There it is! The medal that proves that I just finished my first marathon. In an end time that I initially aimed for but never thought that I would be able to run that today 3:29:09.
An amazing experience to run this race. Finishing in the Olympic Stadium with the last 200 m on the track course of the stadium, looking to the sky and crossing that finish line. Contrary to what The Cure state in their song “Boys don’t Cry”, sorry but they sometimes do.
The journey up to this was definitely not an easy one and went quite bumpy to say the least. I did not start this marathon in the shape that I wanted to be in when I signed up for the event on December 31st 2014. In the last months leading up to the event I struggled with weight, form and motivation, but I wanted to run and finish it and nothing except a physical injury would have been able to stop me.
Disclaimer: This post is not about agile, work, coaching or anything related to that, there are no parallels or learnings related to a business context in this post. This post is about me. So if you want to find out a bit more about me keep on reading.
So here I am, a finisher of the marathon distance 42 kilometers and 195 meters of running. A distance of which I have actually said out loud that I would never even try to do that, but somehow I did. In the past days building up to this moment I have been thinking a lot about who I am, where I am and how I came here.
In my work, where I serve multiple software development teams as their coach and manager, one of the most important aspects in the performance of a team are the team dynamics. Something hard to grasp but when a team manages to hit that sweet spot of collaboration together they can accomplish things that seem impossible from an outsiders perspective.
But reaching that point of ultimate collaboration and performance does not come easy. A team will run into several obstacles along the way that they will need to overcome. The very first thing for a team to tackle would be to learn the collective team capabilities and a common understanding of the current situation and how to improve it. Without that there is merely a group of individuals with their own individual capabilities and understanding of the work that needs to be done.
I have often seen teams struggling with this and one part of my role is of course to help them overcome this hurdle. Quite recently I got confronted with a similar situation in my own life. Not in a work related context but during something completely different and I would like to share this story with the readers of this blog.
The Daily Scrum is probably one of the most well known Scrum “ceremonies”, often it is the first agile practice that is adopted by teams and sometimes even the only one.
Unfortunately the Daily Scrum is also an event of which teams can easily forget what the reason is to take the time each day to go through it. Quite often it becomes a practice which is conducted out of habit, without the actual intention of it in mind.
However, when done right, the Daily Scrum is one of the most powerful practices in the Scrum methodology. I have written a blog post on the Mendix blog about the Daily Scrum, to read the full article, click here.
Everybody has probably been or seen in this situation, a person in a company is not performing up to the expectations. Most of the times people put this down to the capabilities of the person, but is this really the cause?
Most organisations and especially managers stop at this conclusion and the next thing that happens is that the employee hears during his annual review that he is not performing well enough, no bonus, no growth path, no trainings, but instead of that the fear of losing his job.
As a manager you should question yourself, is this what I want to achieve? Do I want this person to sit behind his desk feeling miserable with the feeling that he is not good at his job, or do I want to help this person and with that the company to put the skills that he does have to the best of use.
What if we would assume that everybody has a specialty, something that the person wants to be a master at? Many people will disagree but in my opinion everybody wants to be good at something and get satisfaction out of being good in it.
That person in the corner behind his desk doing nine to five every day, the demotivated office clerk, or even the person collecting the trash. Any single one of them wants to be good at something. It might not be the job which the person is employing at the moment, it might not even be a job in your organization, but every person is a specialist at something, an area that the person wants to master when given the opportunity.
Management is no longer about directing people, it is more and more about facilitating and coaching people. Help them find the skills that they want to master and work with them to help them to find a position in the business world that they can master. Most preferably within your own organization.
But even if there is no suitable job available within your organization, helping your employees to realise what it is they want to do will help them find that job, then at least you will be parting on good terms instead of a sour taste on both ends after numerous of negative performance reviews for a job that the person doesn’t even like anyway.
Everybody knows them, the heroes in the organization. They are the ones that know all the ins and outs of the product, architecture, frameworks, infrastructure and the cleaning lady’s schedule. They are the ones that stay late to finish the last tasks before the sprint ends, that refactor the code in the middle of the night and that have worked over night to fix that critical bug.
The hero is often put on a pedestal, protected, worshipped and treated very carefully knowing that if they leave, the entire company will collapse. Almost nobody considers that the hero is actually a big impediment in the organisation, a risk and definitely a situation to avoid.
Now what is so bad about having a hero that always saves the day? Especially in an agile environment the hero is one of the most dangerous impediments to have:
- Having a hero makes you company depending on one single person. What if this person goes on holiday, gets sick or leaves the company. This makes your company vulnerable and puts the hero into a position in which he or she can demand everything.
- In agile environments the hero undermines the self organization of your team. As soon as people have the feeling that the company sees a person as the hero within that company, they will start acting accordingly, accepting his estimates, never questioning his opinion and definitely not challenging him. The level of the hero will automatically become the limitation you won’t get past.
- The hero will put unhealthy pressure on people. What will the rest of the team do when the hero ignores the sustainable pace and works in the evening and in the night? Most likely they will feel obliged to do the same, putting them in a difficult position.
- The hero will hurt his / her peers self confidence. Imagine that you are a team member in an agile team. Now imagine that you log in in the morning and find your code modified or that task that you just picked up already finished.
- Heroes tend to be egoistic. There is a very unlikely chance that when working during the night, our hero picks up the less fun tasks from the taskboard.
- Your hero will chase people away. Heroes tend to achieve a position that is untouchable and unquestionable. Either people will accept that or people will walk away. Usually the people that will walk away are the ones that you would like to keep.
A lot of managers have the tendency to look for hero’s, often called key personnel. In my opinion having just a few people as key personnel is a flaw and a clear sign of bad leadership. Everybody in your organisation is key personnel. Creating a structure in which certain people are allowed to achieve the hero status is setting your organization up for a big problem, possibly even threatening the existence of the organization.
Good leaders create an environment where the team as a whole is valued and appreciated, not just a few individuals.
Most people know Nemo from the movie Finding Nemo. To me Nemo means something else.
Just over a year ago I had some time to kill while travelling and I read a small book called “Fish! a proven way to boost morale and improve results.“
This little book tells the story how an IT manager is stuck with a department that has lost all of it’s energy and enthusiasm. The IT manager visits the famous Pike Place Fish Market in Seatle over a lunch break and gets inspired by the workers of the fish market who made a seemingly boring job, hauling fish on the fish market, fun and in the process they have attracted a large amount of customers, boosting sales.
The IT manager uses this inspiration and the lessons she learns from the Pike Place Fish Market to boost the morale of her department completely turning things around at the office.
So back to Nemo! The other day when doing groceries at the local super market musing over my thoughts and troubles at the office, thinking of ways how to boost morale of myself and the people around me and then I walked right towards it 20 to 30 Nemo’s lying there all smiling at me. I couldn’t help but smile and think about the story from the book.
I grabbed one of the Nemo’s and the next day I took it into the office. Now Nemo is resting on my desk and is promoted to our CHO (Chief Happiness Officer), reminding me of the story and of the fact that we need to make the work and workplace fun for all employees.
The book: http://www.amazon.com/Proven-Boost-Morale-Improve-Results/dp/0786866020
There is a great scene in the movie The Matrix (http://youtu.be/zE7PKRjrid4) in which Morpheus presents Neo with the choice to take a red pill or a blue pill:
“If you take the blue pill, you will wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I will show you how deep the rabbithole goes!”
When someone asks me for advice on agile, teams, organizations, management, etc. unfortunately I only offer the red pill. If you want to have a blue pill and hear a biased view keeping you in the dream world then I am not the right person to hire or to ask for advice.
However if you want an honest opinion and advice. And if you are not afraid to hear about the strengths and weaknesses of the organization and individuals , I can offer you the red pill and I will do all I can to get to the bottom of things and to guide people, teams and organizations to better and more enjoyable ways of working.
It doesn’t always make me popular, but then again, I am not here to be liked by everyone, I am here to change things. That’s what motivates and drives me.
“Delight the customer”
With radical management Steve Denning introduced a new phrase: “customer delight”. And more and more companies are picking it up. But unfortunately not to the extend that is needed to actually achieve delighted customers.
Now what is the idea behind “customer delight” ? In my opinion it actually has several aspects.
Customers are spoiled
We live in an era were customers have got used to high quality products and services. Satisfying customers is not enough anymore to distinguish a company from it’s competitors and to add the customers of those competitors to it’s own customer base. Customers expect to be satisfied so you need to delight them to get their attention.
Traditional marketing is dead
Traditional marketing which consists of advertisements as we know it is no longer accepted by customers. Customers are constantly “harassed” by commercials, smart sales people and marketing statements that do nothing more then stating the obvious. Customers won’t get fooled anymore by these empty forms of marketing, they need real stories to be convinced. And what better stories there are then the stories of delighted customers?
This change started in the consumer market but is now finding it’s way in the business market. This is a logical evolution since the people that were delighted by the consumer products and services probably also work for a living. And if you get a certain amount of quality and service of consumer products then why should you accept less from the business market?
Why should we want to delight customers?
During a seminar about radical management Steve Denning started with an explanation how traditionally managed companies will run out of business in a very short time. I strongly believe in this as well. If companies keep to their proven approaches from 50 years old while the entire world has changed and expectations about products and services have grown exponentially they are fighting a lost battle.
The first signs of this are slowly beginning to show. Companies that are operating from their ivory tower are loosing ground and will be in trouble if they don’t chance their approach, while the companies that focus on delighting their customers are largely succesfull and profitable.
How do we delight customers?
Ok probably everybody understands what a customer base of delighted customers can bring to your organization, but how do we delight customers. Well one thing is for sure, just stating that you target customer delight won’t be enough. Your employees need to understand when the customers will feel delighted and to know that you will need to give them some tools:
- Vision / Strategy; I blogged about this before, if there is no direction people will just randomly run around doing things hoping that they are doing the right thing. If you are lucky it will work out fine but chances are slim. Give people that mark on the horizon.
- Know your customers; How do you delight people that you don’t know? Simply put you can’t! If you want to delight your customers you will need to know who they are and understand what will delight them. Building a wall between the customers and your employees will put you out of business faster than you can imagine.
- Don’t put the focus on costs management; Delighting your customers will probably cost money because you need to give them something special. Costs need to be managed, there is no denial in that, but is it the most important part of running a business? If you focus on it too much you will indeed drastically lower your costs because you will run your company out of business.A good example of this is a story about an online shoe store. This online shoe store offered overnight shipping to their customers. You could order shoes online up to late in the evening and the next morning a delivery service would be at your doorstep to deliver your order. A large group of customers made use of this option. A new management came in and saw the costs of this overnight shipping option and decided to “manage the costs”. The company stopped offering the overnight shipping option and indeed the total shipping costs went down. But next to that the total revenue went down a lot because they were losing a large part of their customer base.
- Trust your employees; If you have hired the right people they will do the work for you, just give them the tools and let them do the magic.
Delighting your customers is not rocket science, but it is also something that should be underestimated. It is a mindset change that will be difficult to achieve within existing companies. But if you are able to achieve this, the benefits will be extensive.
Stay tuned because I will be blogging a lot more about organizational changes comparable to this.
The explanation of customer delight is my own interpretation of it, which is based on visiting a radical management seminar of Steve Denning, reading his book about radical management and my own common sense and experience.
Research has indicated that only one out of five employees is fully engaged in their work. To me this is quite shocking, this means that 80% of people with a job go to their work each day, do their trick and go home again. No passion, no intense drive, commitment only limited to what is in their job description. Thousands to millions of people spend their working time in life like this.
Now why is this a problem? It is up to the people how they fill in their position at work right? True, that is one way to look at it. However it are the people that are managing companies that should be worried about this. We live in an ultra competitive era were business come and go constantly. An era in which customers have become more and more critical, harder to lure them to your companies products and services and definitely more difficult to retain.
To succeed you need to stand out and prevent from blending in the background to eventually fade away. Now fill it in for yourself, will a company consisting of people that come to work, do their job and then switch of and go home be the company that rises above all others, or will it just blend in the background and fade away? I think we all know the answer.
The key to success is engagement. People need to live and breathe your business to fully comprehend the challenges that the company and even more important the customers of the company face. Now be aware that “live and breathe” in this sense is not referring to people that come to the office at 6 a.m. and leave at 22:00 p.m. every day, 7 days a week. The amount of hours is never a measure for someone’s engagement with the company that they work for. “Live and breathe” for me means that the employees of a company have a clear picture of what he company is trying to achieve and can map their own intrinsic motivators on that goal.
If you are able to achieve that level of engagement you can fully trust your self-organizing high performance teams within the organization to make the best product or provide the best services to your market. And then the glory awaits.
But what if you don’t have those self-organizing high performance teams within your organization? Go back a few paragraphs, you are probably working with the 80% that is not fully engaged in their work. it simply is a chain reaction. Engaged people will form self-organizing teams, which will become high performance teams and will propel your organization’s products and services to never imagined levels, delighting your customers.
This all sounds very plausible right? But how can you achieve this? It all starts at a very simple starting point, the vision of your company. Just try to ask employees of random companies about the company’s vision. Most of the time you wont get an answer at all because people have no idea. If you are “lucky” someone will point you out to their corporate website where you will find something like this (randomly taken of the internet).
“Develop, deploy, and manage a diverse set of scalable and strategic knowledge management tools to serve our customers, improving the possibility of overall satisfaction among our diverse customer profiles.”
Wow, that is really getting to you right? You can already see the CEO of a large company expressing this in a company wide meeting after which the employees burst out in an astonishing applause, cheering while the CEO walks back to his office. Not really.
A vision needs to be short, powerful and trustworthy. But most importantly it needs to be something that people can relate to, something that sticks in people’s mind, something that people can use to question what they do: “Is this contributing to our vision?”
You can only achieve this if the vision is in the DNA of the company. Don’t outsource, don’t copy, let it be the true thought behind the company. Tell the story, let them have a look through your eyes to see the company future, only then you can expect people to pick it up and do everything with that vision in mind, becoming fully engaged in their work.
In the beginning of July I attended a seminar about radical management by Steve Denning and Peter Stevens. The seminar was arranged by Zilverline the entire evening was a very inspirational experience. Most of the information that was presented was not new for me, but getting it presented by the likes of Steve Denning and Peter Stevens was quite the thrill for me.
During the afternoon and evening multiple topics were discussed, the focus being mostly on story telling and making the switch from traditional management to a mindset were the organization focusses on delighting their customers. This latter topic was what kept running circles in my mind in the days after the seminar. Of course everybody knows that it is important to look at customer satisfaction, but delighting your customer is more than that. Customer satisfaction is what customers expect. Customer delight is what surprises customers in a positive way. Customers that are delighted will become part of your marketing team by telling other people how they were delighted by you.
So the definition of delighting your customer is simple, surprise them with something unexpected, creating the wow effect for the customer.
Now for an example. The idea for this blog post popped up into my mind after reading Steve Denning’s blog post on forbes (Starbucks: There is no such thing as unskilled labor). It reminded me of an experience that I just had earlier that week with a local bike shop which I would like to share with you on this blog.