Culture Change: Where it started

Where it Started
In my last blog post, I shared that over the past 6 months,  the organization I am in along with a couple of other organizations (over 300 people) have been working through a major shift requiring a significant change in culture. But to be honest the culture change started at least 6 months prior with a culture change within my organization and our sister systems organization. Let me explain.

Over the next several posts, my plan is to document the lead up to the bigger organizational change. It should give you an idea of how much change, and not just over a 6 month time period. So instead of digging into what has been happening over the past 6 months, I will get out the time machine and go back another 6 months.  In November of 2019, myself and my IT partner, Kelly, started working together for the first time. Leading up to November our two organizations had worked together, but they acted as two separate entities. Work would happen but independent of each other. But as Kelly and I started to work together, we knew that over the next year we would be transforming into a product ownership model and we needed to get our leaders and our organization to work together in a more seamless manner to make that transformation easier.

To be honest, we knew that we needed our leaders to act as if they were one team, instead of two but before we could do that, Kelly and I needed to work together in a more seamless manner. While I can't say we realized the following priorities before starting our journey, we both knew our teams to work as one. 

Priority #1 - Get on the same page. To be honest, the very first thing that Kelly and I realized was that we had to be on the same page. 

Priority #2 - We needed to model the behavior we wanted and since we were the joint leaders of this change, we needed to set the tone of what we hoped for from our direct reports.  

Priority #3 - Share with our directs that we were on the same page and to remind them periodically.

Priority #4 - have fun working together 

Priority #1 came about fairly quickly as Kelly and I met often through regularly scheduled weekly meetings, ad hoc, impromptu, between other meeting conversations, early mornings conversations and late evening conversations.  We compared notes on what we heard, we shared what we were thinking.  We did not hold back.  We agreed on lots but not everything but when we did not agree we talked it out and came to an agreement that we both stood behind. And critically, we both agreed that we needed a team that collaborated well and had each other's back.

Priority #2 we showed our team that we collaborated together. We had meetings and conversations with the entire team and showed them we collaborated together.  We had  small group meetings or 2 on 1 meetings where we showed that we could disagree but come to agreement. And across all of them, we showed that we were dedicated to working together and working well together. And it wasn't just a show, it was real.  It was what we wanted them to do, but also what we naturally ended up doing because it was the right thing to do. It wasn't one person had more power than the other, we were in it together.

Priority #3 came about as we met with our teams. We were transparent with our leadership team and told them and reminded them that we met all the time and that while we disagreed, we always worked it out. We slowly got to the point where one of us could anticipate what the other was about to say and that they could see we had each other's back.  And by verbally talking about the close connection that we had built, we were confirming what they were seeing. 

Priority #4 is important.  Always have fun doing what you do.  That is critical, and having someone there to share in the fun with is equally important.  But more on that in a future post.

Sounds magical, right?  This did not come by snapping our fingers together. But required lots of dedicated time from the two of us over many months. How many?  3 months? 6 months? Nope, I would say we are we still working on it and refining it.  The big muscle movements are done, but there is always areas for improvement or refinement. We spent and continue to spend a lot of time working through the nuances of the relationship that we are building.  We didn't agree on some things and we still don't agree on everything (which is critical). And to be honest, sometimes when we do just agree, I have learned that it might have been better to not have agreed so quickly, but that is for another post.

Culture Change - harder than you think

Over the past 6 months I have been on a journey to change how my organization and 2 partner organizations work. 400+ people. What is that change? Changing from a project/program orientation to being organized into products (just like many other organizations are considering). One of the questions I get often is, is this just a fad or is this really something that is going to stick?  My answer?  It is all up to the people that are part of the change to ensure it sticks.

Changing a culture of an organization is difficult and while not all culture change initiatives are made of the same size, this one is a big culture change making it even more challenging. There are several factors going against the ability for this change to stay for the long term.  First is the pure size of the organization, second is the change spans 3 separate departments across business and IT and the third is ensuring that not just the organization changes its approach but ensuring the people that are dependent on the organization understand the change and learn the new modes of engagement.

The changes are not done but it is time to document many of the steps taken to accomplish this transformation. My goal is to share as many of the issues and approaches taken over the past 6 months as we prepared and started the transformation.  I will also be sharing many of the things we continue to do and provide updates on the progress, since a culture change like this doesn't just finish in 6 months, but is really a multi-year endeavor. 

October 30 - Grateful

Beautful Skyline over Villanova
I am starting  a series of posts that talk about how grateful I am. I am hoping to do this bit at least 2x per week.  I am not sure how this is going to work, let's just call it an experiment.

Today, I am grateful for woman I ran into at the Chipotle. The interaction was so small, but it has left me thinking over these last couple of days. Let me set the stage - My family and I had just order our wonderful food (Burrito and soda for me) and I was walking over to fill my cup with some Coke and there she was.  A tall, african american basketball player from Villanova University (The sweatshirt with Villanova basketball written on it and her height were a dead giveaway).

As I got closer, I noticed that she had only filled her cup part way. I waited as she finished filling her cup till it was full. As she finished, she apologized for taking so long - there really was no reason for her to apologize. You see, as with many soda machines, the setting for the CO2 (I like to call it the fizz factor) was too high.  So naturally, she would fill it to the top and then have to wait for the fizz to go down, rinse and repeat. My response was a typical, no worries, and then said, "the fizz makes it impossible to be fast".

And I am grateful that she laughed at my stupid joke and smiled.  While it seems silly to be grateful for something so simple, I knew by our short few interactions that she was a nice woman that cared about others, no matter who they were.  So thank you to that pleasant young woman, you made my day.

Building a Team - a lesson from ETSY

Photo by Eric Ziegler
As I was reading the blog post from the retired CTO, Kellan Elliot-McCrea, from Etsy, I became interested in more about who he was and what made him so special.  So I did some research and came across this awesome article.

How Etsy grew their number of female engineers by 500 % in one year

Yes, you read that title correct. Etsy grew the number of female engineers by 500% in one year. As part of their efforts, Etsy launched "Etsy Hacker Grants" to provide need-based scholarships to talented women engineers enrolling in Hacker School (a three-month hands-on course designed to teach people how to become better engineers).

As part of their hiring, they setup the parameters for success:
  • Be serious but inviting
  • look for balance
  • optimize for building together
  • optimize for data gathering
  • normalize within your organization
  • conduct your experiment publicly
What I found interesting was that these ideals and principals can be applied to people of all cultures and teams. You can apply this to engineering teams or teams doing operations work. And you can apply these principals to not only hiring and helping others, but you can apply these principals to how you team should and could work together. 

What I also found interesting was their philosphy that a team should either have 0 women on it, or 2+ women on the team. One woman on the team ends up making her a woman engineer vs just being an engineer.

Making False Assumptions

Most of what you see and think is a lie. When I first read the title of one of John Stepper's blog posts (John is of Working Out Loud book fame, I wasn't sure what I would find. The title, The man singing falsetto in the ladies' room, definitely attracted me to reading his blog post.  And when I read it, what I read was not what I expected, which is exactly what John was trying to do with the title of his blog.  If you have not read the article, go read it, it is totally worth the 5 minutes it will take you to read it.

In John's blog post, he highlights that most people will make assumptions about the intentions of an action by another person.  We take lots of little pieces of information in based on our observations and then fill in the rest with our imagination.  Basically, what we do is fill in all the missing pieces. And by filling in the pieces, we often get it wrong. 

While it is not possible in all situations, if you catch yourself making assumptions about someone else or guessing what someone is thinking based on their actions, take a step back and try to assess the full story, ask questions and be thoughtful before making a mistake based on false assumptions. 

Go read the article, it is worth it and the punchline is awesome.

Continuous Intelligence

Continuous Intelligence
Photo by Eric Ziegler

Where is business intelligence really going? Is it just about the data or the analytics or is it about the true business value that can be obtained by doing better and faster analytics in real time.  At the recent Amazon Web Service conference, re:Invent 2015, Sumo Logic talked about the idea of continuous Intelligence. This quote from the article highlights what I am referring to
 Shifting from rear-view insights to anticipating the insights to the questions not yet asked because those unknowns will make the difference between the next generation winners and losers.
The true business is all about getting ahead of where our customers might go and helping them by predicting ideas, thoughts that they might come up with. The goal is to look forward and anticipate our customers needs and desires. if you think of a sales organization, can you help them know who they should be talking with?  can you help them know what they should be talking to their clients about? What would it take to get there? And are you basing that information based on just the information you have or based on a broader view of the full client?

Visions - what are they and what to do with them

As you read my blog, I think everyone might be figuring out that I do a lot of reading and I like to highlight the things that I find most interesting. Mostly this writing is to help me synthesize my thoughts and to write down concepts I want to reference again later.  By posting them publicly, and sharing the blog posts openly, my hope is that others will gain something from it. Not only do I read a lot, I also listen to podcasts

One series of podcasts that I listen to is specific to leadership. While there are several very good podcasts, I like listening to Andy Stanley and his podcast,  Andy Stanley's Leadership Podcast. He has a perspective that is not unique but what I find to be very insightful. In a recently episode of his podcast, he talked with the former CEO of Home Depot, Frank Blake. In this episode they get into a deep conversation about visions of companies and what it means to the company and the employees.

A conversation with Frank Blake on Vision.

They did not get into what a vision is or how to create one, but rather, how to make a vision stick. how to get people to understand the vision and to make the vision the rallying call for the company. Andy has an entire book on how to create a vision, live the vision, and celebrate the vision. You can find his book, Making Vision Stick, on Amazon. I have not read the book yet, but if you do, please share your thoughts back here.

Becoming a more effective team

Best Friend
Photo by Eric Ziegler
Are you part of a team? I am guessing you might answer this question in the positive. Are you part of a great team? If not, why not? No matter how you answer that question, most likely your team become even more effective

3 Ways to Encourage Smarter Teamwork is great article from Harvard Business Review. The article shares 3 characteristics that that all individuals should embrace to ensure the entire team is more effective.
  • Active listening - pausing and listening to your peers and allow them to share their ideas and their perspectives. in addition, pausing to listen to understand, taking notes so you don't forget, etc. All good skills to embrace
  • Giving and receiving honest feedback - if you are going to truly collaborate with your peers, you need to be willing to share where you think their ideas are good and bad, and be open to receiving that feedback. And you know that idea of being "recognized" that often means getting a pat on the back or a thank you from a colleague, because recognition can come from anywhere.
  • Valuing team contributions, not stroking egos - you should be giving and serving your peers, on the team and in the community. if you do this, you will be recognized that you have influence and you will be seen as a leader.Remember my preivous post? you don't need to know all of the answers, and you should not expect others to have all of the answers. and if that is the case, then as a upstanding member of the community and the team, you should share and contirubte to the whole.

Leaders make mistakes - really

Photo by Eric Ziegler
3 Common Mistakes GOOD Leaders Make

Everyone makes mistakes. Managers, leaders, school teachers, police officers, clergy, etc. If you were to ask the question, what mistakes do you make, what would you say? In the blog post from "leader chat", they asked coaches and leaders, what mistakes do good leaders make. Based on the responses, they recognized three themes of mistakes. And the interesting part is that these are mistakes that anyone could make, not just a "leader" or not just a "manager".

What are the 3 most common misakes?
  • An over-focus on the people aspect and avoiding difficult conversations.
  • Trying to solve all of the problems of the people they work with or who work from them.
  • Neglecting your own personal growth - if you don't keep on growing you
While these on the surface might appear to be manager specific, they are not. These are great things to avoid if you are a leader or an aspiring leader. If you are not currently a manager but lead others and aspire to manage people, and if you avoid these pitfalls, you will end doing things that will enhance your ability to become the next great leader.

Successful Coaching Conversations

Bright Star at Sunset
Photo by Eric ziegler
Coaching is a technique to improve. You can improve in sports from good coaching. You can improve at school from good coaching (or teaching as they like to call it). You can improve at work from good coaching. And coaching can come from anyone. You can be coached by your kids. You can be coached by your peers. You can be coached by your manager or your managers manager. In fact, you can even coach others. Are you a developer? System Tester? BSA? Have you been asked to help others with their +1 skill? Have you helped others with their +1 skill? Then you are coaching.

For me, coaching is one of the most rewarding experiences. And for any person that is a coach or is being coached, there are some things you should keep in mind to ensure you each get the most out of the experience being shared. In this article, they highlight 12 things you should always do, and then some things you should avoid.

12 Secrets for Successful Coaching Conversations

For me, some of the items that struck a chord most include:
  • Relax. Lower defenses. Be your curious self.
  • Embrace silence. Don’t feel pressure to fill the silence. Wait a bit longer than feels comfortable. Allow coachees to fill the silence.
  • Develop next steps. Always identify next steps in behavioral terms. •What will you do? • How will you know you’re taking a next step? • How will colleagues know?
And then things to avoid:
  • Fixing and helping. Control your inner fixer. Successful coaches give responsibility and ownership. They don’t take it.
  • Interrupting.
  • Asking two questions at once (I do this one all the time, note to self, stop doing that)