of that, but I aspire to all of it!
I’ve been in IT about 25 years, starting with a Box Office Assistant Manager position at the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College; a decade and a half with Tickets.com (including running the ticketing system for the Atlanta and Sydney Olympics); and then finally starting a second career with this company 7ish years ago.
I am <edited out>.
I think you can hear “Data Guy” in there somewhere. 🙂
(By the way, doesn’t explaining where your department is in our company feel like you are giving a long family genealogy?)
Not only does my team take care of metrics and organizational operational priorities for my boss’ department of <edited out> FTEs and contractors, we are first and second level support for Quality Center, our company’s largest tool and repository for software testing planning and results.
In the end I’m just a guy…
- Who loves data
- Who loves analysis, especially of the mathematical type
- Who loves processes, like DevOps and Agile, that improve people’s lives
- Who loves people
- And who loves to learn!
Just in case…I have three disclaimers for this presentation:
- I’m not here to sell you something. I do not make money off Data Guy (Me) or Counterintuitive IT™, although I do hope to some day write a book about Counterintuitive IT™..and who knows what the future holds otherwise. I listed 5 “loves” above. A sixth is I also love the company we work for, and I plan on staying with our company until, many years from now, when I retire.
- Lest the fact we’ll talk about ways to improve culture imply otherwise, our company has a good culture. It is the best company I have every worked for. However, it does not have a perfect culture, so there is always room for improvement. Additionally, we are a big company…so there are places within it the culture is great, others where it is good, and…yes…even some where it is not good.
- I will use the pronoun “you” quite a bit in my talk. It could just as easily be “I” or “we.” Don’t take it personally. But, I do hope you’ll take some of this to heart.
This Is a Discussion, Not a Sermon
In my introduction I referred to this presentation as a “chance to dialogue with everyone on this call.”
That was intentional.
This is a discussion, not a sermon.
Please speak up at any part during the presentation. Unless you are going to burp, start yelling at a wayward coworker or pet, or crank-up Nickelback, please free to stay off mute so that the shared pool of meaning can be increased.
Listen to Dr. Feynman.
Question my answers. Agree. Disagree.
I won’t be insulted!
By the way, I am unabashedly a Nickelback fan. 🙂
A Facebook n00b Speaks Up
In March I was able to attend a 90 minute presentation organized by VitalSmarts. If that company sounds familiar, it’s because they are behind Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, and Getting Things Done.
The speaker was Mike Rognlien, who lists his job as, “Chief Builder of Awesome People.” He came up with that title when he was working for Facebook during its exponential growth, both in members and in employees.
Mike told a story about a new Facebook employee…that I’ll refer to as a n00b to keep this very IT-ish…who spoke up at a weekly open, hour-long all-company Q & A session with Mark Zuckerberg and other senior leadership. She asked Mark a question directly…
I e-mailed Mike to make sure I got the facts correct, and his quick response before he left on a trip was:
…she shared that she’d seen this email that she found counter to our culture and that as a new employee it bothered her. So she asked if it was something he was ok with if the sender in question got results and if he wasn’t, [what] was he going to do about it.
That doesn’t sound too shocking, does it?
Well, let’s just say during his talk in Denver for VitalSmarts, Mike elaborated a lot more and with more color.
Basically, the new employee…to the CEO of one of the hottest and most successful companies on the planet…with other senior leaders present…and whoever in Facebook wanted to attend…
Said that a direct report to the CEO had sent out an e-mail where he was an a-hole (literally using the curse word).
She said it was counter to the Facebook culture she had been taught about during orientation.
She asked if Mark was okay with that and, if not…
What was he going to do about it?
Would you dare?
A couple counterintuitive things for me in that narrative.
First, the fact that Facebook…every week…has Mark and senior leaders hold an open Q & A session. Now, I cannot imagine that we’d like the 4 to 5PM Friday time slot…but isn’t that, itself, incredible?
Second, that a brand new employee would actually use that forum to ask an important question like that. Don’t get me wrong, there are some people who are “no hold barred” and fearless around leadership…but that’s not the sense I got about this employee.
She saw a contradiction between a senior executive’s behavior and her company’s expressed cultural values.
She took a chance.
And she spoke up.
How about you?
If our company had a weekly open Q & A…
Would you ask an equivalent question of <edited out>?
Okay. That’s a bit scary. Let’s narrow down the scope.
- Would you ask it of <edited out>?
- Your SVP?
- Your VP?
- Just your boss?
Did the question need to be asked?
So, why wouldn’t you?
It would be cruel of me to leave the story at that, eh? Any normal person is probably wondering how Mark responded.
He thanked the employee for their question…
Which is not counterintuitive. If anything, I think the higher up our ladder someone is, the more likely they remember to do that.
Then Mark continued saying that the reason he takes the time each week for the open Q & A is exactly for questions like that, yet he almost never gets them.
Now, that crosses a bit into counterintuitive, doesn’t it?
Not only did he do the potentially perfunctory “thanks for your question” or “good question”…he validated her in front of the entire company…and encouraged equivalent, hard questions in the future.
Questions that need to be asked, but generally aren’t.
Sorry. Mike did not say what happened to that senior leader…but before my talk encourages you to stand up and implicitly call a senior exec on the carpet before their boss…remember a “safety culture” (which we’ll talk about a little later) needs to be both for the employee and the leader. Care about everyone, not just your peers and yourself.
How Important is Culture to Agile & DevOps?
Before we discuss how we change culture, we should see how important culture is and what kind of culture we should want.
While taking notes during Mike Rognlien’s presentation, I drew a rougher version of the triangle you see here. Based on what he was saying and what I was learning elsewhere…it summarized how important I thought culture was to Agile and DevOps.
The shape cannot support itself without all three sides.
Pul one out, the other two will collapse.
And, I would suggest, if you pull out one of the areas of listed on its sides, Agile and DevOps will collapse. If you do not use the correct approach, which would include people, process, and technology, you can have the best culture, leadership, and communication in the world…but still fail miserably.
However, being huge proponents of Agile and DevOps, we can get too caught-up in all the wonderful benefits of how Agile and DevOps should get done…perfectly grooming out backlogs, using Jira like no other has done before…automating everything including our cup of our coffee in the morning…
And if we don’t have the right culture, communication, or leadership….
We’ll fail just as miserably.
Now, I know people could ask, “Alan, aren’t communication and leadership just a subset of culture?”
If I created a Venn diagram, I’m sure there would be significant overlap…but not complete. Additionally, communication and leadership are so important (even in a Waterfall environment), that they deserve their own side in our Isosceles triangle.
By the way, reason I mentally tie communication with leadership is because I don’t think you can divide them. In many respects, how you communicate (right people, right time, right place, right message, and right method) is the most visible aspect of your leadership.
And yes, I did say your leadership. It’s true that the higher your title the greater impact your good (or bad) leadership often has.
But, we are all leaders.
Good or bad.
You are a leader.
Good or bad.
And for our company to succeed, we must embrace that role of leader.
Before we continue…let’s consider words attributed to Peter Drucker, a famous management consultant:
We are talking about culture because it is important. Or as John Willis shared during the DevOps Talks Conference in New Zealand last week:
You can’t Lean, Agile, SAFE or Devops your way around a bad organizational culture.
A Culture that Is Productive
Let’s say you are all in agreement about the extreme importance of culture to Agile and DevOps. To our company.
I’m assuming you at least think it matters since, “We need to change our culture” seems almost a meme…and you took time out of your busy schedules for this talk.
Why kind of culture is that then?
What kind of culture is required for Agile and DevOps?
What kind of culture is required for Agile and DevOps, specifically at our company?
Our Company’s Goal
Before we can answer that, I think we first have to establish what our company’s goal. To do that, we should quickly look at two things that are, or at least should be, familiar to all of us.
Our Company’s Vision and Mission.
Both bear repeating, but if you were going to choose one as our goal, which would it be?
I’d suggest “Mission,” which means our company’s Goal is:
Now that we’ve aligned (if not agreed) on the our goal, what does that mean? It means we can learn something from The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt.
What is The Goal? It is the book that Gene Kim, last month’s Agile Community of Interest presenter, and others based the classic The Phoenix Project on. Basically, The Phoenix Project is The Goal translated for IT.
By the way, The Phoenix Project is the book-of-the-month for our Agile & DevOps Book Club in May. 🙂
So, what do we learn from The Goal?
Every action that brings a company closer to its goal is productive. Every action that does not bring a company closer to its goal is not productive.
Every action that brings us closer to our goal is productive. Every action that does not bring us closer to our goal is not productive.
Translation: it is unproductive.
What kind of Agile and DevOps culture does our company need?
The culture our company needs is the one that brings us closer to our goal.
Any culture that brings us closer to our goal is productive. Any culture that does not bring us closer to our goal is not unproductive.
Does that approach to looking at our culture seem counterintuitive?
I would suggest that, based on behaviors we see…
For example silos…
As a company we are often not looking at our goal when working.
Or when we are developing our culture.
The culture our company needs is the one that brings us closer to our goal.
Any culture that brings us closer to our goal is productive. Any culture that does not bring us closer to our goal is not unproductive.
A Culture to Support Agile and DevOps
Now, since we are talking about a culture to specifically for Agile and DevOps…
I suspect that most, if not all, people on this call have read the 12 principles from the “Agile Manifesto.” In “Five Principles for Leading an Agile Culture,” Jo Bennet (for Gartner) simplifies them into five tenants:1
- People over process
- Dynamics over documents
- Collaboration over cascading
- Adaptive over prescriptive
- Leadership over management
It’s More Simple
Although I agree with Gartner’s “Five Principles for leading an Agile Culture,” the three cultural areas I am going to focus on today aren’t obvious from the list. Between the five, the three are probably implicit…at least a little bit each.
Feedback Needs to Be Instant
I had a wonderful mom. Growing up in Canaan, New Hampshire, she was always there when we needed her. She stayed home and took up crafts…specifically macrame…to earn a little extra money in a way that allowed her to be around for us.
And people liked her, not just us kids.
Our cats loved her too…but she didn’t love dogs…so I really never got to see their opinion of her. 🙂
My mom also was pretty mellow. Unflappable. Level-headed.
But, do you think that meant nothing bothered her?
Nope. She was just as human as you and I. Things got under her skin. She just didn’t react.
Until, that is…
Anybody got a parent or friend like that? Someone who sucks it all up…until they explode?
Now, don’t get me wrong…even when she finally exploded, it wasn’t horrible.
However, do you think that’s a healthy way to for feedback to be provided? To wait until you cannot take it anymore?
Until that straw break’s the camel’s…breaks your…back?
Of course not!
How Long Did It Take?
During his talk, Mike Rognlien said that a question his asks leaders is (paraphrasing), “The last time there was a big issue, how long did it take you to know about it?”
Now, we aren’t talking about production incidents here…where we have a whole, fast procedure for reacting and informing. Other issues. Processes that are causing problems. People who are causing problems.
Problems that don’t immediately demand our attention, but are ticking time bombs.
If you are in management, “The last time there was a big issue, how long did it take you to know about it?”
If you aren’t in management, you aren’t off the hook, “The last time you became aware of a big issue, how long did it take you to let someone who could actually affect change know?”
Mike also shared a quote Joseph Grenny. Anyone know who he is?
If you have a better memory than I do, you thought, “He’s co-founder of VitalSmarts and one of the authors of Crucial Conversations.”
Either way, I found a different version of the same basic thought Mike quoted online that’s worth you reading:
My research over the past 30 years has shown that you can largely predict the health of an organization by measuring the average lag time between identifying and discussing problems.2
Or as Mike quoted on his slide:
You can measure the health of a relationship, a team, an organization and even an entire country by the amount of time that passes between identifying and discussing problems.
Are either of those that counterintuitive?
So, then ,what is our excuse for putting off discussing problems? Whether in our relationships, teams, organizations, or country?
Especially in Agile and DevOps, where the approaches are designed specifically to have quick feedback through methods like small batch sizes, frequent deployments, demos, and retrospectives…
Especially in Agile and DevOps, where we know the more immediate the feedback the better…
What is our excuse for allowing long lag times between identifying and discussing problems?
Speak Up Culture
As we continue, I have a question…
Does our company have a “speak-up culture”?
It’s required for instant feedback…and I am 100% convinced that we want a speak up culture.
We not only say so over-and-over, we proactively do things to encourage it. No retribution policy. Q & A sessions during All Hands. Anonymous suggestion boxes.
But, I suspect, if we are honest with ourselves…we are still a little distant from having the speak-up culture we need.
And, as Mike Rognlien noted during his presentation…everyone has a speak-up culture. The question is, “Who are they speaking-up to?”
Come on. Be honest. When something is wrong at work, don’t you generally speak-up to someone? You coworker who won’t tell your boss? Your significant other? Your friend? Your bartender?
Everybody but someone who can actually affect the change that is needed?
As Mike noted, the question isn’t whether you are speaking up. Instead, is it…?
- To the right people
- At the right time
- With the right skills
- If not, you are perpetuating the problem…not helping solve it.
Sure, we all need to be able to vent…and confidants are great to use…both to release steam and to get advice from…but if you are continually complaining about a problem…
- To the wrong people
- At the wrong time
- With the wrong skills
Or one or more of those…
Then you are part of the problem.
Before wrapping up our discussion of instant feedback…to the right people at the right time with the right skills…
Let’s talk about something else that may be counterintuitive, but came up both in what was learned with NUMMI (which we’ll talk about later) and in Mike’s book, Now this Is Your Company.
Starting with the book…its title gets its punch line over. You should act like our company is your company…not a company where you clock in at 9 and out at 5, collecting a paycheck every two weeks, and just doing whatever you are told.
If it was your company, would you ignore that problem? Or just crank about it to people who can do absolutely nothing to fix it?
No, you’d made sure that the people who needed to know did…and have the issue solved!
You wouldn’t be part of the problem.
But Mike also said something interesting about empowerment. Another popular thing to say is we need to empower our people to be able to their jobs…
And we do!
But notice Mike’s concern about using that word when dealing with problems:
But let’s not use that word. Empowerment sounds lovely, but it still implies that you have a choice as to whether or not to use that power. I don’t want you to feel empowered to think and act like an owner, or to use any of the other skills in this book. I want you to feel required to do so.
“I want you to feel required to do so.”
You should feel required to provide instant feedback to the right people at the right time with the right skills.
Now on to NUMMI. If you aren’t familiar with it, it was a joint venture between GM and Toyota to build a plant in the U.S. that leveraged the successful approaches Toyota had back in Japan. Toyota was an evangelist for its lean methods, and GM wasn’t stupid…they wanted to learn how to make cars as efficiently as Toyota.
However, cultures do clash…and one of the areas it did was over the concept of an andon cord. If you are not familiar with that, it’s a cord, button, etc. that an assembly line worker can pull or push when there is an issue, potentially stopping the entire line. Attention is immediately given to the problem…and if I remember correctly from Beyond the Phoenix Project, the first thing the supervisor does is thank the employee for pulling the cord.
Does your boss always thank you for bringing up a problem? 🙂
Well, either way, GM was a bit incredulous at implementing that in the Fremont, California NUMMI plant:
When NUMMI was being formed, though, some of our GM colleagues questioned the wisdom of trying to install andon there. “You intend to give these workers the right to stop the line?” they asked. Toyota’s answer: “No, we intend to give them the obligation to stop it — whenever they find a problem.”
Notice something in common?
“I want you to feel required to do so.”
“No, we intend to give them the obligation to stop it.”
You should be obligated…
To provide instant feedback to the right people at the right time with the right skills.
And, if you are in management, you should instill that into each and every one of your employees and contractors!
We won’t spend as much time on the final two “What kind of culture is required for Agile and DevOps, specifically at our company?” items I wanted to discuss.
However, as little time as I spend on this one…it may be one of the most important cultural attributes we need at our company.
We recognize it with our “no retribution policy.”
And when I heard Gene Kim say it as I listened to Beyond the Phoenix Project, I think driving to or from Goodland, Kansas with Augie, my 11 year-old son…it hit me less as counterintuitive than as profound
We’ve recently had an opportunity to meet and talk to Dr. Sidney Dekker, one of the leading authors in the space, and we cornered him and we asked him, “Okay, what is this thing?” And he said, “You know, we can just call it safety culture.” And he said that a simple definition is, “It’s a culture that allows people to give the boss bad news.” That simple.
Is it that simple?
Are you allowed to give your boss bad news? Your boss’ boss?
Do you feel safe bringing your boss bad news? Your boss’ boss?
If not, why not?
Our company needs a safety culture.
Our company needs a culture that allows you to give your boss bad news.
When Things Go Wrong
Okay…we are almost done with this section, but we need to talk about one more thing.
But before we do…is anyone else here guilty of having a hard time listening to a presentation without doing something else?
So, there I am…really enjoying Mike Rognlien’s talk…but more normal fidgety self. So, I innocently check Facebook…
Having three cats, four dogs, and a bearded dragon…plus who knows how many fish that I refuse to count…
I’m lucky I didn’t burst out laughing.
But isn’t that so true?
No matter how well we plan…things will go wrong.
Sometimes because we just plain screwed up.
Then what happens?
Then what should happen?
Has everyone heard, “Fail early, fail often?”
Is there anyone who feels comfortable doing that?
We won’t go into what needs to change…for instance, the concept of “no fault retrospectives,” where the responsible party (or parties) actually not only help fix the problem, but are visible and vocal in helping others learn so it doesn’t happen again.
So others don’t also have to learn by making the same mistake.
By treating failure a a learning experience instead of an unforgivable sin.
We need a culture where it is safe to fail; where we learn from failure.
Oh…talking about how different subjects intersect…
Note that one of the ways to make it safe to fail is to keep failures limited in scope.
Stand up and stretch!
Reach for the sky! A little more with your left hand…a little more with your right hand…
Put your arms out shoulder level to the sides…stretch them all the way out…turn your palms up…
Tilt to the left…
Tilt to the right…
Okay…now back to our regularly scheduled program… 🙂
Shook Change Model
A year after I finished high school, a guy named John Shook was hired by Toyota for that joint venture with GM I mentioned earlier, NUMMI. As he notes, he started at the ground floor:
Toyota hired me in late 1983 to work on the Toyota side of its new venture with GM. I was assigned to a newly formed group at the company’s Toyota City headquarters in Japan to develop and deliver training programs to support its impending overseas expansion. All of this was just happening. NUMMI didn’t even have a name yet. The agreement with the United Auto Workers union was yet to be signed. There weren’t yet any employees of NUMMI, nor even any managers. NUMMI wasn’t successful; it wasn’t famous. It was just a dream.
The NUMMI joint venture closed in spring of 2010, and not too long before it, Shook wrote an article on MIT Sloan Management review titled, “How to Change a Culture: Lessons From NUMMI.” It was something in that article that inspired my “Counterintuitive IT™” theme and, through sharing my blog post with Steven, this presentation.
Although I should also credit Gene Kim in his Beyond the Phoenix Project for first introducing me to the Shook Change Model…and Google for making it easy me to find what he was referring to. 🙂
Although you should read the entire post, this is the part that especially speaks to our question, “How Do We Change Culture?”:
What my NUMMI experience taught me that was so powerful was that the way to change culture is not to first change how people think, but instead to start by changing how people behave — what they do. Those of us trying to change our organizations’ culture need to define the things we want to do, the ways we want to behave and want each other to behave, to provide training and then to do what is necessary to reinforce those behaviors. The culture will change as a result.
This is what is meant by, “It’s easier to act your way to a new way of thinking than to think your way to a new way of acting.”
As I mentioned, what seems counterintuitive to me may seem intuitive to you. I’ve always figured to get change, you had to change people’s attitudes…and here is Shook telling me I’m full of it and…
“It’s easier to act your way to a new way of thinking than to think your way to a new way of acting.”
Is that counterintuitive to you?!
And you know what he gave as an example of what NUMMI did to change the culture?
The andon cord we discussed earlier.
You know, the one obligated workers to pull “whenever they find a problem.”
When was the last time you pulled the andon cord at our company?
When you did, was the first thing your boss did was thank you?
How many times have you avoided pulling the andon cord when you should have?
Have you ever pulled the andon cord?
Do you feel obligated to pull the andon cord?
Actions Change Values and Attitude Change Culture
In the end, what John Shook discovered…which (as Shook notes) Edgar Schein identified even before in his Model of Corporate Culture, culture doesn’t drive values and attitudes drives behaviors…
What we do drives what our values and attitudes which drives our culture.
Now, that doesn’t mean we all show up to work with values or just wrong values…
It’s just that, ultimately, actions change culture…not culture changes actions.
And, as counterintuitive as it might seem, that makes sense!
Our actions are something that each and every one of us can truly control.
With our actions we have a choice.
In the Navy, if you are in the nuclear power program, you go to boot camp, then the technical school for one of three ratings (I was an Electronics Technician), and then to Nuclear Power School.
However, just before Nuclear Power School they sneak a chemistry and physics refresher. I still remember one of the civilian teachers telling us, “Each and every one of you chooses to be here.”
“But,” one of us exclaimed, “If we leave, we’ll be arrested and court-martialed.”
“That,” she responded, “Is part of the choice.”
And she was 100% right…even if my memory of the exact conversation is not. 🙂
No matter what you tell yourself, your actions are your choice.
So, counterintuitive or not, it actually makes sense that things we do have control of, our our actions, drive that which we don’t, culture…versus vice versa.
We won’t go into them now…but there are many ways to change actions…training…reinforcement…enforcement…and so on.
Regardless of methods, if our company wants to change its culture to be increasingly more productive towards its goal, then the first step is for our company to change its employees actions where needed.
Or, as Mike Rognlien said…assuming I got it correctly in my notes from his talk…
“We have to help people unlearn bad habits.”
Me included. 🙂
“It’s easier to act your way to a new way of thinking than to think your way to a new way of acting.”
Emotion of the Inventor
Great! Everybody agrees! We need to change our actions! We need to change our culture.
So, we go to do it…and what do we get…in myriad forms?
Why Is There Always Resistance to Improvements?
Why is there always resistance to improvements…even when people agree it needs to be done?
In his book, What Is this Thing Called Theory of Constraints and How Should It Be Implemented?, Eliyahu Goldratt summed up the reason succinctly:
Let’s summarize once again this devastating process that connects improvements with emotional resistance.
Any improvement is change.
Any change is a perceived threat to security.
Any threat on security gives rise to emotional resistance.
Emotional resistance can only be overcome by a stronger emotion.
We are human. Change is scary. A strong desire for self-preservation is part of why we humans are still around. Consciously or unconsciously, we fight what we fear.
And, if we are honest, we fear change. Heck, if you’ve lived long enough you can become jaded and you can fear even “good” change, since your experience might be that change is never…or almost never…good.
If we are going to change our culture for the better, then we have to manage emotions. Definitely ours, but as leaders we also have to manage the emotions of others.
One person can influence a culture, but one person cannot change a culture.
What to do?
My boss told me about a meeting of IT executives he attended where the speaker spoke of companies like Amazon who are looking at healthcare, convinced they can shake it up. What rightly stood out to him was her saying that when innovative companies look at healthcare, they think 50% of the cost is waste.
Does that scare you?
If not, it should! What would happen to our company if they are right, and a company like Google figured out a way to implement healthcare 50% cheaper? Or even 25% cheaper?
For those in our company who might, consciously or unconsciously, fight trying to reduce expenses…that fear should be a driver. Or as Goldratt says:
We are trying to overcome the immediate insecurity resulting from change, by provoking the long term insecurity of what will happen if we don’t change.
And fear works. However, Goldratt immediately asks, “Is that the environment we want to want to work in?” He then continues:
Besides, is this approach effective at all? It might be effective for the top guy for whom the future is a reality. But as we move down into the organization it is clear that the effectiveness of the long-term threat diminishes rapidly. As a result, we have to revert to more tangible threats, like “do it or else.”
Even if this method of forcing insecurity—in the name of “we must improve or else” works initially, we must also understand that its effectiveness will diminish as time goes by. Simply because, if it is initially effective and we do improve, then the bad ramifications that we predicted will not materialize and we will rapidly find ourselves in the position of the kid who shouted “wolf” too many times. To sustain a process of ongoing improvement we must find another way to constantly induce change.
Does anyone remember the story of a naked Archimedes yelling, “Eureka!”? Here is how David Biello narrates the legend in Scientific American:
Let’s begin with the story: the local tyrant contracts the ancient Greek polymath Archimedes to detect fraud in the manufacture of a golden crown. Said tyrant, name of Hiero, suspects his goldsmith of leaving out some measure of gold and replacing it with silver in a wreath dedicated to the gods. Archimedes accepts the challenge and, during a subsequent trip to the public baths, realizes that the more his body sinks into the water, the more water is displaced–making the displaced water an exact measure of his volume. Because gold weighs more than silver, he reasons that a crown mixed with silver would have to be bulkier to reach the same weight as one composed only of gold; therefore it would displace more water than its pure gold counterpart. Realizing he has hit upon a solution, the young Greek math whiz leaps out of the bath and rushes home naked crying “Eureka! Eureka!” Or, translated: “I’ve found it! I’ve found it!”3
Let’s just assume that the story is true (sadly, Biello concludes it isn’t)…
Did Archimedes have a strong emotion?
Was it a positive emotion?
Why was he happily excited?
Because he discovered something for himself!
Not nearly as accomplished a mathematician as him, I understand the emotion. I still recall back in high school figuring out the solution to a ridiculously hard math problem.
Even now I get that sense when I personally figure out a solution…regardless of the type of requirement. The more vexing the situation, the more exclamation points on “Eureka!”
Do you know what Goldratt labels that emotion as?
The Emotion of the Inventor
He calls it the “emotion of the inventor.” I suspect we all have felt it…at least it I hope so!
It is invigorating. It is inspiring. It makes us want to tell everyone about our discovery.
And it is a far better emotion than fear for overcoming the emotion of fear that impedes change.
Caricatured here is Thomas Alva Edison, and I still remember reading his biography in grade school, including how his hearing was damaged when he was picked up by his ears so he wouldn’t fall off a train.
Do you think Edison had a lot of “Eureka!” moments? I do! However, he also is a great example for our earlier discussion about it needing a culture where it is safe to fail. Edison is quoted as saying:
I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.4
Sometimes it takes until attempt 10,001 to have our “Eureka!” moment. Don’t give up!
Oh, and before we continue, I wanted to introduce you to another inventor, Lewis Latimer. As Thad Morgan wrote on History.com:
The light bulb itself was invented by Thomas Edison, but the innovation used to create longer-lasting light bulbs with a carbon filament came from African-American inventor Lewis Latimer. Latimer, the son of runaway slaves, began work in a patent law firm after serving in the military for the Union during the Civil War. He was recognized for his talent drafting patents and was promoted to head draftsman, where he co-invented an improved bathroom for railroad trains.5
Edison had his “Eureka!” moment with a light bulb thanks to Lewis Latimer…which illustrates one more thing about our “Eureka!” moments:
They always depend on the work of others. Teams succeed far more than individuals do. Even when we “work alone” we really aren’t. Our breakthroughs are built on the foundations of other breakthroughs.
And that’s okay. I still get excited when I discover something, even if it is far from new in this world. It’s new to me!
How Do We Instill the Emotion of the Inventor?
Before we go to our last section and then wrap up today’s presentation, I imagine it is unfair if I don’t at least start to answer the question…
“How do we instill the emotion of the inventor?”
Short version: Not by us telling them how to do it. Goldratt helps us out more than that though: 🙂
What is the minimum that is required for a person to gain the emotion of the inventor, the ownership of an idea? Is it necessary for the person who invents the idea to be the first one to do it in the world? Or is it enough for this person to just invent it for themselves? Nobody told them, they figured it out all by themselves. Maybe in such a case, it is also okay if this person is very well aware of the fact that others have invented it before? The mere fact that they figured it out for themselves, may be sufficient to take ownership, to be the inventor. Your experience probably indicates that this might actually be the case.
Goldratt then goes on to ask how we actually “induce someone to invent a solution to a specific predetermined problem.” The solution? The Socratic method. Helping people find the answer versus tell them the answer. What Jonah does to Alex in The Goal or Erik does to Bill in The Phoenix Project.
Facilitate them discovering it themselves.
The Three Steps of the Theory of Constraints:
- What to change?
Pinpoint the core problems!
- To what to change to?
Construct simple, practical solutions!
- How to cause the change?
Induce the appropriate people to invent such solutions!
Don’t tell people how to fix things. No emotion of the inventor with that. Induce them to invent the solutions!
You may have noticed, when we were talking about what kind of culture we need here at our company, you came up.
If you you read Mike Roglien’s This Is Now Your Company, the longest section is also about you.
With good reason.
The only thing you totally control is you.
The only person who knows all you know is you.
Things get solved much quicker when you are able to admit your part in it…if only, initially, to yourself.
You ought to feel required to speak up to the right people at the right time with the right skills.
You have to treat our company as if it is now your company.
You have to decide if you are going to be part of the problem or part of the solution.
You need to be a leader if our company’s culture is going to change to what it needs to be.
You Are Part of the Problem if You Are Not Actively Part of the Solution
I cannot remember exactly, but during his talk, Mike either showed us or told us to draw a horizontal line. On the left end was, “Actively part of the problem.” On the right end was, “Actively part of the solution.”
In the middle was, “Not actively part of the problem or the solution.”
Whether it is a small problem you are aware of, or a bigger one like changing our company’s culture to better support its goal…you are always somewhere on that line.
Mike then said that if you cannot be actively leading if you are in the middle.
You need to be a leader if our company’s culture is going to change what it needs to be.
Can you guess where the most dangerous place on the line to be is?
Right smack-dab in the middle, because the likelihood that someone is going to call us out for apathy is slim.
If you are…if I am…not part of the solution, then we are part of the problem.
Or, as Mike said in his book (with me bleeping a couple words):
We are, I’d argue, the biggest part of the problem because, while most big problems are started by small numbers of people—let’s call them a******s—they are perpetuated and grow because of the ambivalence and silent approval that come from the non-a*****e majority.
Ouch, eh? Perhaps even more painful was something he said during his presentation in Denver. I may not have it exactly right, but it was along the lines of:
This is now your company. If you are not impacting, you should be fired.
Okay, one last point before we wrap up. A poster that Facebook had that Mike loved said:
Nothing at Facebook is somebody else’s problem.
If you see a problem, it is not somebody else’s problem. Our culture will not change for the better unless the majority of us realize that, and it’ll never reach what it can unless all of us realize it.
I have Photoshop. I have subscriptions to image services. I can rip-off an existing idea. 🙂
Do you agree that “Nothing at our company is somebody else’s problem”?
When I put this presentation together, I really had not idea how long it would take. Regardless, I have thrown a lot of information at you. By the time I’ve reached here, it may have been so much that I had to snip parts of it out so I wouldn’t go over.
Things to Remember
However, before you hang up, I want to leave you a list of “things to remember”:
- “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
- “You can’t Lean, Agile, SAFE or DevOps your way around a bad organizational culture.”
- “Every action that brings a company closer to its goal is productive. Every action that does not bring a company closer to its goal is not productive.”
- The culture our company needs is the one that brings us closer to our goal.
- “You can measure the health of a relationship, a team, an organization and even an entire country by the amount of time that passes between identifying and discussing problems.”
- You should feel required to provide instant feedback to the right people at the right time with the right skills.
- Our company needs a safety culture, which is a culture that allows you to give your boss bad news.
- We need a culture where it is safe to fail; where we learn from failure.
- “It’s easier to act your way to a new way of thinking than to think your way to a new way of acting.”
- You should feel obligated to pull the andon cord.
- No matter what you tell yourself, your actions are your choice.
- Cultural change will be resisted.
- “Emotional resistance can only be overcome by a stronger emotion.”
- The best emotion to overcome resistance with is the emotion of the inventor. (“Eureka!”)
- The best way to instill the emotion of the inventor is the Socratic method.
- If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
- “This is now your company. If you are not impacting, you should be fired.”
- Nothing at our company is somebody else’s problem.
How Much Was Counterintuitive?
So, how much of this was counterintuitive?
How much was intuitive, but you still haven’t been doing it?
Nothing at our company is somebody else’s problem.
What are you going to do about it?
Thank you for listening. Thank you for participating. And thank you for this opportunity to present.
1Bennett, J. (2015, December 23). Five Principles for Leading an Agile Culture. Retrieved March 23, 2019, from https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/five-principles-for-leading-an-agile-culture/
2Grenny, J. (2016, August 19). How to Make Feedback Feel Normal. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/08/how-to-make-feedback-feel-normal
3Biello, D. (2006, December 8). Fact or Fiction?: Archimedes Coined the Term “Eureka!” in the Bath. Retrieved March 30, 2019, from Scientific American website: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-archimede/
4Furr, N. (2011, June 9). How Failure Taught Edison to Repeatedly Innovate. Retrieved March 30, 2019, from Forbes website: https://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanfurr/2011/06/09/how-failure-taught-edison-to-repeatedly-innovate/
5Morgan, T. (2019, February 20). 9 Black Inventors Who Made Daily Life Easier. Retrieved March 30, 2019, from HISTORY website: https://www.history.com/news/9-black-inventors-african-american
Comments (Identifying Slide Transitons)
Introduction: SLIDE: dataguy.me
CounterintuitiveIT: How Do We Change Culture: SLIDE: Counterintuitive IT
Who Am I?: SLIDE: Elvis
Just in case…I have three disclaimers for this presentation:: SLIDE: Caveats
This Is a Discussion, Not a Sermon: SLIDE: Dr. Feynmann
A Facebook n00b Speaks Up: SLIDE: Facebook n00b
So, why don’t you?: SLIDE: Why don’t you?
Before we discuss how we change culture, we should see how important culture is and what kind of culture we should want.: SLIDE: What Kind?
While taking notes during: SLIDE: How important…?
Culture eats strategy for breakfast.: SLIDE: Culture eats…
You can’t Lean, Agile, SAFE or Devops your way around a bad organizational culture.: SLIDE: You can’t Lean…
Our Company’s Vision and Mission.: SLIDE: Vision and mission
<Edited out>: CLICK: Goal
So, what do we learn from The Goal?: SLIDE: Every action…
The culture our company needs is the one that brings us closer to our goal.: SLIDE: The culture that our company needs…
A Culture to Support Agile and DevOps: SLIDE: Five principles
Feedback Needs to Be Instant: SLIDE: Bomb
If you are in management, “The last time there was a big issue, how long did it take you to know about it?”: SLIDE: First clock
If you aren’t in management, you aren’t off the hook, “The last time you became aware of a big issue, how long did it take you to let someone who could actually affect change know?”: SLIDE: Second clock
Either way, I found a different version of the same basic thought Mike quoted online that’s worth you reading:: SLIDE: First Grenny slide
Or as Mike quoted on his slide:: SLIDE: Second Grenny slide
So, then ,what is our excuse for putting off discussing problems? Whether in our relationships, teams, organizations, or country?: SLIDE: What is our excuse…?
And, as Mike Rognlien noted during his presentation…everyone has a speak-up culture. The question is, “Who are they speaking-up to?”: SLIDE: First bullhorn
As Mike noted, the question isn’t whether you are speaking up. Instead, is it…?: SLIDE: Second bullhorn
Then you are part of the problem.: SLIDE: You are part of the problem
But notice Mike’s concern about using that word when dealing with problems:: SLIDE: Required
NUMMI plant:: SLIDE: NUMMI
You should feel required…: SLIDE: Required and obligated
it hit me less as counterintuitive than as profound: SLIDE: Safety culture
Our company needs a safety culture.: SLIDE: Bad news typewriter
Having three cats, four dogs, and a bearded dragon…plus who knows how many fish that I refuse to count…: SLIDE: Facebook slides
We need a culture where it is safe to fail; where we learn from failure.: SLIDE: Just the cats
Stretch!: SLIDE: How
Stand up and stretch!: SLIDE: Stretch
Okay…now back to our regularly scheduled program… 🙂: SLIDE: How
“How to Change a Culture: Lessons From NUMMI.”: SLIDE: Shook Change Model
This is what is meant by, “It’s easier to act your way to a new way of thinking than to think your way to a new way of acting.”: SLIDE: It’s easier…
The andon cord we discussed earlier.: SLIDE: Andon cord
Do you feel obligated to pull the andon cord?: SLIDE: Andon “obligated”
Actions Change Values and Attitude Change Culture: SLIDE: Pyramid
culture doesn’t drive values and attitudes drives behaviors…: CLICK: Old model
What we do drives what our values and attitudes which drives our culture.: CLICK: New model
However, just before Nuclear Power School they sneak a chemistry and physics refresher. I still remember one of the civilian teachers telling us, “Each and every one of you chooses to be here.”: SLIDE: Navy 1
“But,” one of us exclaimed, “If we leave, we’ll be arrested and court-martialed.”: SLIDE: Navy 2
“That,” she responded, “Is part of the choice.”: SLIDE: Navy 3
“It’s easier to act your way to a new way of thinking than to think your way to a new way of acting.”: SLIDE: Shook quote
So, we go to do it…and what do we get…in myriad forms?: SLIDE: Resistance
summed up the reason succinctly:: SLIDE: Emotions
What to do?: SLIDE: Fear
Or as Goldratt says:: CLICK: Goldratt fear quote
Does anyone remember the story of a naked Archimedes: SLIDE: Archimedes
Let’s just assume that the story is true (sadly, Biello concludes it isn’t)…: CLICK: To show story
Eureka!: CLICK: To show Eureka!
He calls it the “emotion of the inventor.”: SLIDE: First “Emotion of Inventor”
is quoted as saying:: SLIDE: Edison quote about failure
Oh, and before we continue, I wanted to introduce you to another inventor, Lewis Latimer. As Thad Morgan wrote on History.com:: SLIDE: Lewis Latimer
The Three Steps of the Theory of Constraints:: SLIDE: The Three Steps of the Theory of Constraints
You may have noticed: SLIDE: You
I cannot remember exactly: SLIDE: Horizontal line
On the left end was: CLICK: Left side
On the right end was: CLICK: Right side
In the middle was: CLICK: Middle
Mike then said that if you cannot be actively leading if you are in the middle.: CLICK for comment about middle
Or, as Mike said in his book (with me bleeping a couple words):: SLIDE: A*****E
I may not have it exactly right, but it was along the lines of:: SLIDE: You should be fired
A poster that Facebook had that Mike loved said:: SLIDE: Facebook poster
Do you agree that “Nothing at our company is somebody else’s problem”?: SLIDE: Poster
Things to Remember: SLIDE: First summary
“It’s easier to act your way to a new way of thinking than to think your way to a new way of acting.”: SLIDE: Second summary
Nothing at our company is somebody else’s problem.: SLIDE: What are you going to do about it
Finally…: SLIDE: Thank you!
Let’s learn together!: SLIDE: Staying in contact
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