Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Guide: Agile Leadership (2) - Focus on outcomes, not status

The second part in this agile leadership series is the question: "How can I make my employees more productive?" The answer is simple: Don't. Here are five anti-patterns for managing in an agile environment, including ways to improve your behaviour.

Which effect do you prefer?

Ignoring visible outcomes

Probably the most effective way to demotivate employees is by ignoring the outcomes both of their work and yours, trivializing their achievements and demonstrating by example what you consider acceptable. You must acknowledge both the positive and negative results of any action. When your employees do things, that should be acknowledged. Flatly skipping over achievements will make them feed under-appreciated. Likewise, glossing over already existing detrimental effects of mismanagement will make them lose hope in your organization.
Highlight the positive effects of a person's work and they will do more of that.
Acknowledge mistakes you have made and open the road to continuous improvement.

Lack of foresight

Managers are expected to understand the consequences of their actions. However, people are not simple, and organizations of people are highly complex. What seems straightforward is oftentimes not. 
For example, by introducing a no-telecommuting policy, you might subliminally convey the idea that presence is more valuable than results, reducing their performance to zero. 
Stop creating rules and setting directions. Start telling people which goals you have in mind. Let them figure out the best way to reach these goals and provide some leeway for inspect+adapt learning.

Forgetting intangible outcomes

You may be using a whole lot of metrics to determine how well your company is doing. However, the overall outcome of any direction you have set is often the result of things you can hardly quantify. There are two kinds of intangible outcomes which you might be unaware of. 
The first is delayed outcome, i.e. things that will not be manifest until a later date. For example, a serious interference with peoples' work will likely result in something being "shoved under the rug".
The second kind is subjective outcome, such as personal satisfaction. Breaking people's autonomy and strive for mastery may be effective to achieve a short term business goal, but will ultimately leave your workforce dissatisfied. 
In knowledge work, you can't plan for a single outcome. Stop managing top-down, rather work upwards to provide an organizational structure. The only way that you do not need to worry about the outcome of your decisions in the downward direction is by getting out of people's way.

Forgetting morale as outcome

Morale is a very difficult, yet important factor to manage. Just take some time to figure out what affects a person's morale positively or negatively, short-term and long term. 
As a teaser, try answering the question: "Can you actually afford to assign a task to someone?" and use the following modeling variables: 1- morale, 2 - clarity of task, 3 - desirability of result to you, 4 - desirability of result to them, 5 - difficulty, 6 - effort, 7 - unexpressed attitude, 8 - amount of feedback in the process, 9 - amount of feedback on result, 10 - perceived autonomy,  
You will discover that morale is the result of highly complex interactions between many factors and impossible to control. 
Morale directly correlates to sustainaibility, yet you have no way of controlling it. The best you can do is to remove demotivating factors in your organization and stop your own demotivating behaviours and foster anything your employees feel that have a positive impact on their morale.

Watching activity

Agile work is the work of solving unsolved problems. This is creative work. It seems very tempting to draw a line between how busy people are and how much progress they make. But beware: There is no such correlation. If anything, it is a negative relationship: Busy people don't have time to solve problems. A very simple way to prevent your teams from doing really meaningful work is by watching how busy they are and having them report status.  
Stop finding new ways to make your workers busy and fill their slack time. To manage in an agile way, you need to look out for things that make people busy and try to eliminate anything that causes bustling. Create slack so that people get their heads free to solve problems.


Productivity is a detrimential metric for system optimization: when people feel they are being rewarded for being productive, you will have a very busy organization. But you will stop making meaningful progress.
Stop focusing on productivity and start focusing on the outcomes you want to achieve. Free your workers to reach these outcomes.

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