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Want to join Pyxis? Here is a message to the new employees

Welcome

If you did not already notice, Pyxis is a different company. You have surely seen that the number of smiles per hour is much higher than in traditional organizations. There are several reasons contributing to this phenomenon but for now we just want to explain the governance model used so that you understand exactly what is expected of you.

What is governance?

Corporate governance is the set of processes, customs, policies, laws, and institutions affecting the way a corporation or company is directed, administered or controlled. Corporate governance also includes the relationships among the many stakeholders involved and the goals for which the corporation is governed. – Corporate governance – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

What is the management philosophy?

The management philosophy of François relies heavily on the work of Peter Block and more specifically on the audio book “The Right Use of Power: How Stewardship Replaces Leadership“. If you do not know this audiobook, we invite you to invest 3 hours to understand the philosophy. The alternative is that you will have to reconstruct the enigma over the coming weeks, so this is certainly a good investment.

What does it mean to work at Pyxis?

Before going further, it is important that you know the values and mission of Pyxis and our perspective of capitalism in the 21st century. Then comes the most difficult challenge for a new employee, you must rid yourself of your mental model of a traditional business because most of your references will not apply at Pyxis. Want examples?

In a traditional business At Pyxis
The boss tells me what to do. I determine how I can help Pyxis reach its objectives.
I wait for directions. I initiate the right activities.
I have a boss. There is no hierarchy.
I must ask for permission. I make decisions, communicate them and make them visible on our wiki.
The company takes care of me. I take care of myself.
I hope the organization will help me develop my skills. I develop my skills while working on initiatives that will help Pyxis achieve its objectives.
I do not take any risk. I learn from my mistakes.
I wait for my boss to solve my issues. I solve the problems.
I look for the leaders. I am a leader.
I wait for someone to assess my performance. I initiate the 360-degrees feedback evaluation.
I can’t wait for retirement. Week-ends are too long and I can’t wait to go back to work on Monday

OK, let’s not exagerate!

What are the teams at Pyxis?

Pyxis works in “communities“.

What do I do now?

If you have more questions than answers after reading this page, it’s normal. Most people need time to assimilate new concepts and our mode of operation. If you have questions, ask them to the people around you or help others by adding them to our wiki.

Agile Leadership (Agile Management) – part II

Picture provided by kansasphotoLike most modern Homo sapiens, when you hear Agile Leadership or Agile Management, you think of:

  • [if you are outside the business world] A business-person who can use a combination of balance, coordination, speed, reflexes, strength, endurance and stamina to achieve his objectives;
  • [if you are inside the business world but outside the information technology field] A person who has the capability of rapidly and cost efficiently adapting to changes in an attempt to deliver on his objectives;
  • [if you are inside the information technology field] A person who manages a software development team who uses methodologies based on iterative development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing cross-functional teams with the objective of delivering value.

I apologize if you are outside the business world because this is not the perspective I wish to cover. For people in the other two categories, you are partially right.

I attempted to define Agile management and see how I could apply Agile principles to management a while ago and since then, I have been able to piece the puzzle together. Agile Leadership requires less technical knowledge than its cousin but it heavily relies on the same principles.

A high level view of the model

Agile Leadership Model (Summary)

If you have been reading my blog for a while (thank you!) and even if you haven’t, you will realize that I have been covering various parts of this model already:

People: The people dimension covers all aspects of competencies, motivation, culture, collaboration and communications that enable the organization to achieve its business objectives. While every effort is directly or indirectly related to people, this perspective focuses primarily on the ability of individuals to contribute to the achievement of objectives.
[related tags: 360-degree feedbackcoachingcollaborationcommunitydecision makingfeedbackleadershipmanagementorganizational structurepeople management,servant leadership]

Processes: The process dimension aims to define the working methods and approaches to be followed in carrying out tasks in line with the overall objective of delivering business value.
[related tags: agileagile managementscrum]

Tools: The technology dimension covers the various tools and technologies that support the organization in achieving its business objectives.
[related tags: none, I haven't covered this dimension]

Value: The value dimension covers the business capacity to effectively deliver value within the appropriate time. The delivery of value is the fundamental purpose of the organization.
[related tags: ROI]

As you can see, I have mostly covered the People dimension of the model while I have purposely left the Tools section un-covered. The reason for this is that there are already thousands of web sites on the topic of Agile and technology.

In an upcoming series of blog posts, I will present a more detailed perspective of what Agile Leadership truly means based on our experience. Stay tuned…

Interesting blog posts (January 22, 2010)

On the importance of creating the right organizational culture (Thanks to Andrew)

By the time we got to 100 people, even though we hired people with the right skill sets and experiences, I just dreaded getting out of bed in the morning and was hitting that snooze button over and over again Corner Office – Tony Hsieh of Zappos – Celebrate Individuality – Question – NYTimes.com.

On why an Agile approach is better suited to deliver value (Thanks to Alfonso)

Most organizations that depend on software are struggling to transform their lifecycle model from a “development” focus to a “delivery” focus. This subtle distinction in wording represents a dramatic change in the principles that are driving the management philosophy and the governance models – Improving Software Economics

On the meaning of Agile transformation for managers

What many people mistakenly do is equate agile project management with doing more work, with less documentation and fewer people. Although the premise is to get more done in a more favorable way, I have never met a team that could successfully implement agile principles without having to slow down first – VersionOne – Agile Adoption For Managers.

On the fact that the true value of an organization is not mapped via its organizational chart

But it’s not the fact that you have many more boxes and lines that I’m most envious of.  It’s your “white space” I want – Oh, Yeah? Well, My Org Chart is Bigger and More Beautiful Than Yours!

On the need to manage self-organized teams when required

The interesting thing is, the further we go into agile management territory the less typical the managerial job we expect. Teams are self-organizing and cross-functional, and sometimes we think a manager should just get out of the way. By the way, surprisingly often this is exactly the best choice. But whenever one of the asshole-moments is needed, it is time to show up and do what has to be done. Otherwise the atmosphere starts rotting as people wait for someone who will fix things. Someone who will do something about this guy adding a new technology every time he reads some nice article. Someone who will deal with that lass taking a few days off because she doesn’t really care about the project being late and the team working their butts off to get back on the right track. That’s always a job for a manager, and a harsh one, no matter how self-organized the team is – Good Managers Sometimes Have to Play Assholes – NOOP.NL.

What Is Coaching? And Other Relevant Questions

As we offer various services to help organizations transition from a traditional software development approach to a more Agile approach, we are often asked why use coaching? Assuming you are also asked the same question, you may find this short blog post useful to help you properly answer the questions.

What is Coaching?

Coaching is a method of directing, instructing and training a person or group of people, with the aim to achieve some goal or develop specific skills. There are many ways to coach, types of coaching and methods to coaching. Sessions are typically one-on-one either in-person or over the telephone. – via Coaching – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. – via International Coach Federation.

What is Coaching?

What is Coaching?

What is Coaching?

What is a Coachee?

coachee [ˌkəʊtʃˈiː] – n (Business / Industrial Relations & HR Terms) a person who receives training from a coach, esp in business or office practice. – via coachee – definition of coachee by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia.

Why use a Coach?

A coach sees the best in you and for you and will help you develop your skills. A coach will support you in your personal and professional growth – and will help you to live the life you truly want. You will get in touch with your values and your vision and help you discover areas and opportunities you didn’t see before. via Why use a coach? – ICF Nordic.

A coach helps his coachee reach his goals faster and more efficiently than he would by himself. The coach helps his coachee define clear, realistic, and time-bound objectives applicable to his and develops a partnership to you achieve the coachee’s goal.

How does coaching work?

Through frequent conversations between the coach and his coachee, the coach offers an external perspective and:

  1. Helps the coachee honestly assess his current situation;
  2. Supports the coachee in clearly defining his goal and raising the expectations;
  3. Helps the coachee properly assess the gap between the current situation and the targeted goal;
  4. Works with the coachee to define an appropriate plan and take action (not only conversations);
  5. Helps the coachee anticipate and deal with the obstacles by himself;
  6. Provides feedback on the progress achieved, continuously assesses the progress and presents opportunities to adapt the plan;
  7. Questions the coachee’s self-assessment, decisions and actions taken to achieve the goal;
  8. Proposes potential alternatives to push the coachee outside his comfort zone.

Why does coaching work?

Coaching is an empirical process (inspect and adapt). The coaching process helps the coachee envisions himself in the future, making it easier to expect and the achieve the set goals. The coach helps the coachee see opportunities that the individual wouldn’t see by himself and pushes the coachee to set goals his comfort zone. As each goal requires an action plan, the coach forces more frequent and more productive sessions during which the progress is evaluated. Overall, coaching is a partnership process between the coachee and his coach.

Why would someone ask for a coach?

Coaching is not an end in itself, it is a mean to achieve a set goal. When there is a true willingness for change, the coachee doesn’t want the status quo and is receptive to being challenged in order to achieve its goal, asking a coach for help will allow the coachee to carry out their goal faster and more efficiently.

Some prerequisite questions?

Before starting a coaching process, there are a few questions the coachee needs to ask himself:

  • What am I really looking for in my professional life?
  • What really attracts me in my professional life?
  • What do I really want to change?
  • What would really spark my passion?
  • What problems would I like to resolve to become happier or more productive?

Conclusion

As the first of a series of posts on the topic of coaching, it is important to set the stage which is what I intended to do. Over the next weeks, I will add material to this topic and hopefully will start a conversation with you.

You don’t believe workers can self-organize. Think again. Even 8 year-old kids can do it!

The Experiment

Picture made available by daedriusI attempted a small experiment with my kids a few weeks ago – get them to voluntarily help clean the house. If you have children between 7 and 10 year-old, I’m pretty sure having your kids help with cleaning is nothing short of a nerve-wrecking experience. If you don’t have kids, the process typically goes like this:

  • You – “Timmy, can you please pick up the toys in your room.”
  • Timmy – “Why?”
  • You – “Because your room is a mess and I break my face every morning when I come wake you up.”
  • Timmy – “OK, I’ll clean up.”

30 minutes later, you go see Timmy.

  • You, slightly annoyed – “Timmy, what are you doing?”
  • Timmy, looking up – “I’m building a castle, daddy. You want to play with me?”
  • You – “Yes, I’d like to play with you as soon as I’m done cleaning up. Why didn’t you pick up your toys like I asked you too?”
  • Timmy – “OK, I’ll clean up”

30 minutes later, you go see Timmy

  • … (you can guess the rest)

So, back to my experiment. A few weeks ago, while my wife was grocery shopping I decided to use an adapted version of Scrum. I called my son and his twin sister and told them we would do a little activity. To their enjoyment, they were wondering what I had in mind. They sat next to me at the table while I the took 4 x 6 index cards and on each of them, I wrote a task: pick up the toys, put your clothes in your drawers, empty the garbage cans, bring the recycling to the garage, put the Tupperware away in the drawer, vacuum the floor, etc.

  • My son – “Daddy, why are you writing these down?”
  • Me – “We’ll play a little game.”
  • My daughter – “Can I play too?”
  • Me – “Of course. Here’s how it goes. I wrote 8 cards and each card has a little task. I need you to help me clean up the house while mommy is doing grocery.”
  • The twins – “OK, what do we do with the cards?”
  • Me – “You will each select the cards (the tasks) you would like to do. You then decide in which order you want to do them.”
  • My daughter – “Daddy, some tasks are longer than others. What do we do about that?”.
  • Me – “It’s up to you to decide.”
  • The twins – “It doesn’t matter. We’ll decide which ones we pick.”
  • My son – “Do we get a reward for doing the work?”
  • Me – “Mmmm, good question. I know you like to read. How about I give you tokens for each task? Once you get 50 tokens, I’ll buy the book you asked me.”
  • My son – “OK.”
  • My daughter – “Can I buy a beeds set instead of a book?”
  • Me – “Sure.”
  • The twins – “Can you write how many tokens each task gives on the cards?”
  • Me – “Good thinking! Picking up the toys is 3 tokens, bringing the recycling to the garage is 1 token, …”
  • The kids – “OK, but who picks first?”
  • My son – “Let’s do rock – paper – scissor.”
  • My daughter – “Yes, let’s do rock – paper – scissor.”
  • The twins – “ROCK, PAPER, SCISSOR…”

After determining who would start, they quickly picked the cards and started doing the assigned task. At their own pace, they executed on the cards. Then, something cool happened.

  • My son – “Daddy, can we add a card? We need to water the plants.”
  • Me, laughing – “Of course. Who’s going to take this one?”
  • The twins – “Me, me, me!”
  • Me – “I guess we’ll have to write another card so you are even.”
  • My daughter – “Can I dust the bureau? I saw mommy do it the other day and I’d like to do that.”
  • Me, with a big smile – “OK, if you’d like to do that. I’m OK with this.”

Together, they successfully completed all their tasks. All of their tasks! No fighting, no screaming. That was a “proud moment” :) Imagine when my wife got back home after the grocery…

With the Xmas Holidays and the broken routine, I was pleased to see my kids grabbing the cards by themselves this past Saturday and starting to execute on the routine. “Wow, this self-organization thing really works! Even with kids…”, I told myself.

The Take-Away

If you want people to carry out a task, here are a few suggestions:

  • Describe the task;
  • Let the team self-organize;
  • If the team needs help, you may suggest tools or a process – but do not impose them;
  • Get out of the way;
  • If possible, make it fun;
  • That’s it.

A Few Quotes from Peter Senge on Communities

In chapter 10 (Shared Vision) of his book The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization, Peter Senge’s touches on the topic of Communities.

Below are some quotes I got from the book. I wrote these down a few months ago.

  • Communities are not held together by what people can get, communities are held together by what people can give;
  • People come together voluntarily;
  • People want to contribute something toward what they care about;
  • Communities have a genuine spirit of shared vision;
  • People are naturally drawn to other people who share the same vision, they start to talk and get together for the sake of the goal of the community;
  • Start talking about the real reason we are getting together, even if we don’t work for the same company.

Within Pyxis, we are pushing the implementation of communities further with positive results. I’ll be sharing more information on our progress in an upcoming post.

Year-End Performance Evaluation

I had dinner with a friend a few days ago and among the various topics of conversation, he was complaining about going through the yearly performance evaluation process – once again. I consider my friend to be a good people manager who cares about his employees and who is well respected by them but the traditional performance evaluation process used in his organization is far from effective.

Performance ReviewYou are most likely familiar with the process yourself. The manager has accumulated comments on your performance throughout the year (the good ones do, the others just make up the feedback on the spot!) and during a 30 to 60 minutes meeting, she will tell you the competencies you need to improve with some feedback on your strengths. The manager may even comment your performance based on the accomplishment of certain goals (the good managers have told you ahead of time what the objectives were while the others like to surprise you).

I already pointed out that traditional performance reviews aren’t effective at providing useful feedback to employees but the conversation with my friend reminded us of feedback that we heard and in some cases received ourselves over the years. Our discussion led us to the assumption that many (most?) managers aren’t really good at providing feedback so they use predefined messages. Needless to say, the feedback is empty of true meaning and rarely say the actual performance. In a humorous fashion, we reminded ourselves of the feedback and translated the message. I’m sharing with you some of the translations.

So here we go. Below is a translation of the terms used during a typical performance evaluation and the real meaning behind the vocabulary used.

  • “You are one of the pillars of our team” = You are offering a decent performance but since you have been with us for a while and you don’t seem to have plans to leave, we don’t need to give you a big salary increase;
  • “I’ve asked many people and they all tell me…” = I actually haven’t spent any time on this performance review thing but I figure if I tell you that I asked many people you will easily accept my feedback;
  • “We really like your attitude” = It’s great having you on the team because you take the crappy work that nobody else wants to do;
  • “You need to invest more time at the office so you can move ahead in your career” = My boss has pointed out to me that my employees seem to leave early and that is starting to impact how people perceive me at the office;
  • “You should build a stronger network within the organization. You can’t expect to move up if you are not well connected to many people” = I wished you knew more people in other departments so you could give me detailed information on how things are going in other departments;
  • “You deserve a promotion” = I can’t fire you because it wouldn’t make me look good and I really don’t want you on my team anymore. Once I promote you, other departments will pay attention to you and most likely will want to get you into their department;
  • “You need to change your attitude, your teammates don’t enjoy working with you” = You always contradict me and ask difficult questions, couldn’t you simply agree to my requests like everyone else;
  • “Everyone on the team likes your positive attitude” = I really don’t have anything useful to tell you so I will try to make you feel good;
  • “This year has been very difficult for the company and the increases aren’t good – even for me” = I have a limited pool of money to distribute and I don’t want to create inequities so I am distributing evenly among everyone on the team;
  • “I know the salary increase isn’t great but I’m working on something for you” = I’m trying to get away without a lengthy discussion for now and hope that by next time, you forget about my promise;
  • “If it was up to me, you would receive a big increase because of your performance but the company won’t let me” = Thank God I can blame someone else for my in abilities to prove a big increase for you.

Have you heard empty feedback? Would you like to share the translated messages with others?

On my way to coaching certification

On my way to professional coach certification

On my way to professional coach certification

After contemplating the idea for almost 2 years and acting as a coach for the last year, I have finally decided to sign up for a formal coach training leading to the ICF certification.

Once the decision was made, choosing the trainer was the next challenge. After googling and comparing, I asked a few people around for some references. It turns out, 2 Accredited Coach Training Programs kept coming up: Coaching de gestion and Mozaik Quebec.

Both programs lead to the same certification and both are well-recognized programs. After spending some time on the phone with representatives from each training organization and asking quite a few questions, I came to the conclusion that both training centers seemed very good. In the end, I selected Coaching de gestion for the following reasons:

  • The program relies less on formal classes and more on self-training. Instead of 27 days of training and classes, the program I selected provides 18 days of training and classes but compensates with over 2,500 pages of reading material. Based on my schedule and personal life, the latter program is better suited to my learning style.
  • The certification program is spread over 12 calendar months (instead of 9 months for Mozaik) which will allow me more time to try and practice my new learning in between training sessions.
  • Since there are less formal classes, the total cost of the training is about 30% less which is nothing to scuff.

The program starts on January 29th. I will share my thoughts and learning along the way.

Books I have read – December 2009

Another monthly update on the books I read during the past month. For a complete a list, you can visit my virtual bookshelf.

Systemic Thinking

I read Senge’s The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization a few times so I was looking forward to his new collaborative book.

The Necessary Revolution: How individuals and organizations are working together to create a sustainable world

My Rating

A few words on the book: This time, Senge and his collaborators propose a systemic approach to help solve the environmental and social challenges we are currently facing (Energy & Transportation, Food & Water, and Material Waste & Toxicity). He provides real life examples of people and organizations who have successfully implemented sustainable solutions by: following a systemic approach, collaborating, and inspecting & adapting their production methods.  Although at times the picture seems very bleak, seeing true solutions to some of the most complex problems our planet is facing was encouraging. Overall, a good book to read.

Servant Leadership

In the past year, I have heard references to servant leadership hundreds of time. Since I like to learn about various leadership styles and after a colleague suggested this training course, I jumped in. For more details on this training course, you may want to read my summary.

The Servant Leadership Training Course: Achieving Success Through Character, Bravery, and Influence

My Rating:

A few words on the book: A word of advice, although the beginning of this training course (audiobook) sounds like preaching by an experienced motivational speaker, the references and analogies used throughout the course are useful and eye-opening. Our organization strongly relies on servant leadership principles and getting the bigger picture will hopefully help me improve along those lines.

Stewardship

After releasing his audiobook The Right Use of Power, Peter Block wrote this book that provides more explanation around his philosophy of stewardship.

The Answer to How Is Yes: Acting on What Matters

My Rating

A few words on the book: In this book Block details his philosophy about life and work and breaks many of the common assumptions one makes when entering the work force. He offers new paradigms and presents why the old patriarchal type relationship between boss and employees does not work. If like me, the status quo isn’t your perspective, you will like Block’s thinking but beware implementing some of his suggestions is very demanding as society doesn’t (yet) work as Peter suggests.

People keep asking “How?” as a defense against living their life, says best-selling author Peter Block. In this witty, insightful award-winning book, Block shows that many standard solutions and improvement efforts, reinforced by most of the literature, keep people paralyzed. Here he places the “how to” craze in perspective and teaches individuals, workers, and managers ways to act on what they know. This in turn allows them to reclaim their freedom and capacity to create the kind of world they want to live in. Block’s “elements of choice” — the characteristic of a new workplace and a new world based on more positive values — include self-mentoring, investing in relationships, accepting the unpredictability of life, and realizing that the individual prospers only when the community does.

Amazon.com

Does your organization support prostitution?

Does your organization’s compensation model and your personal attitude support prostitution?
[Note: The definition of prostitution is provided at the end of the blog post. In the context of this post, I am referring to the second and less often used definition.]

The Scenario

Do you deliver value or paperwork?

As the head of a large Information Technology department, you walk by Michael’s desk one afternoon and to your surprise, you notice that your system administrator is frantically switching from Google to Chat to a discussion Forum. You recall similar observations a few weeks ago so you quickly wonder if, at $80K per year, you are getting your money’s worth for a system administrotor who always seems to browse the internet. To make matters worst, you don’t even remember when was the last time your company ran into serious systems issues. Do you need Michael on your team? Maybe he is a good candidate for the headcount reduction you have been imposed by Finance.

A few days later, on your way out of the office around 7:15 pm you hear key strokes and notice that Kim is still working. You remember approving Kim’s over time report last month and start to realize that the increase in ERP support calls might be starting to impact Kim’s work-life balance. Remembering your conclusion about Michael, you wonder if you shouldn’t close the system administrator position and add resources to Kim’s team. At $55K per year, you would still be able to cut your budget spending. Pleased with your conclusion, you briskly walk to your car hoping for a nice family dinner.

A New Concept

Here’s a new concept. For people working in most traditional organizations, this will sound like a really weird concept but what if employees decided their own working hours? I’m not talking about the flex time concept where people decide what time they wish to start and end their work day but actually decided how many hours and which hours they worked?

Typically, the traditional work week varies by company and by country. A standard work week in Canada is somewhere between 35 and 40 hours per week. Some would argue they work many more hours per week but that’s not where I want to take this discussion.

Imagine for a moment you stopped controlling the hours worked and focused instead on the results. Granted, this is a much more complex endeavor but in my opinion much more suited to year 2010.

The Old Paradigm

At the beginning of the industrial age, many employees were paid “by the piece”. For every bolt fastened, shirt sowed, or widget delivered they received a small amount of money. Eventually, companies realized that it would be more predictable and easier to manage if people were paid by the hour. Needless to say, the model has somewhat evolved and employees are currently paid by the hour, by the day, by the week, or by the year but the model pretty much remains the same.

The New Paradigm

The new model I’m proposing is to offer a fixed salary (or a risk salary), without any expectations of number of hours worked. Instead of expecting people to work 40 hours per week, people would be expected to deliver value or results. As I mentioned, it is certainly more difficult to set up the type of results expected but on the other hand, isn’t this the basis of commerce – I pay you $x for this good or service without any consideration about how many hours were required to produce it. The production piece is the responsability of the seller, not the buyer.

Back To The Scenario

Pleased with the previous day’s conclusion, you call into your office Michael and Kim’s direct supervisor to share your thoughts. Michael’s boss explains that since hiring him 2 years ago, systems outage have dropped 92% as Michael is consistently looking for ways to improve systems availability. He heavily praised Michael for creative and pragmatic solutions and despite the fact the Michael rarely has to do overtime, he would recommend him for a promotion.

Slightly shocked, you turn to Kim’s boss and ask for comments on her employee. With a grin on her face, Kim’s manager tries to hold back her answer as it certainly wouldn’t make you look good. She explains that Kim clearly lacks analytical abilities which is why she has to spend more time than all her colleagues solving similar issues. In addition, Kim is a poor team player. She likes to think of herself as a super-hero and she prefers trying to handle problems without the help of her team mates which often leads to repeated issues as the root problems are rarely solved properly the first time around. Despite many attempts at helping Kim with her shortcomings, she doesn’t feel the need to improve since she is often praised by the head of the department for putting in long hours…

(Silence in the room)

Embarrassed and apologetic toward both managers, you realize your attitude toward the number of work hours per week may have had the opposite effect that you were originally looking for. You genuinely thank your employees for their valuable feedback and wonder if you shouldn’t aim to leave early today…


pros·ti·tu·tion (prst-tshn, -ty-) – NOUN:

  1. The act or practice of engaging in sex acts for hire.
  2. The act or an instance of offering or devoting one’s talent to an unworthy use or cause.
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