Radical Uncertainty: A Time to Let Go?

Happy New Year! In a genuine way I do hope that this year brings a fair measure of joy, pleasure and happiness.

Whilst I do not personally create a list of commitments or goals; I do take time for some quiet reflection by way of ‘taking stock’ of the key events of the previous 12-months. I recall both from memory and my learning journal, what I enjoyed; what surprised me and indeed where my ‘learning edge’ is for the next year.

One thing that has struck me from Theory U has been this subtle idea of ‘letting go’ so that we can be fully ‘open’ or aware to the future that is emerging. This speaks to me of more than self-awareness or what we call emotional intelligence. Whilst the latter seems to be a prerequisite there is also something more?

But what (exactly) do we need to let go off?

What are you holding on to that is distracting you from being more fully aware of what is emerging as a fresh unknown future?

These are worthwhile questions.

Over the last year I’ve been involved in a number of coaching sessions and I’ve been involved in some peer-coaching too. These are some of the themes that clients have shared by way of letting go. I wonder if you can see any that resonate with you?

  • Old beliefs or ideas that no longer work for you
  • Saying ‘goodbye’ as you work through the careful process of grieving and loss
  • Professional disappointments (e.g. not getting the promotion you hoped for)
  • Hurts when people have let you down
  • Friends gossiping behind your back- that came to light
  • An injustice
  • Betrayal
  • Significant sickness or illness
  • Feeling ‘uprooted’ by an organisational restructure
  • Losing your confidence for a season
  • Watching those that you care about experiencing any of the above

I hope that you can find the time to ‘let go’ so that for you 2017 holds the radical possibility of being fully open what is emerging and by so doing you can be fully available to play your part in that exciting prospect.

Take care, Jason

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Working Authentically: How Conceptual Constellations Are Helping ‘Team IT’

A few months ago I attended a first-class training course with Ed Rowland and Sarah Rozenthuler on ‘Conceptual Constellations’. You can check it out for yourself on their website here: The Whole Partnership

Fast forward to this week.. as we tested the methodology with a specific team within an IT Directorate with over 130 staff. With this team we prototyped the viability of the methodology, as we explored two important and powerful questions:

  1. What is the purpose of this team within the IT directorate?
  2. What is the purpose of Team IT within the wider organisation?

To these ends, we used a combination of techniques and approaches that I had learnt from the training including: floor mapping; dialogical techniques; team constellations; as well as team self-organising so as to capture their sense of desired direction/ movement for their desried future.

We also mapped potential blockers or impediments to the desired movements. Next we then identified the team resources that they could call-on to help them to ‘unblock’ thes blockers.

This is a (simplified) example of what I am attempting to describe as a conceptual constellation.

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Whilst the exact outcomes are confidential to the team, there were three insights that resonated with the team members that lend themselves to sharing by way of dissemination:

‘Authenticity is a powerful way of unlocking collective intelligence’

‘I have a genuine sense of where we want to go (as a team) that has moved through me both emotionally and in so many other ways’

‘Seeing us standing here together sharing what is important and why has been important…we don’t do enough of this’

I’ll address these three important insights in turn.

‘Authenticity is a powerful way of unlocking collective intelligence’

Authenticity is a sense of being one’s genuine self. Carl Rogers had a lovely description that I think captures it well. He talks about the human that is fully functioning. This involved movement “away from facades, from oughts, from meeting expectations, from pleasing others, and towards self-direction, openness to experience, acceptance of others and trusting oneself” (Joseph, 2016; see p. 34).

Abraham Maslow puts this sense of authenticity in a similar way and says that such people tend to be “realistic in their perceptions, accepting of themselves and other people, guided by inner goals and values, able to form deep relationships, not needing to seek other people’s approval, and well-adjusted to their culture but not immersed in it unthinkingly” (op cite).

We witnessed this within the workshop as team members shared their own sense of the purpose of their team. Next they shared their experiences/ stories that their team members could sense as authentic (in an embodied way). This early activity helped to      co-create the right team environment for the workshop session; or what in the literature is referred to as a ‘safe container’.

‘I have a genuine sense of where we want to go (as a team) that has moved through me both emotionally and in so many other ways’

Towards the end of the workshop session the team used what they had learned and experienced as they self-organised and constellated around their desired future. They mapped where they collectively desired to move; and then identified any blockers to that movement. During a previous activity (that morning) the team had identified their resources that is to say their collective strengths, skills, competencies and experiences that they could draw or call-on.

It is fair to say that there is something powerful about conceptual constellations with these ends, or aims, in mind. There is an ‘unlocking’ of collective sense-making; energy (physical as well as within the team field too); and team collaboration that is moving in so many different senses of that word.

It is fair to say that the team have been moved. They have a sense of collective moving that was unknown before we started. We did not pre-plan or design this in a priori. In other words, this collective energy and movement emerged through the constellation. It was awesome to witness.

‘Seeing us standing here together sharing what is important and why has been important…we don’t do enough of this’

Teams do have a variety of meetings or ‘coming together’. Each meeting has a different objective and style and this is appropriate. However, what really struck this team was the powerful, engaging, collaborative, energizing and experimental power of constellations when we are exploring powerful or profound questions.

When I say powerful questions I have in mind deep, profound or difficult questions like the ‘why’ type of questions. Of course, ‘What is the purpose?’ is an excellent example of this type of question.

Such questions often mean that we have to move the unit of analysis ‘away’ from the individual or even the team. As Ed remidned me recently “It is like we need to google map or zoom out to see something bigger: the whole as well as the parts”. So powerful questions are most often ‘Big Picture’ questions or systemic in nature. This means that the answers are complex. Within this IT team it is authentic to report that they found that conceptual constellations were an excellent approach.

Have a life affirming festive period.

Take care, Jason

 

 

 

 

Appreciating the value of SAFe

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Over the last few days I have been taking the time to carefully reflect on the reasons why I really appreciate the SAFe framework. I’ve put the link in here for you SAfe 4 and there are a number of case-studies detailed in here SAFe case studies

I will neatly ‘side-step’ the positivist hierarchy of evidence question for the time-being as I think that might muddy the proverbial waters in terms of my appreciating what it offers, for me, and perhaps for you. Stated simply, case-studies offer three things for the interested professional:

  1. Credibility. Many Senior Executives find it helpful.
  2. Insights and Learning: The Case-Studies and CoP help foster respectful collaboration
  3. Evidence. Many large public and private organisations want underpinning evidence for the ‘case for change’ or an associated business case for validation.

But this does not really capture what I have in mind and this is the consultancy cycle approach to incremental change. It is fair to say that I’ve been using this model for over 16-years now. Stated simply, it starts with a problem that needs to be solved. It also sets aside any notion of a prescribed methodology, or indeed methodologies, and instead actively seeks out the established ‘evidence-base’ for what has effectively worked in similar situations/contexts or what we might call case-studies?

To make my point a little more ‘real’ let me provide three hypothetical scenarios and the ways by which the SAFe framework would, perhaps, offer something of value, insight and help.

Remember, of course, that one of the foundations of the agile movement is all around incremental change. That is to say, that we are looking to make small, testable improvements from the current state to the desired future state. We collect data/evidence as we test our hypothesis to this end.

Also, remember that SAFe is a framework and therefore you can select the parts that you wish to test as hypothesis to help you gain more agility.

Scenario One:

The organisation wants to empower its teams to use the most appropriate methodology and associated tools so that they can take seriously the ideas of the self-empowered or organising team.

One of the strengths of SAFe is the operational ease by which each team can adopt, test and refine its own lean-based methods such as Scrum, Kanban, ScrumBan or any refinement that the team makes as part of its own individual agility maturity. We don’t need, anticipate or expect that innovation is quashed by ‘corporate policy’ or the illusion that if every team used the same tools then life would be simpler! SAFe is ace in this regard!

Scenario Two:

There is significant technical debt because projects are being stopped and started. The dependencies are out of synchronisation, and even completed projects are left on the shelf completed without any genuine business value being realised.

Thankfully SAFe has lots to offer in the ‘strategic portfolio operational’ space. At the Enterprise there are key strategic themes. In turn at the Portfolio there is a ‘work-in-progress’ limit to the number of projects that are in the Portfolio strategic pipeline. Thus, the value stream per theme is clear; with enabler projects and Epics being clearly worked up and approved in a ‘light: tight’ governance role. This simply means that the business value of working software is known prior to it being started. SAFe also has a very realistic portfolio budgeting method that lends itself to ‘light: tight’ financial planning. This model is very similar to that advocated the National Audit Office for financial budgets that have a range of variables and costs with the assumptions (and sensitivity analysis) explicit.

Notice though, that if any project has emergent problems and has to stop whilst those problems are solved, that the WiP ensures that there is a worked-up (i.e. ready to go) project for that team. Thus, there are no idle, redundant or sunk costs due to poor sequencing or Portfolio synchronisation. SAFe is first-class in this area!

Scenario Three:

In a word the next problem is all around system improvements. Consider a context with SOA architecture and three projects needing to ‘call’ various SOA services before the transition to a fully production/live services.

In this regard SAFe has lots to offer! Consider the cadence or rhythm of the software (fully tested and system Demo to all stakeholders including the business Users). The neat release train ensures that all the teams know when to have their Epics completed to ‘hit the next train’. This makes System Assurance testing co-ordination that much simpler too. In effect the Business Users have shippable working software more frequently and better tested across the Enterprise.

SAFe also has a very sensible 10 or 12-weeks planning session for all the teams, or silos, within IT or ‘brand IT’. In this way it ensures that the front-line staff across the whole of IT all have co-created a plan that they are all equally aligned with and committed to. (I’ve blogged previously about systemic alignment).

For me, this is very powerful. It shifts the thinking from silo or ‘part’ to the ‘us’ or the ‘whole’ IT family or system. I love this for the collaborative hope that it offers. And given the significant number of businesses across a range of Industries that have, and are, successfully using SAFe this is encouraging to me.

Summary

I hope that I’ve demonstrated the rationale for why I can appreciate the SAFe framework when we are seeking to improve our agile maturity? I hope that whilst you may prefer a different scaled framework, or none at all, given your specific/particular circumstances or contextual factors, that for others SAFe is both a fab place to start that journey, or indeed help the maturity?

Take care, Jason

 

Jason is a Certified Scrum Professional; as well as a Business Psychologist and Agile Project Manager. 

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Agile Testing: The Test Flight.

There is something really #Agile about the ways by which this successful and very extreme testing resonates with me as a Scrum Master and Certified Scrum Professional.

This film is worth watching as you can see and hear the ways by which Boeing test pilots have subjected the new 747-8 Freighter to extreme testing.

Watch and you can see, hear and experience the ways that the plane has been dragged, dropped, soaked, forced to hover, shudder and flutter. This testing has costs millions of pounds. The testing takes the plane to the most extreme limits of what is to be expected when in the real world, or in software terms, the ‘live environment’.

Interestingly, there are a number of  what in software development we call ‘negative Use Cases’ such as deliberate stalls and flutter tests. The testing from what in Agile we call beta testing. Way before live!

 

It might be worthwhile where I am ‘coming from’. I work in the civil service and we have this fab team at the GDS that undertake the research and shape policy so that we can be the most effective in delivery. To this end, we are all Agile teams most of us use Scrum, Kanban or Scrumban.

Government Digital Service: UK Policy

Beta Outputs

Notice the similarity with the testing of the plane and the UK Government policy around what constitutes the end of the beta phase:

  • delivered an end-to-end prototype of the service (including SIT, stress and performance testing)
  • a collection of prioritised work to be done (your Product backlog)
  • a user testing plan (UAT)
  • accurate metrics and measurements to monitor your KPIs (given the above for performance, stress and integration)
  • fully tested the assisted digital support for your service
  • a working system that can be used, for real, by end users

Because it is an #Agile design notice that component testing, performance, load, stress and continuous integration run all the way through the software product lifecycle. We would also ensure a full regression test at the end of the cycle.

This is because we want to identify and fix any bug as part of continuous agile improvements and not wait until the end of all the software development has been finished and have a large ‘testing phase’ at the end delaying delivery and be reliant upon a small team rather than having those skills (and availability of automated technologies) in each and every Scrum team.

Once you have this concept, then notice the shift as we Go Live:

Going live

To provide a fully resilient service to all end users the service should now meet all security and performance standards. You have configured your analytics to accurately monitor the key performance indicators identified in the building of your service.

I write this in the hope of looking forward we can get a deeper sense and appreciation of the fantastic ways by which Agile (when understood and implemented properly) ensures the highest quality. It also ensures the most effective use of resources and flexible responses to feedback from customers- this ensuring that time, quality and costs (the ‘holy trinity’) are maximised.

Take care Jason

 

 

Dynamic Leadership: Thinking and Acting Dialectically.

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Dynamic Leadership: Thinking and Acting Dialectically.

If you read any serious review of strategy or public sector reforms in one guise, or another, you will find the leadership theme writ large. “More leadership is needed” or words to that effect. In terms of my own professional practice I moved away from more ‘fixed’ conceptions of leadership based, for example, on traits or a personality type many years ago.

That is not to say that they don’t have a part to play. Just not in the style of coaching and development that I specialise in. My niche tends to be for those in current leadership positions or roles and are leaders de facto. Therefore, my needs are different. Quite distinct. Unique? Well… not quite that far! But each of them is without a doubt a unique individual.

One model I have found that adds value is one that I developed around 7-years ago whilst completing some first-person inquiry work. I thought I might share it and you can see if it catches your imagination, interest or even curiosity?

Rather than seeing key concepts as ‘fixed’ it creates a context that is much more dynamic or fluid. It is grounded by leader-member exchange theory (LMX) and then fused or integrated with dialectical theory or dynamics.

For those of you that have not heard of this before consider a form of magnetic power like the one in the picture.

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You might remember at school a simple experiment that used magnetic ‘power’ to drive a small object such as a toy car, for example? If not, then imagine one now.

Dialectical power is stating things as plainly as possible… the real energy from the two opposing forces: like the two poles of a magnet, North and South or positive and negative. You’ll soon notice that lots of practical things have two opposites: good and bad; eternity and mortality; the sacred and the profane; inside and out; back and front; etc.

In terms of developing leadership awareness or ‘talent’, skills and responsiveness to a given context my clients have found the following model adds value. For our model imagine two sets of poles or opposites:-

  • Vision/Far Away versus Present/ The-Here-and-Now
  • Individual/Team Needs versus Task/Delivery/Execution

Most of the leadership empirical evidence tends to support the view that leaders will have strengths or preferences for one of the two poles. For example, a Visionary leader may have a compelling strategy. And they might also prefer to meet the individual and team’s emotional, psychological and training needs. However, as you can see their ‘blind spot’ is that they are not strong on focussing on the here and now and the absolute need to deliver a product and/or service to their customers or service users. This analytical framework can be found in many organisations, as well as many a discussion in the staff canteen when front-line staff are ‘getting it in the neck’ from disgruntled customers due to delivery delays!

My clients report that they have found that the practical added value of this model lies in the ability to empower them in these five key realities:-

  1. More flexibly in harnessing organisational energy (a great part of the model is making energy explicit. I’ll blog soon on various organisational energy flows especially around innovation).
  2. Responding to emergent business/customer intelligence in more responsive and effective ways
  3. Team members connecting their work-load to the broader Vision and thereby enhancing meaning; job satisfaction and retention rates
  4. Improved delivery of key products/services to customers
  5. Improved cognitive and emotional capacity through reflective professional practice

I hope this model might help you to see yourself in a dynamic, fluid and changing leadership context and that you can respond in more grounded and reflective ways.

Take care Jason

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Jason is a Business Psychologist as well as a qualified Project Manager professional.

Business Strategy as Narrative: Why Are Stories So Powerful?

Organisational Strategy. One of the most set of two powerful words known to man; well at least in the modern business lexicon. According to Amazon there are over 7,000 books under the general search for ‘business management strategy’.

Typically, a popular book in hard-back can sell for between £ 20.00 and £ 40.00. Some of the classic texts are still selling thousands of copies per annum and some are in the realms of the 5th edition this year like Mintzberg’s classic. To be fair it still remains a tour de force.

What about strategic thinking as an educational need? Take a look at the fees from Harvard in 2016:

Class of 2016
Tuition $58,875
Health Fees $3,358
Program Fees $7,360
Room/Utilities $11,544
Board/Etc $13,963
Total $95,100

As you would anticipate the Harvard web-space has some excellent and very persuasive data demonstrating the various career routes that their students take; as well as the typical salary rates over the next 5-years. You won’t be too surprised that the most popular route is ‘consultancy’ with some 23% taking that route, and with a starting salary of $ 135,000.

I think you’d agree that this makes for a powerful narrative or story. Their ‘offer’ is that you ‘invest’ some $95k in your own self-development.. and then when you leave in your consultancy role you are earning $135k. Happy days!

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This new book is one that I can’t wait to buy. Ask my wife and she will tell you that my office at home is over-flowing with such books. But this one…this one is different. Isn’t it? Surely? The truth is that it does strikes me as interesting read.. as it looks to analyse the ways by which a powerful narrative, or story, is made all the more compelling with the right numbers (or what we might call data).

This is not the only role for a decent strategy of course. But a good strategy should take you on a journey from where we are as a business, or as an organisation, to the ‘End Game’- where we want to be. Of course, the End Game is a powerful and compelling Vision that has been shaped, debated, argued-over and developed. If you are a public sector organisation then one would anticipate that participatory methods have been expertly used to co-create the End Game.

A good strategy uses a range of powerful images and ideas such as:-

  • icons that give rise to meaning in the readership
  • graphics that take complexity and then simplify things- for easy movement in and between the strategic stages/sections
  • maps that ground the narrative
  • case studies that demonstrate the ways by which innovation from external strategic scanning re(search) will be adopted
  • data, data, and data
  • personal stories from different segments of your customer base (or service clients) that help convince other users that your strategy meets their needs, expectations and hopes and also that it addresses some of the their genuine fears

One of the reasons stories are so powerful is beautifully expressed in this excellent read by Geoff Mead. It is not pushing it too far to say that this book has changed my life in many positive, and unexpected ways! It is a ‘must read’ to be honest. You can find some of the work that he does here at

http://www.narrativeleadership.org

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I have a four-year old son. He absolutely loves stories. Part of the ‘deal’ is that if he             co-operates with me brushing his teeth…then…we have more time for stories. Currently each evening the ‘deal’ is that we have 2 read stories (that he borrows from our local Caerphilly library), and then 1 more story that we have to co-create. Fab fun!

So stories are deeply powerful, cultural ways to share meaning. They stimulate or evoke emotions. They engage and persuade us when they are working.. and they move us in various ways. To live out our values in the world, I guess?

Strategy really ought to do just the same!

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Organisational Transformation: New Talent Might Be Essential!

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One of the most accepted leadership paradigms is that of the transformational leader. Work/Occupational Psychologists have been promoting this model for those organisations that have transformational programmes or strategies to implement. Thus, Work Psychologists have been helping such organisational to identify, recruit, and further develop the right individuals that fit this model and the strategic need. To be fair to the leadership field this is a plethora of robust empirical evidence supporting this model.

 

Over the last 35-years I have worked in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. Over the last 15-years I have also been a Coach to Senior Directors/Leaders within those sectors too. Over this time I have questioned whether it is better to bring-in new top talent or external strategic Consultants to develop the existing leadership team (or more likely a ‘blend’ of all three approaches). I have often wondered when a top team is struggling to make proper in-roads whether Senior Directors can become too familiar with their organisations. Can you get over familiar with the culture and does this prevent the necessary challenge and energy to implement change?

 

I guess stated simply my question can be framed as: Can over-familiarity prevent the next stage of the transformational journey?

 

With these questions in mind I was delighted to come across a neat research paper developed by Russell Guay (2013). It is entitled “The relationship between leader fit and transformational leadership” and you can locate it in the Journal of Managerial Psychology. Vol.28(1), 2013, pp. 55-73.

 

Guay (2013) draws on the transformational literature and develops a model that explores 3 types of fit between the leader and the organisation:

 

  1. Person-Organisational fit: the extent to which their own values fit with those of the employing or host organisation
  2. Needs-Supplied fit: the extent to which the job meets the leaders own need
  3. Demand-Abilities fit: the extent to which the leader has the knowledge, skills and experience to meet the demands of the job at hand

 

For those of you with a research bent- he uses structural equation modelling to statistically demonstrate the best fit of the data-set/ results. Now in my view…here’s comes the fun part! The insights and application!

 

 

Guay (2013) reports a negative relationship (-0.17) between 1 and the outcome measure of transformational leadership. He also reports that as he hypothesized there was a positive relationship between 2 & 3 (0.14 & 0.24 respectively). Lastly, he also reports a negative relationship between tenure in the organisation and transformational leadership behaviours.

 

So what might this mean in practice?

 

Evidently, we are ‘bang on the money’ when it comes to our well established transformational leadership model. When any job supplies our personal needs for development, challenge and growth (2), and we have the pre-requisite skills, knowledge and experience then we can empirically anticipate, in all good faith, the organisational transformation.

 

Then, here comes the caveat. Or at least, here comes my interpretative caveat…over familiarity with the organisation may well prevent the leader from implementing the transformational necessary. So it seems there is an ‘upper limit’ for some Director posts (and one could sensibly argue any post associated with the transformational programme or strategy) to stay in the same organisation. This also helps explain the negative relationship between tenure and a lack of transformational outcomes/behaviours too.

 

Of course, as with all empirical inquiry there is the classic ‘more research is needed’ and this holds true here too. Just how long is the question and, of course, if we take any existing ‘top team’ can we inject some new transformational energy/blood by changing one or two of the Directorship posts and, by so doing, refresh the energy, the focus, and the necessary challenge.

 

These insights also help to explain why external ‘Change Consultants’ earn their buck… because if you want to keep a fairly stable, senior team (for identified stability or even organisational political purposes), then having a ‘fresh but critical’ pair of eyes can have the same effect. However, this latter tactic would seem to hold true… just as long as you employ some ‘fresh transformational blood’ further down the organisational hierarchy to get into implementing the identified transformational programme.