Vanilla Ice had it right: STOP, Collaborate and Listen

Vanilla Ice

One of the things that I’ve realized over the last few years is that despite the fact that I’ve gained more experience, I’ve done more formal educations, taken trainings, and built a lot of personal capabilities, I seem to have trended towards more collaborative decision making. I now spend more time talking to people about decisions before I make them then I ever had previously. On some level I think that this is counterintuitive. You would think that as you gain more skill in something and you begin to understand some things better that you would probably spend less time speaking with others before you make a decision. My assumption would be that you have the expertise to make those decisions yourself but that hasn’t been the case.

What I’ve found is that as I learn more, I’ve also learned more about what I don’t know. I’ve come to value other people’s perspectives a lot more. As you get into making complex business decisions, I think you have to fight continually against your own biases. I for one thing know that I have a tendency to be extraordinarily optimistic about everything. If I don’t have other people there to balance me, I might make decisions that are based on my tendency to look at the big picture and make a decisions that maybe doesn’t take into account some of the things that might go wrong. So I need people to help balance me in that sense.

It’s amazing to me sometimes how differently someone will look at a problem just based on their past experience and I think that’s something that people really need to recognize. So much of our own decision making framework is influenced by decisions we made in the past and the results of those decisions. I think it’s important to be really careful about the lessons that you’ve learned from past decisions because you don’t really have the scope of experience to understand if you’re taking away the right things. If you, based on a set of factors, decided to invest in a project and that project turned out poorly, you might say that if presented with those facts again you won’t make the same decision. The problem with this is that the last time could have been a unique set of circumstances where things didn’t work out. It could be that in most cases those same set of circumstances would have led to a smashing success. So I guess what I’m saying is that you’ve got to be careful about the lessons that you’ve learned  from the past because they’re based on very unique sets of circumstances and not always going to lead to the same destination.  This is where having a strong collaboration base comes in handy.

You have a very strong tool at your disposal if you maintain a network of people that you can talk with about things and you’re able to bring in their lessons learned and their decisions making frameworks. I know that when I look at a problem or decision that I’m making I immediately begin to narrow down the field of approaches to solving that problem or addressing that decision. Again this process is based on the things that are in my personal tool kit, what my experiences have been, and the types of approaches that have been successful for me.  I don’t narrow down my approaches by explicit decision, but simply because I don’t have them. So I end up leaving out a whole host of possibilities that otherwise would have been there had I spoken to people who had a broader experience. So having the opportunity to collaborate with more people has allowed me to take in a much greater set of possible approaches than I would have otherwise considered.

So all of those things have pushed me to develop this more collaborative decision making process than I previously had. Even though on the surface at least with my growing experience and expertise I should be able to make more of those decisions without outside help, I’ve actually trended more towards that collaborative process. I really do think that there are a lot of great things that come with experience, a better understanding of situations, and issues but one of the things that you can lose if you’re not careful is that broader spectrum of experience. I think that’s a real trap that senior executives need to avoid.  They need to be careful on how heavily they weight their own experience because you may be closing off a world of possibilities that otherwise you’d be able to take advantage of.  So I’m a big believer in reaching out to your personal network, establishing a group of trusted advisors within your circle of friends, and colleagues so that you can have somebody to bounce things off of and get access to that broader range of experience. As always I’m very interested in what other people’s experiences are in this area and what they think.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Recruiting for company culture

Recruiting for company culture

One of the things that we’ve tried really hard to do over the last couple years as a company is to recruit for culture.  When I say that, I mean we’ve spent a lot more time recently talking to people about:

  • who they are
  • what they want to do long term
  • what kind of work environment do they prefer to work in

While this is something we are looking at now more than we ever have previously, we obviously still do a technical interview where we make sure the people can do the job.  The difference is that the technical interview is really considered just a gateway at this point.  We spend a lot more time on fit then we do anything else. The first interview which is to get the person through the technical gate is usually conducted by whoever on staff is going to have them working for them or going to be working closely with them. They conduct the preliminary interview which is probably 60%- 70% can you do the job and even there, there’s a part of it that is seeing how they respond to things and seeing if they send back a thank you afterwards. As I mentioned before we are looking to see if this person will fit into our organization, will they get along with current staff, and for someone who shows basic good people skills. We want people that are considerate, the people that do all of the things that you learned in kindergarten very well. We are also concerned with what you learned in college but if you missed those lessons in kindergarten, we may not hire you just because it’s too hard to work in an environment where it’s all about solely the technical part of things.

I can see maybe in some larger environments where the technical may trump other things because it’s the thing that’s most easily measureable.  Maybe once you hit a certain size of organization some of that corporate culture is diluted. I myself don’t tend to believe that though because I’ve worked in some very large organizations that have very strong corporate cultures but I could see how it could happen. I just know that for us and for ours, one of the most important things that we look for is that ability a person shows that they’re going to be able to fit in and work with us and show that they can be a true teammate. We’re not looking for individual star performers or somebody who is solely focused on their own achievements because that doesn’t work very well in team environments.  So we engage heavily to figure out what types of things are they interested in and what are they interested in most about the types of people that they work with because you can pick up clues there about how and if they value teamwork and collaboration.  I’m very curious to hear about what other people look for as they interview and how they go about maintaining corporate culture in their own organizations.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Incentives: Making the world go round

Incentives

I think most managers are familiar with the phrase, “what gets measured gets done,” and I think our  common sense tells us that we ought to be careful about the things that we incentivize because it will affect the types of behavior that occur.  A lot of people will wonder why it doesn’t always work so well, why the performance management structure that they’ve set up isn’t getting them to the results that they want as quickly as they want. I think it’s because while the things I said previously are true to a large degree, people do the things they are incentivized to do and if you measure specific activities you’ll generally end up with better performance. When there are incentives, people are focused on getting them accomplished. On the flip side, I think you have to be careful about the general application of that rule. You have to identify some smaller steps to getting you to that big picture goal.

One of the problems that organizations have is that the goals may be set at such a high level that people don’t have insight into what activities they need to do to help the larger organization get there. Or they may not understand what the connection is between them and that goal so they lose the ability to correlate their day to day activities with advancing the organization towards that goal.  So it’s important for incentive structures and those types of large organizational goals to be decomposed enough so that the people that most effect change are able to do what they are incentivized to do.  An easy example of this is if you look within a sales organization, or if you are a company that incentivize on the biggest corporate wide revenue targets.  Those types of goals are great and most organizations target some amount of growth across the top line, but it may be worth looking at incenting specific behaviors among customers and basic activities that you, as a management team, believe are going to drive that sales team forward to success. A similar approach can be applied to anything, for instance, if you have a help desk, or really any activity that you have in your organization. If you haven’t created a tiered structure, you may be providing all the big picture guidance in the world of what you want to happen and have a line of how you’re measuring the things that you want done in your organization, but if you haven’t decomposed them enough to enable people to see how it applies to them, you probably won’t get the type of performance that you had hoped for.

I’m also aware that on the other side of that is this desire to break things down to such a level that so much time has been spent measuring that there’s no time left to spend performing. So there is a fine line there between breaking it down so much that the measurement activity gets in the way of achieving the measurement, but in general, you need to make sure that your incentive and measurement structure reaches far enough down so people can see how they’re connected to it.  I’m curious to know what other people think about this. If you’ve had experience designing incentive structures or performance management structures, please weigh in.  I want to how people try to make that tie back, or even if they do at all.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Battle Royale: Talent vs. Determination

Battle Royale

I think everyone has heard the saying, “Hard work will always beat talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”  In my experience, this statement holds true.  I know that personally, I’ve always felt confident that I could outwork the other side through sheer force of determination and will alone. Whether it is athletics, academics, or work, there is almost always a way to get through a problem.  As I look back at the times when I was hiring somebody, especially when I first started looking at different people, I was hiring a lot of people based on talent and potential alone which hasn’t always worked out as well as it seemingly should have.  I recently addressed this conundrum in a blog post after I read a great interview in the New York Times with Kon Leong. He mentions that one of the things he most tries to identify in the interview process is not only smarts, but drive too.  He wanted people that were going to work hard because with those two things you could solve almost everything else.   It really changed the way I think about things.  Have you spent a lot of time being frustrated with people who you just know better than their performance shows? You know how talented they are, how smart they are, but you just aren’t seeing the results you expect from them.  I’ve sat there and wondered why this is.  Maybe they just don’t have the tools you thought they did, but I don’t think that’s the case.  I think the tools are there and maybe it’s just a lack of drive. Maybe it’s my failure to motivate or find the right way to get through to them but either way, as a manager you should position yourself to recruit for drive as well as intelligence in hopes of alleviating this problem.

I know that this may seem obvious but I think the part that we often miss is asking the questions that let you evaluate their drive.  That’s something that I’ve changed a lot and is going to be a much bigger focus in terms of trying to determine how to elicit those responses that give insight into whether people are truly driven.  I don’t know if everyone has a general drive to succeed.  Ideally, you want to find people that are passionate about solving problems and the things that you do at a minimum.  So it’s important to figure out what the right questions are and how do you make that determination early.  It’s never going to be a perfect evaluation. You have to recognize that you’re going to end up with some folks in your organization that are really smart and really talented but no matter what, you’re just not going to be able to get them to perform the way that you feel they should.  At some point you’re going to have to move those people out because if you’ve got a collection of people that have that drive and that ambition and you have a couple folks that aren’t on the program, you will not reach your potential as an organization.

This is just like being on a team when you’re a kid and your coach would say things like, “Everyone is a team here and we need to pull together,” or “We’re only as strong as our weakest link,” and I think these clichés among others are just as applicable in your work life as they were in athletics as a kid.  If you have somebody that doesn’t have the desire or the drive to push, they’re not there for the same reasons, or they’re detracting from everybody else’s efforts then you need to really question how long you want to wait for that drive or ambition to appear; and how many times are you going to attempt to motivate them before you make a decision that you are going have to part ways. If someone isn’t living up to the set standard and you can’t get them there fairly quickly, I think you need to make a decision about their future in your organization.  You can be as kind as you possibly can be about it but after I’ve tried a few things such as having a discussion with them about level of effort and it’s still not working out, it’s time to let go or otherwise you’re jeopardizing your whole team.

I’ve also come to the belief over time that it’s a lot easier to teach technical skill or soft skill, or interacting with the client than it is to teach drive.  So if you get somebody and you start to wonder if the effort just isn’t there or maybe something is distracting and it persists over a long period of time, you are never going to get that person out of that behavior.  At least that’s my general belief with the rare case that is the exception to the rule, but that type of behavior casts a pall over the rest of your organization and is just not worth whatever talent that one person may have.  I’d be very curious to hear what other people’s experiences are.  Have you had a happy ending to a story where you had somebody with a lot of talent but you just couldn’t get them to work and you found a way to motivate them?  I certainly don’t want to discount a manger’s ability to motivate or find the right way to get somebody to do things but I sometimes think there is too much emphasis on mangers and leadership getting people to excel.  Sometimes you just need to understand that you will not be able to motivate that person and you have to just cut them loose, but I’d love to hear other people’s takes on this issue.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

How to sweat the small stuff without ending up stinky

how to sweat the small stuff without ending up stinky

Small steps can be just as important as the big ones

Business process re-engineering doesn’t have to be a boil the ocean approach to transforming your business. I don’t have any scientific evidence to support this but I believe that the most missed opportunities to improve are the little ones we have in front of us everyday. I’m not advocating against “Thinking Big,” I’m just saying that you shouldn’t be so focused on enterprise transformation that you miss the 1% improvements that add up over time. I believe that many managers miss out on maximizing their value proposition to the organization because they aren’t able to execute on small change initiatives in a meaningful way. These smaller 30, 60 or 90 day initiatives include re-engineering internal workflows, automating internal processes, and course corrections to major programs. The dollars are generally small and the rewards for any one won’t get you an award at the annual holiday party, but over time these are the types of improvements that move the needle for an organization as a whole. Here are 5 things to think about before you decide to move out on that small change effort you’ve been thinking about.

  1. Take the big picture or system view: I know this post is all about little improvements—just remember the big picture and try not to work against it. Thinking big picture helps you ensure you don’t miss the really important thing that happens just before the process you are focusing on.
  2. Think about the data: In most organizations, everything else changes faster than the data. People, technology, and processes—they all change fairly quickly. Understanding information requirements around a process improvement opportunity often gives you a chance to think about it without the confusion of technology and other factors. In the end, many of the improvement opportunities you will find in any organization center on more effectively moving, manipulating, or otherwise acting on information that has been used for years to support the business.
  3. Remember the human factor: Ever sat in a place and wondered how it was possible that nobody had fixed problem “x” yet? You’ve been on site for five minutes and you can tell right away what’s wrong. Most of the time there is a reason that obvious improvement opportunities go unexploited. Many times it’s a people issue. Many times an unwillingness to change comes from a fear or uncertainty about the effect of change. People are often the biggest obstacle to change and you often need to be prepared to sell people on why they should change, even when the existing process seems so obviously broken to you.
  4. Beware scope creep: Little improvements have a way of morphing into massive programs over the course of a cup of coffee. The temptation to keep pulling on the thread of an improvement opportunity until you have completely re-organized the company is hard to resist.
  5. Remember you still need to manage change: Little improvements can go a long way, but one of the downsides to smaller improvement efforts is the costs of change management isn’t anticipated and the effort falls short because there is no money to update the SOP, provide training, etc. The bells and whistles that get included with major transformation efforts often get left out. Informal or small programs still need planning to ensure that there is documentation, training, etc. Without these, the value of these small changes is severely limited.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Play 8: Work Only on What is Important

For executives that haven’t been naughty

I love to read. I’ve skipped school to finish Shogun, read the covers off of The Belgariad, and waited in line for Harry Potter. These days with a wife, three kids and a busy schedule I often find books stacking up on my nightstand, my office, and in the foyer. One of the great things about the holidays is that I often get a chance to catch up on the books I’ve been meaning to read for months but haven’t had time to open. In that vein I’ve been reading Behind the Cloud: The Untold Story of How Salesforce.com Went from Idea to Billion-Dollar Company-and Revolutionized an Industry by Marc Benioff as we’ve worked our way around the Northeast for the holidays. The book is great, mixing the Salesforce.com story with some great lessons for those of us who are trying to get a little bit of the Salesforce.com magic for our own company. Marc structures the story in Plays that tell a bit of the Saleforce.com story but also carry a little bit of a lesson for those looking to get insight into the success this company, which has been named the World’s Most Innovative company two years in a row by Forbes (2011, 2012), one of the 100 best companies to work for by Fortune (2012), and received the Gartner CRM Excellence Award.

That is why “Play 8: Work Only on What is Important” really struck me as it came right on the heels of my post “3 Point Guide to Staying Sane in the Holiday Season” in which I talk to the importance of being focused on the right things. Marc talks about the importance of “focus on the 20 percent that makes 80 percent of the difference.” He also makes a statement about realizing that you won’t be able to bring the same focus to everything in the beginning. I think this is a great point for start-ups, but really for executives these should be words to live by, especially if you are engaged in any type of transformational activity. I know that I’ve caught myself worrying about the details when the big picture is a semi-truck getting ready to wear me as a hood ornament. One of the things I try to do to combat this is to tell myself before I start something when it needs to be out the door, what the objective or successful outcome will be, and what the value of doing it is to my organization. This has significantly improved my ability to focus on “Just Enough” to get the job done and lessened my tendency to over deliver. Remember as an executive over-delivery is really just great looking waste.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

3 Point Guide to Staying Sane in the Holiday Season

Holiday BalanceHolidays are a time for celebration, don’t let stress get you down

Almost everybody I know is operating at an increased level of stress this holiday season. For many people the holidays mean mistletoe, lights, and time with family. Unfortunately, it rarely coincides with reduced stress at work and having family over can be just a stressful as it is joyful. I’m writing today from my holiday balance point. I’ve taken the day off to get some things done around the house and to get prepared for my own holiday travels. What I’ve found over the years is that by taking an entire day off early in the holiday season as opposed to hoarding those days in order to take them sequentially later in the holiday season, is that I am better able to enjoy the whole holiday season. As someone who manages a lot of projects this makes sense. This is essentially a planning and execution day for me.

Today I’ll go buy thank you notes, plan the details of my holiday travel, and take care of the myriad of odds and ends that would otherwise be causing me major stress as I head into the holidays.  By taking today off, I also put my planning time on my own terms. This ensures that work doesn’t intrude into my day off because I was able to plan for taking today off two weeks ago. In fact my work should thank me, because by taking today off I’ve ensured that I’m not distracted for the rest of the holiday season. Tomorrow when I get into the office I won’t be worried about what to buy my in-laws or whether or not I’ll have gifts for everyone who isn’t on the naughty list. It will all be done today—at least that is if I get off this post soon and go do it. The holiday movies on TV probably shouldn’t distract me either or the electronics sale just down the road. Yep, as long as I stay focused I should be stress free this whole holiday season.

I guess the holiday season really isn’t that much different than any other time in a busy executive or manager’s life. In order to perform well you need to find balance. The holiday season just takes everything up a notch, testing your ability to execute under pressure. If you want to survive the holidays or even take the edge off of any busy time at the office, remember these three things:

  1. Plan for down time – the holidays are just like any other really busy time at work. If you don’t schedule some down time to handle odds and ends you will end up going crazy. I plan a day off every year to handle this. I do the same if I have a large proposal or other major delivery at work where I know I’ll be frantic for several weeks in a row. Being over committed is a way of life for many people. Taking an occasional day “off” to catch up will keep you sane and improve performance.
  2. Stay calm – It’s easy to forget the niceties when you are under pressure. The holidays are the wrong time to become the angry, snarling jerk that cuts off grandma to get a parking space. Any time I get over committed I try to take an extra deep breath or two before I react. Often I find that the root of the problem isn’t what someone did that instant, it’s the accumulation of things I have going on that is pushing me over the edge.
  3. Enjoy the ride – Don’t forget that it is supposed to be fun. The holidays are stressful because so much is going on. When I get stressed about that, I try to remember that I have a lot going on because I’ve been pretty fortunate in life to have relatives near by, to have people who want to spend time with me, etc. The same applies to everyday life. Whenever I start to feel my schedule getting the best of me, I remind myself that in being busy is a good thing. In this economy, it’s a blessing to be busy and to be working at all.

Finally, I find when I really get stressed during the holidays there is one thing that always puts me in back in the holiday spirit—Santa. Go to the mall or other place frequented by the big guy and watch kids getting their picture taken and sitting on Santa’s lap. This may not help you in June when you have a big proposal due, but if things get tough in December I know I can always count on Santa to cheer me up.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

‘Tis the Season to Thank Your Partners

partnersPrudent partnerships add significant value to your team and clients

 Last night was our annual holiday party and for the first time we expanded our party beyond our team. We didn’t bring in clients, but we brought in our close partners. Looking back now, I think this was long overdue because so much of our success has been directly attributable to our partners. Sure we have great people and I know that on our own we bring great value to our clients, but by having a rich partner ecosystem we are able to bring our clients unique value.   We are staffed to handle the majority of our clients needs and our staff reflects specific capabilities and expertise that drive results for those clients. For the rest of their needs we could either stretch our existing staff and hope we do a good enough job, tell the client to find someone else to handle this need, or like we have, find and partner with companies that make it their job to handle those specific niche areas. I know what I would prefer as a client and I know that my clients over the years have been extraordinarily happy with the results they’ve gotten from this type of arrangement. For us having close partners we can depend on, know, and trust, means seamless execution for the client and the ability to take on and execute on more comprehensive projects without having to move outside of our area of expertise. For our partners, this means having someone that they can count on to bring them in at the appropriate time to perform well and execute and finally, for the client they get a turn key solution that brings the highest level of expertise and execution to every aspect of their project.

 This is worthy of a post because I think that by leveraging a partner network to deliver for clients, you are essentially extending modular solution design back into sourcing and staffing. This isn’t anything new. In fact, if you look at supply chains for retailers and other global commerce, this concept is how we are able to deliver products that are designed, sourced, marketed, built, and delivered globally at what is an incredibly low cost if you look at the complexity of the delivery system. Individual components of this global supply chain have developed capability and executed in order to win their place in delivering end value that becomes the bikes and boxes under Christmas trees around this time of year. By delivering our management consulting and technology offerings in this manner we are simply leveraging that same concept of taking the best available partners in the market and developing unique value for the end client. I’m sure there are many cases where this means that we are leaving money on the table or not maximizing on the near term value we could gain for the client, but this approach ensures that we form and retain lasting relationships with our clients because they know that we are consistently finding the best possible solution for them.

In conclusion, I think the major take away from this should be to ensure that you are looking beyond the edges of your organization for value and opportunities to improve. So much of what organizations produce now is dependent on the value that others create, that it simply isn’t enough to find improvement opportunities within your own organization. If 70% of the value stream for your stakeholders is dependent on stakeholders that are external to your organization, you will never get maximum performance by simply focusing inward. We have always recognized that our partners bring value; but by bringing them in and thanking them at our Christmas party this year I think we took another step forward in driving client value.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

The Morning Meeting

7 tips for a speedy and productive morning meeting

I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on my post about getting the most out of your meetings “The 3 P’s to Meeting Success.” For those that have asked me to be more specific, I’m dedicating this post to the anatomy of a successful stand up meeting. For those familiar with Agile development, this is where I originally got started holding these short meetings. Over time I have found the format is invaluable for keeping everyone on the same page across our organization without becoming a huge time suck where people essentially just listen to others report out.  The primary value is really only there for the one or two senior managers responsible for coordinating across projects.   I am a big believer in regular meetings that are very short for keeping groups engaged and collaborating on a regular basis. In the post below I’ve outlined the formula I believe will lead to successful stand up meetings.

  1. Be regular. Our team meets every morning at 9:15 for 15 minutes to do a company scrum that includes all of our key project participants. We never over run the 15-minute mark which ensures that we don’t become a time suck for people trying to execute.
  2. 2.    Have the right people. Given that stand up meetings are supposed to be short and ours is a 15-minute meeting, there simply cannot be more than 15 participants if there is to be any value conveyed in a collaborative fashion.
  3. 3.    Know what you are going to say. You should have a formula or template for responses in the meeting. I accomplished this [yesterday]. I am working on [today’s action item]. We have [any obstacle] and need to work with [team X]. We are [on/behind/ahead] of schedule.
  4. 4.    Hold to the time requirement. I stick to the format and the time no matter what. The temptation to get into more depth is always there. It is critical not to give in to the temptation to extend the meeting. The right response is to get the associated parties together after the scrum. Don’t waste other people’s time.
  5. 5.    Don’t waste other people’s time. This should probably be the first sentence in every one of these rules. Stand up meetings are not generally for reporting out. They are focused on discovering collaboration opportunities and overcoming hurdles. Everybody in the meeting should be focused on saying things that will inform the group about opportunities to leverage your activities or identify needs you have that others may be able to satisfy. Everything else is extraneous and should be done in a follow on meeting.
  6. 6.    Assign a note taker. This can be one person’s job or performed on a rotating basis. The recap should be sent to the group within 15 minutes of the meeting close with a focus on content not formatting. The template can be as simple as a list of the regular attendees with pre-existing points after them. Then simply fill in the blank. The only extra information should be listing the follow up meetings to be held.
  7. 7.    Focus on improvement. I try to end the scrum with enough time on the board to ask one very important question everyday. Are their any ideas for improvement? The focus here is general, across projects, and across the organization. Good ideas come from all over, but they may not make it to me if I don’t explicitly ask.

That is my lucky seven ideas for driving great stand up meetings. I’d be very interested in your comments and feedback on the topic.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Establishing and Maintaining Company Culture

Foster company culture to drive performance and success

I went to a networking event held by a partner of ours last night.  In addition to meeting some interesting people and getting to know some of the people we work with on a regular basis on a more personal note, I came away really impressed. Not just by the people themselves, we partnered with them because of the great people in the organization. I came away impressed by the strength of their corporate culture. Over the course of the event I had an opportunity to talk to people in different roles in the organization, from sales guys to engineers to executives, and I kept hearing the same message from each of them. Not in the sort of pre-programmed way that you might hear from a team that has been given a set of talking points to stick to, but in a very genuine way that bubbled up naturally in conversation. In the case of this organization, the thing that kept coming through was how deeply they really believed not only in the value of their product but that what they were doing was helping their customers. The conversation was never about how to get customers to buy, but always on how to get them to see how much value they can get from the product. The stories that were being told were about the hurdles they had crossed on the path to getting a customer to value. As a person who believes that culture drives performance, it was interesting to watch in action and recognize the effect it was having on me. It made me want to be a part of their success, to share their sense of mission and to bring the same value they were talking about to my clients. It re-affirmed my own belief in our partnership and it also made me think a bit about the things that drive this type of positive common culture.

From here forward, I’m going to break away from the story of how our partner company drives culture and talk about what I think drives corporate culture.

  1. A sense of mission: The purpose of your organization must be bigger than just the bottom line. For the partner above, it is delivering software that delivers results for its clients. Notice the client focus. Their tagline is “Lets talk about results.” Most normal people are concerned about money because it is a key factor in keeping a roof over their head and food on the table. Businesses are no different and attention to the bottom line is critical to staying in business, however I don’t think it is necessarily a great driver of corporate culture. This isn’t to say that it can’t be a driver of culture. I’m sure that some of the recent economic turmoil we’ve witnessed can be directly attributable to an over-emphasis on the bottom line as the driver of corporate culture. Most people want to be a part of a team that is contributing to something positive, because they want to see themselves and the work they do in a positive light. Connecting the dots between the positive effects your business or organization has for its stakeholders and how that positively effects your organization and the people in it is critical.
  2. Realization of value: I mean realization in two ways. First way is in the sense that the organization should be producing something of value. It has to be tough to get up and go to work everyday and feel like what you are doing doesn’t matter. Sometimes, particularly in large organizations with many levels, the people at the bottom of the pyramid can get disconnected from the value being delivered. Allowing this to happen is a big mistake for the leadership of these organizations. If it is important enough to pay someone to do it, it should have value to the organization and you should be helping connect the dots for those that are doing the doing. Trust me, you will get better results from people who feel like what they do matters. Secondly, it is almost always worth investing in understanding the value you are producing. Performance management isn’t just about measuring in order to steer the ship, it can also be a tool to communicate progress and re-enforce value.
  3. An abundance of role models: This may be the most important factor of all and it comes down to finding the right people, getting them to stay the course, and helping them to continue to improve by reinforcing your organizational values. To say you have a culture is to say that you have a highly prevalent set of beliefs, attitudes, and habits towards your work and the people you work with within the organization. Ensuring adoption of these as you bring people onboard and sustaining them as your organization grows or changes is difficult unless you have some shining examples to point to as role models. I am a big believer in the power of positive reinforcement to not only encourage people to sustain the good work they are doing but to get others to follow their example. I believe people need praise to thrive in the same way they need food to survive. Don’t miss any opportunities to compliment someone you work with when they exhibit the behaviors you are trying to encourage across your organization.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.