Terrible performance yet no change

A colleague once called it dying from the “ism”s: nepotism, seniority-ism, boy’s club-ism, best friend-ism and the like. I know you have seen it before. Organizations sometimes suffer from this cancer – undiagnosed in their self-diagnosis (outsiders can see it and call it fairly easily).

In amazement, I have watched a local not-for-profit organization suffer from these ills. At first I thought it was this strange lack-of-profit model and its inherent motivation (or lack thereof) that defined this organizations challenge. Until this weekend, when a CFO friend explained that the “Midas Rule” – He who has the gold makes the rule - can apply to all organizations large and small, with and without profit goals.

I have watched as 2 guys have operated above the law and rule on decisions as long as it satisfies their own agenda as opposed to that which is best for the organization.  I have watched as these two rationalized and justified each and every decision against each and every question or challenge to their decisions.  I have watched them systematically eliminate anyone that would dare challenge their decision with the most innocent of reasoning shielding their true agenda – to rule; because it defines them; because without the ability to rule, they themselves become irrelevant.

Proper approaches, industry best practices and industry standards do not require a moral defense.  Transparent models and exposed business practices do not need spin and rationalization.  Fairness does not have any use for secrets and closed door shady deals.

Luckily, I have nothing to lose or gain in this equation. I am simply watching from the sidelines.  But an entire community is losing and losing badly.  When logic does not apply and reality is ignored and politics rein the organization and in this case the community it serves, is the one that suffers.  And suffer for years.  You see, a community does not have quarterly objectives to serve as traffic signals to where it is versus where it should be.  A community does not cater to monthly profit projections as a warning sign of reckless leadership and boardroom ADHD.  A community is not forced to publish an annual report such that its shareholders – its citizens – can reward great performance or opt for change.  So it fails to notice as it slowly diminishes into a ghost town and a “remember what used to be there” town.

Did I mention, the very purpose of this, organization (for lack of a better word), is to cater to the needs of about one thousand kids every year?

Your children.

The ism’s … are a cancer.

Preferable Differences …

I would not want to imagine a company with more than one of me.  That would be  – annoying.  I was reminded yesterday of the many different differences between us all.  And it is these very differences that make it all work.  Could you imagine a world full of extroverts?  No introverts to balance us out – that would be insane. 

There is more at play here than a simple tolerance of differences.  I am referring to more of a celebration of differences; an understanding that these differences are the “secret sauce” that should be embraced and celebrated.  I would even go so far as to suggest the appropriate affection of these differences could make or break a project or even a company. 

The next time you are faced with a guy that simply does not possess your appreciation for logic or the next time you are around a finance guy who does not share your passion – thank your lucky stars and trust the fact that these differences are the oil in the engine.

May I take your order …

I envy the Sports Industry. While no statistics represents an absolute (other than GPA + SAT pretty much = your academic potential plus or minus an essay here or there for college entry) the Sports industry has it a lot easier than we do. Let’s see the RBI for code delivered to production for an individual; or the rebounds per game for a Project Managers; or maybe the career scoring average for the COO?

Having been around this business for a while I think I have heard it from all sides: business leaders that just cannot understand why IT can rarely deliver projects on-time and within budget; developer ego that cannot understand why they are forced to worked with these incompetent business leaders who cannot make up their mind or define their requirements appropriately; QA caught in the middle who cannot understand why developers cannot write perfect code. And at the end of the day, it seems I must remind myself everyday that I am here solely to solve business problems and not to generate code for the sake of generating code. Now, not everyone struggles like I do. But look to your left and your right – it’s a lot of us.

So I was not entirely surprised when I was asked to join a meeting to help a colleague, and watched in amazement as a business leader discussed their “requirements”. They knew they wanted “agile” development. They knew they wanted Java. They knew they wanted a PM, 1 senior developer and 2 junior developers – to go – with a large fry. And I am certain, in the end, they probably got exactly that.

You can not motivate a pig to fly …

Like all of you I have read and heard the overwhelming fear-based projections surrounding the next or the X or Y generation and their seemingly consistent … attributes (to be fair).

I was recently made aware of an applicant for a development position that declined the opportunity to interview due to the dress code (business formal) of the potential employer. It reminded of “this” generation and what I see as their simple lack of maturity. It also reminded me of every generation and our tendency to be narcissistic at times. In fact, it reminded me of me.

Here was a position that represented a developers dream. Or, at least what I would have constituted as a dream when I actually did the fun stuff – writing code. The position? First, the position involved full horizontal involvement and responsibilities throughout the entire lifecycle from vision to scope to requirements to BPR to design to development to UAT to deployment. Secondly, the position involved full vertical involvement and responsibilities throughout the technical spectrum from data integration/EDI to reporting and OLAP/MOLAP to UI technologies (the latest by the way) to middleware SOA development to database design/development. The intersection of these competency paths is pure gold. I would have waited overnight in line for this position – or would I?

The fact is at different stages of my maturity I probably made equally bad decisions. You could not have made me fly until I grew wings. You could not have made me think until I learned reason. Sometimes, looking for Ms. Right is a futile effort until you become Mr. Right.

From Lebron to the board room everyone is efforting to master the ability to build and manage the highest producing team. One of its core building blocks just may be the simplest (as in straight-forward as opposed to easy) of all – developing the professional maturity of the individual.

Elephant Gun Meeting

Working in the lawn this weekend I purchased some of the new (or at least new to me) instant, grow anywhere grass … patch … thingy. I have seen these things grow grass on concrete (marketing – GOT ME!). I literally laughed out loud when I remembered sitting in a meeting years and years ago – but more about that later.

I thought of the absolutely rich environment that must exist in that bag. The potential is stored in the bag and maintained such that when you pour the contents – anywhere – it grows. Wow! Perfect for someone like me who is – horticulturally challenged.

Now back to the meeting. This company had a time honored tradition of ideas presented to a committee in a meeting ironically titled the “Elephant Gun Meeting”. Conceptually, one would present their ideas and the committee would put the idea through the paces and if it – survived the shooting – they would pursue the idea. I am a metrics guy so I asked the percentage of presentations moved through to next steps. The answer was unknown but one member remembered an idea that “made it through” a couple of years before that meeting (I really don’t make this stuff up).

What kind of nutrients are stored in your bag? Can your ideas grow on concrete? Is your environment that rich with ideas and risk taking that ideas simply grow in all departments and in all circumstances? We all know the shades and sunny spots that occur in business; the rain and floods that come. The huge, seemingly immovable competitors that take aim at your market share. The new, quick and nimble competitors that crop up like weeds in your front yard. The M&A activity that makes many strategies a moving target. There are always many reasons to squelch and shot ideas full of holes.

The is only one reason your ideas are a rich green with deep roots that grow all over – because you create that kind of environment.

Back to the lawn …

Evidentiary Culture

What are the most important keys to success in your organization?

I was in a discussion with a few colleagues surrounding the hierarchy of key performance indicators and someone introduced the KPI’s of culture. In this Six Sigma, management by metrics era we live in – one does not think of the KPI’s of culture. But, as my statistics professor used to say, just because you do not interpret the statistics does not mean they do not have meaning (if a tree falls …).

So lets try on a few just to hear the tree fall. Average length of tenure. If the average length of tenure is high it could mean a high degree of loyalty [great!]. It could mean a low degree of experience [1 year 10 times versus 10 years – bad!]. It could very well mean corporate leadership and HR are doing a fantastic job on the retain portion of “attract and retain” great talent [good!]. Or, it could mean leadership is resistant to change, prune or improve [GE bottom 10% – bad!].

And how about average training hours per employee per year? If this number is low it could mean people are repeating the same efforts over and over and expecting different results. It could be an indication that some much needed outside training and experience could increase the overall competency of the department or organization.

There are a number of weird and interesting data points that could really provide objective non-biased insight into the true culture of the organization as opposed to the stated culture of the organization – number of internal emails versus number of external emails, number of BCC emails, percentage of clients who answer feedback questionnaires, etc.  If you really want to look into the mirror, a quick analysis of numbers could provide the evidence-based answers you are looking for.  But be careful, many a man has stared into the abyss and left wanting!