#offBoarding (or #alighting)

#offBoarding (or #alighting)

There’s lots of talk about Onboarding. Wikipedia sez:

Onboarding, also known as organizational socialization, refers to the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members and insiders.

I love this idea that carefully curating and designing a process for new starters to get up-to-speed and be better integrated into your company can bring nothing but sunshine and unicorns, create better bonds, lower attrition and more engaged staff.

But what about when someone leaves? It’s usually a short process: leave is negotiated in private (either a jump or a push), it’s communicated to the wider team, some handover, perhaps there’s an exit interview, “clean out your desk”, eat a bit of cake, say goodbye down the pub and Mondays aren’t the same every again.

For everyone else in the company.

The leaver will be enjoying the delights of the next company and their onboarding process, but the people at the old company? Mourning the loss of an ally, a compatriot a peer.

And this is where I wonder whether we shouldn’t be paying more attention to the people around the leaver as they work out their notice period. There are thought processes:

The leaver was happy, weren’t they? Why would they choose to leave? Maybe I should leave? Is it better elsewhere

Or maybe

Why were they sacked? Could I be sacked? Maybe I should look for another job?

Or even

Who is going to do their job? Am I doing it now? How will I know I like the new person? Will we get on? Will they be able to do everything the leaver can do?

These thoughts all lead to a risk that those around the leaver, the peers (and perhaps the reports) will be feeling adrift, unsure, unsteady, things have changed and it’s resulted in someone I like/respect/admire/fear not being a such a big part of my life anymore.

I feel like we need to account for this somehow. To have a process of offboarding for the people around the team member – make sure they understand why the leaver is leaving, what that means for the future of the team, how they might use this upheaval, this change as an opportunity for improvement, or promotion or simply to realign themselves with their team, their company and their career. Use somebody leaving as a positive thing to promote … something good. My thoughts here aren’t clear and I believe that whatever the process is, it’s probably going to be specific to your company anyway.

(Hat Tip to @nefarioustim for the #alighting alternative)

Advertisements

How to have better remote team meetings

How to have better remote team meetings

Where I work now, half the team is based in Romania. Yes, they’re an offshore team, but you wouldn’t think it the way they integrate so well with our teams, tools and general day-to-day. One of the things I was way of when I started, was how they would get involved with team meetings, like planning, stand-ups, retrospectives, etc.

I’ve experienced people joining team meetings remotely before: there’s a room with most of the team in, sitting around a table and then one giant talking head on the screen (it’s even bigger on a projector screen). It takes real discipline and frequent repetitions to make sure the remote worker is included in the conversation and gets the value they need and the common understanding the team needs.

However, at my current job, we do it slightly differently. Instead of booking a room and having one or two talking heads, everyones does the hangout from their desk instead. The key thing to experience here is that everyone is “remote’ in that they’re dialling in.

It levels the playing field for the whole team.

Yes, it levels it lower than in-person meetings and you have work hard to make sure it works, but I’ve been surprised and impressed at how well these meetings have worked. Especially complex meetings that involve more interaction like a retrospective.

It’s not perfect – it’ll be a long time before remote team meetings are on par with IRL ones – but it certainly helps keep remote members feeling included.

Throw out the contracted hours model, ring in the contracted value model.

Unless I’ve been out enjoying myself with a bottle or four of beer the night before, as soon as my eyes are open in the morning, I’m awake, ready to face the day, and absolutely cannot lie in bed (the weekends are sometimes different though).

I feel able to do some of my best work between the hours of 5am and midday. There are exceptions though, sometimes I’ll be working on some code in the evening, get in the zone and forget to go to bed until 2 or 3am.

The point, though, is that my body and mind don’t work well with the normal 9-5 working hours. Yet, most businesses _still_ insist on keeping these office hours. It’s in my contract, 9am – 6pm. But my body doesn’t care about my contract, it does what it pleases because that’s the way bodies work. Yours will do a similar thing. Think about when you’re most productive, is it during 9-5, or some other time?

My peers all function better at different times too. Some of my team get in at 10am, some get in at 8am, this is fine, they work to their pattern, the problem still remains though that they are obliged to do the correct number of hours per week. It’s in their contract afterall that they have to do 40 hours during the five business days of the week.

I think this is dumb.

If my best hours are 5am to midday, the company only gets three of those hours as I have to be in work at 9am. Three productive hours a day for five days is only 15 hours. So, 25 of the hours that the company has me for are not as productive as they could be and this is because I have a contract.

Let’s say though, thay my company says I can start at 5am and leave at midday (if we forget the obstacle of actually getting to the office, in London, for 5am). That’s still only 35 hours. What about the other five hours I owe the company? Where can they fit in? There are two answers to this.

The first is that I do those missing hours sometime over the weekend. If I can fit in five hours of productive work on Saturday and Sunday then the company and I are square. I am doing all the hours that they are paying me to do. Fairs fair.

The other answer is that I don’t do them. Yes, I just don’t do the hours. You see, my job is about generating value for the business. I do it by coaching, writing code and “managing” a team, not by being at some place for 40 hours a week. “But Mike, that’s what your company is paying you for!” cry one or two of my peers. Yes, that is what they’re paying me for, but they shouldn’t be. I’m not a security guard, or a working on a checkout (two jobs where you do have to be someplace for some period of time), I’m a (shudder) “knowledge worker” and my goals and objectives aren’t the same as yours, the security guards or the checkout person.

The company *should* be paying me to generate value. They should be setting down guidelines on what that value is and how much of it I should generate (I’m simplyfing massively here as objective setting as HARD) and then paying me to deliver it. How I deliver that value and how long it takes me should be entirely up to me. The trouble is, companies, as a rule, don’t do this. We’re tied to the old model of a contracted number of hours and, until we break this, we’ll never get the best out of our employees.

So, throw away the old model of contracted hours and ring in the new model of contracted value. Tell me what results you want me to achieve and when you want me to achieve them by, then let me be free to do this. If I can deliver those results in half the time, then next time, make my goals and objectives harder. I guarantee that, with the freedom and trust that this model will evoke in me, you’ll get the best out of me. I’ll be happy, you’ll be happy and our company will prosper.

Throw out the contracted hours model, ring in the contracted value model.

Unless I’ve been out enjoying myself with a bottle or four of beer the night before, as soon as my eyes are open in the morning, I’m awake, ready to face the day, and absolutely cannot lie in bed (the weekends are sometimes different though).

I feel able to do some of my best work between the hours of 5am and midday. There are exceptions though, sometimes I’ll be working on some code in the evening, get in the zone and forget to go to bed until 2 or 3am.

The point, though, is that my body and mind don’t work well with the normal 9-5 working hours. Yet, most businesses _still_ insist on keeping these office hours. It’s in my contract, 9am – 6pm. But my body doesn’t care about my contract, it does what it pleases because that’s the way bodies work. Yours will do a similar thing. Think about when you’re most productive, is it during 9-5, or some other time?

My peers all function better at different times too. Some of my team get in at 10am, some get in at 8am, this is fine, they work to their pattern, the problem still remains though that they are obliged to do the correct number of hours per week. It’s in their contract afterall that they have to do 40 hours during the five business days of the week.

I think this is dumb.

If my best hours are 5am to midday, the company only gets three of those hours as I have to be in work at 9am. Three productive hours a day for five days is only 15 hours. So, 25 of the hours that the company has me for are not as productive as they could be and this is because I have a contract.

Let’s say though, thay my company says I can start at 5am and leave at midday (if we forget the obstacle of actually getting to the office, in London, for 5am). That’s still only 35 hours. What about the other five hours I owe the company? Where can they fit in? There are two answers to this.

The first is that I do those missing hours sometime over the weekend. If I can fit in five hours of productive work on Saturday and Sunday then the company and I are square. I am doing all the hours that they are paying me to do. Fairs fair.

The other answer is that I don’t do them. Yes, I just don’t do the hours. You see, my job is about generating value for the business. I do it by coaching, writing code and “managing” a team, not by being at some place for 40 hours a week. “But Mike, that’s what your company is paying you for!” cry one or two of my peers. Yes, that is what they’re paying me for, but they shouldn’t be. I’m not a security guard, or a working on a checkout (two jobs where you do have to be someplace for some period of time), I’m a (shudder) “knowledge worker” and my goals and objectives aren’t the same as yours, the security guards or the checkout person.

The company *should* be paying me to generate value. They should be setting down guidelines on what that value is and how much of it I should generate (I’m simplyfing massively here as objective setting as HARD) and then paying me to deliver it. How I deliver that value and how long it takes me should be entirely up to me. The trouble is, companies, as a rule, don’t do this. We’re tied to the old model of a contracted number of hours and, until we break this, we’ll never get the best out of our employees.

So, throw away the old model of contracted hours and ring in the new model of contracted value. Tell me what results you want me to achieve and when you want me to achieve them by, then let me be free to do this. If I can deliver those results in half the time, then next time, make my goals and objectives harder. I guarantee that, with the freedom and trust that this model will evoke in me, you’ll get the best out of me. I’ll be happy, you’ll be happy and our company will prosper.

Surface Acting: bad for business and your health

Surface Acting: bad for business and your health
Angry Twins by Pelle Sten (http://www.flickr.com/photos/pellesten/8286639449/)
Angry Twins by Pelle Sten

Have you ever been in any kind of meeting that made you angry, sad, excited, disappointed or frustrated? Sure you have (if not, I want to work with you!) and you’ve also probably tried, on occasion, to mask that emotion. If you’re British, there’s the idea of the stiff-upper-lip and there’s probably similar in other cultures. However, this is bad for your long term emotional balance.

‘Surface Acting’ is a means of managing ones emotions. This technique allows you to pick the right emotion for whatever situation you are currently in. We do it in all kinds of situations; doctors, waiting staff, the police. Any situation where we’re unable to generate any kind of sincere empathy means we resort to acting the correct emotion.

A recent study highlights that we even do this in meetings. The study claims that 15% of of personnel budget is spent on meetings, yet up to a third of all meetings are a waste. They make links between surface acting and the perceived effectiveness of the meeting. Because an attendee is expending energy on portraying an emotion they might not be feeling, that’s energy that isn’t being spent on the purpose and outcome of the meeting. It requires self-control and limits our ability to attend to what is going on, as part of your attention is turned to acting.

It’s also exhausting. Those who reported high levels of surface acting, when quizzed three months later, exhibited higher emotional exhaustion, or burnout, scores and an increased intention of quitting altogether!

So, next time, you feel an emotion, let it out. Be truthful with the way you feel about the world around you. Be mindful that you’re not being a dick and ensure you’re meeting the needs of the people around you, but don’t mask emotions. It’s unhealthy and, usually, untruthful. I’ve blogged about lying before, so this study further supports the idea that politicking around the office is not only bad for business, but also bad for your health.

——

Shanock, L. R., Allen, J. A., Dunn, A. M., Baran, B. E., Scott, C. W. and Rogelberg, S. G. (2013), Less acting, more doing: How surface acting relates to perceived meeting effectiveness and other employee outcomes. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 86: 457–476. doi: 10.1111/joop.12037

The one with George Osborne and the right to flexible working

What a honking great idiot!
Look! I’ve got nothing up my sleeves!

So, George Osborne today announced that, in exchange for between £2,000 and £50,000 of shares, employees can relinquish some of the rights they have as employees. These rights are; claiming unfair dismissal, redundancy, time-off for training and flexible working. There’s also an extra right to relinquish for women, which is to give 16 weeks, instead of 8, notice when returning from maternity leave.

Essentially, what Mr Osborne is saying is that you can either be a) ejected from the company with no recourse or b) imprisoned at your company with no way out for some figure between £2,000 and £50,000.

I understand that this comes down to a matter of ‘shared-ownership’, meaning that, now you have these shares, it’s up to you to do the very best you can to make the company a success, afterall, if the company is a success, you’ll do well too. I also understand that this is voluntary for existing employees, but could become compulsory for new employees, should an employer choose to do it that way.

What I don’t understand is how on earth he thinks this is a good idea? Claiming unfair dismissal is what protects employees from the pointy-haired bosses who surround them. Redundancy, unless political or strategic, would indicate a company not doing so well (so, who would want shares?). Training is important if you want to retain, improve and increase the value of your staff and flexible working? What on earth does he mean?

For some shares, you get to give up the ability to work from 9 – 5:30, every day in the same office? What a marvellous idea! Let’s ignore the fact that people don’t all march to the same drum – folks aren’t productive when you want them to be, they’re not creative when the clock showing a specific time. Let’s ignore the fact that people have children, families, teeth, health and the multitude of other things that mean working 9 – 5.30 is difficult and a dumb idea. Further, we should force people into thinking that spending time in a particular location, between particular hours is a measure of how well they’re working. Let’s completely ignore the fact that by focussing on WHEN we are, we cannot focus on WHAT we do. Business should focus on results, not hours.

This new proposal from the CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER clearly shows that he has almost no idea how business works in the 21st century. Stop trying to apply old fashioned, often Taylorist views, on how you think businesses should be run and be forward-thinking, pragmatic and revolutionary in helping small- and medium-sized businesses achieve greatness.

 

Who tunes the guitars?

Black Cat by erin m on flickr
You need men like this, otherwise live music would sound awful.

I read a lot of blog posts, articles, papers and what-not on creating, maintaining and coaching teams. It’s the one thing that, for me, has no set formula. Each team is different, as they’re made from different individuals, each with their own set of morals, ethics and experiences that drive their behaviours. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ team guide, unfortunately.

So, what we’re left with is a miasma of different works, all decrying or promoting some way or other of how to form and maintain a team, how to help them become high-performing, how to retrospect, plan, work, play, love, eat, argue and play football together. None of them are right and, equally, none of them are really wrong. But the one thing I see frequently is suggestions, and often demands, that “if they don’t fit, you’re hiring wrong/replace them” and this is alarming.

The common theme I see is that, yes, there IS a formula for creating the winningest team and, if one of the members of the team you’re trying to engineer to stardom doesn’t fit your mould, then he’s out on his ear … hit the road jack, your awesome-coding-but-complete-lack-of-personal-skills ass is outta here!

Not everyone can be a rockstar, you need some roadies too.

Perhaps you know someone, or have someone in your team who doesn’t really have any great ideas, isn’t that keen on researching the latest javascript framework or building some wanky Hipstagram filter in Ruby, but who can build a data abstraction layer, fully unit tested in a day and always reviews your code and finds the one or two things you missed. Where would you be without this guy?

Or maybe there’s the guy who just REALLY enjoys honking about with MySQL queries, doesn’t really give a rats ass about what the business does, but cares deeply about the quality of his code and making his queries elegant and fast.

Some of you may know the guy who get’s a real kick out of cutting HTML all day, taking the photoshop files from your rockstar, sweater-vest wearing, macciato drinking, fixie-bike riding designer and making a cross browser compliant, responsive and even working in IE.

These guys may not be the fastest, or the bloggiest, or the githubbiest, they may not even really get on that well with agile estimation, sprinting or ‘stakeholders’, but they’re rock solid and dependable.

Everyone has a place, even if they’re wearing a christmas sweater in June, they’re part of your team. Find a place for them, or, better yet, let them find their own place and do what they do best, even if it doesn’t align with your idea, or the internets’ idea, of what a perfect team is.

They tune the guitars and your rockstars play ’em. That’s what a real team is.

Some of us inherit teams. We don’t have the luxury of hand picking the people we want to have. Maybe there just isn’t enough in the budget to fill your team with rockstars. Software gets written outside of Silicon Valley too!

This, for me, is the real notion of building a team. Not chucking money at a bunch of rockstars, but taking what you have, or building on a small budget and creating a live band – you need rockstars AND roadies if you want to wow your audience.

Working from home ‘more productive’ – The BBC

Working from home is beautiful.

A had a text from a friend tonight, “They’re talking about you on the BBC!”, I was momentarily excited until I got the link to the audio from the Radio4 Today programme this morning, talking about working from home, it’s here http://news.bbc.co.uk/.

Apparently, 250 members of staff from a firm in China who worked from home were 12% more productive than the other 250 who worked from the office. The programme cites they study called Does Working From Home Work? A Chinese Experiment (Bloom et al, 2012). While the today programmed states a 12% increase, the study says there was a 13% increase; 9.5% for more minutes per shift and 3.5% as an increase in the volume of calls made due to a quieter working environment. However, one the nine month trial was over, the company rolled out WFH to the entire company, not everyone took the opportunity, some chose to come to work, about half those who were in the randomly selected working from home group and two thirds of the control group, those who worked from the office, chose to stay in the office. Interestingly, productivity went up more and Bloom et al state that, working from home as a modern working practise, along with the employee having a choice in how they work (which harks of Dan Pinks Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose piece), as a combination are very beneficial to overall productivity.

The experiment wasn’t ROWE though, the was a heavy focus on the amount of hours worked. In order to get some good measurements, they required those WFH to work specific times (9-5) as well as those in the office. As it was a call centre, measuring was fairly straight forward; they measure number of calls, notifications sent, corrections etc. The team leaders still dictated when the employee had to be in work as the experiment was only for four out of five days, with the team leader deciding on the day the worker had to come into the office. So, pretty far removed from ROWE, but still some good data on what it means to work from home.

ROWE in this context would be fairly simple to implement given the straightforward way they gathered and reported on the metrics.

However, the bottom line is – working from home is more productive … for the right kind of people (low performers generally chose to work in the office), but how much the culture of the Chinese and their existing working practises affected this outcome is pause for thought too. Working from home requires discipline, so this is where a focus on the results and how they can be measured is the most important thing about ROWE. If you know what you need to do and you’re going to be measured, it’s much easier for you to do the thing, knowing that that’s all that counts.

What is best practise?

 

Pheobe practices
Practise, just that.

Wikipedia sez:

best practice is a method or technique that has consistently shown results superior to those achieved with other means, and that is used as a benchmark. In addition, a “best” practice can evolve to become better as improvements are discovered. Best practice is considered by some as a business buzzword, used to describe the process of developing and following a standard way of doing things that multiple organizations can use.

This is my problem with ‘best practise’ – why is it called that? If it’s the ‘best’ way of doing things, why isn’t it just ‘practise’? Why do we have ‘good’ practise and ‘best’ practise? Would you use ‘good’ practise? Probably not, especially if there’s a better way of doing it, which is ‘best’ practise. So, if you’re only ever going to do ‘best’ practise, then it becomes ‘practise’, right? Then, if it’s just ‘practise’ then you wouldn’t refer to it that way, would you?

“How do you do stuff?”
“Oh, you know, with practise.”

I guess you can have ‘bad practise’, but then, that implies the opposite is ‘good practise’, which we just agreed you can’t have, didn’t we? Moreover, ‘developing and following a standard way of doing things that multiple organizations can use’  is silly, why would you do things the way other companies do things? This would just squash any chance of innovation; ‘That’s not best practise! Other companies aren’t doing that!’ dumb, dumb, dumb.

Let’s stop worrying about ‘best practise’ and just get on and make the way we do things better through regular reflection.

A change of direction

Congratulations cake
This is not my cake - image by notanyron

My loyal readers. I’m very, very sorry. I’ve totally neglected you of late (it’s been a month since my last post). A lot has happened in this time. Not including Christmas and New Year, some things have changed which have taken up large chunks of my time: I’m no longer an agile coach, I’ve been promoted to a Head of Development.

This is a great move for me, I’m doing much the same role, but I have bigger teeth and can affect greater positive change for the people in my teams. I already have good relationships with the people in my department and I spent my days coaching and teaching and nudging the guys into improving one way or another. Now, however, I have the ability to do it officially and sanction their individual and team growth in ways I couldn’t before (mostly because I don’t have to ask before I spend money… ;))

I want them to tell me how this department should function and I’ll make it happen. Already we’re pushing each other to create and achieve short-term goals for improvement and, while the rest of the company is having an appraisal and Personal Development Plan rolled upon them, I’m letting my team decide how they would like to be appraised themselves.

It’s an exciting time and I’m hoping that, with the department in charge of it’s own destiny, we can create some exceptional software, improve and grow quickly as both teams and individuals and, above all, delight our clients.

What does this mean for the blog? Nothing much, I still intend to blog about agile and frameworks, but you’ll probably see more management stuff, training, goals that kind of thing as it becomes more a part of my role. We’re also looking for a scrum master to head up a couple of the teams, so, if you’re looking for a permanent position as a new scrum master, then let me know. I’m looking for someone with a little experience, but who needs more and wants to learn.