I just finished reading Deborah Mills-Scofield’s HBR article on bringing back corporate accountability. This is a great article in its own right. It lead me to an article she posted in April of this year on building Communities of Practice by Building Virtues into the Organization’s DNA. Her moonshots to fix problems we see in corporate culture in this article are:
- Focus the work of management on a higher purpose
- Rebuild management's philosophical foundations
- Enable communities of passion
What Mills-Scofield is describing here is that many of the problems we see today are not tactical or process in nature, but rather reflect of loss (at least in practice) of key social virtues. She focuses on Aristotle’s virtues of Courage, Faith, Hope, Justice, Love, Prudence and Temperance. This is a great article for all of us but especially those teams that are struggling with a toxic culture.
I spend a fair amount of time these days working with senior business leaders on some of the challenges they face. One of the things that both they and I are seeing is the impact of shorter business cycles on planning. While the use of the word “cycle” implies that these changes occur with some predictability, it is also clear from observation that they do not. In fact, many economist choose to use the term “fluctuation” over “cycle” to denote its chaotic nature. Many factors go into making our economy behave this way, globalization, decreasing consumer attention span, less brand affinity, increasing technology and government intervention to name a few. The real question many leaders face as it relates to these cycles is “How long do I have to get my product or service offering to market?” They want to understand how quickly they can take and idea to market without having the ground shift from underneath them. When I started in the technology space in the early nineties, project lengths of many years were not uncommon. For many companies, releasing a piece of software once a year was a challenge. If you had hardware to go with the software (think game console, cell phones, etc.) you could pretty much kiss the once a year thing goodbye. This was the way it was. Consumers didn’t expect more, competitors probably couldn’t do better and our detailed design specifications were as much work as the product itself. Over the last 20 years, this has all changed. Consumers demand the latest and greatest, our economy is wildly unpredictable, startup competition can build products from start to finish in months and many companies are now releasing software “continually.”
Many leaders are looking at these new conditions and realizing that the ways of the past are no longer suitable. These leaders look at their companies, consumers and competition and make thoughtful choices about where to go and what to do. They are not surprised by changes as this is now the norm. An example of this if Flickr which started as an online gaming company but quickly realized there was more of a demand for their photo sharing feature. This change in direction, also known as a “pivot,” is becoming a key piece of modern business practices. Making a significant change in the direction of an organization requires software development techniques that can readily deal with it. Enter Agile.
Agile development is a general term for many different techniques but the piece that is common to most of them is a focus on delivering done software frequently. In Scrum we do this every Sprint. In XP this is done every Iteration. With Continuous Delivery this is done…well continuously. When leaders have the confidence and understanding that the product they are building is always in a done state, they can “pivot” more readily and cost-effectively. It’s clear from the state of the market that and organization that can most readily respond to change is going to prevail. If you are leading an organization that produces a product, have you asked yourself “How able are we to respond to change?” An honest answer to that question will likely indicate the future success of your organization.
I talk quite a bit about the concept of intrinsic motivation in my presentations and workshops. Intrinsic motivation describes our satisfaction in doing something simply for the sake of doing it. Think of playing an instrument, solving a puzzle or painting a picture. The activity is a reward in itself. Daniel Pink’s “Drive” is great book that discusses this concept. If you haven’t read it yet, checkout the video below.
(Hat tip Aaron Bjork)