How do your metrics help you?

I love to measure things. I can look up the temperature in my house for the last two years. Did you know it was 16.5 degrees Celsius on November 2, 2017, at 02:12 AM? I track the downloads of my book Doing It. 2736 downloads up and till 2018-05-20 7:02:00. I measure the steps I take every day, did you know I took 287.216 steps in October 2015? As I said, I love to measure things.

I hear you thinking… nice Ralph but how is this going to help me as a professional? Not. It is not going to help you. The more important question for me is, how is this going to help me as professional or person?

Silence… I don’t know. I don’t see how the history of the temperature in my living room is going to improve my life. I don’t see how the number of the steps from the past is going to improve my health in the future.

If you are a lead or manager, you probably need to create a report every week. Maybe you have automated it, and you created a dashboard. A dashboard where management can check the metrics of your team or organization. Regarding that dashboard, sorry to disappoint you, but I expect your manager hardly ever checks the dashboard.

Take a look at the report. Which data is there? Probably data that is easy to measure. Like the living room temperature, the steps I take, etc. We tend to create reports on things that we can measure easily. Often these measurements are related to output. Something happens, and some data is available. We call these indicators, lagging indicators.

Lagging indicators are often easier to measure, but it is hard to make a change in a process based on lagging indicators. For example, I measure the temperature in my living room, but the temperature is something that already happened. I can’t change it anymore. Measuring the number of new hires is also a lagging indicator. It already happened. You can’t influence the process anymore.

We also have leading indicators. Leading indicators say something about what is going to happen. For example, the temperature outside could be a leading indicator of the temperature in my living room. When the temperature outside is 35 Celsius or more, I know the temperature in my living room is also going to increase. If the influx of candidates is growing in an organization, I can expect the number of new hires also going to increase.

I will give you another example. I try to maintain a stable weight. A lagging indicator is measuring myself every day. It already happened, there is nothing I can change anymore. A leading indicator could be to measure my activities, and food I eat during the day. These are leading indicators. I know when my activities decrease, the number calories increase, my weight will probably increase.

The question is when you look again at your dashboard or report, what kind of indicators do you have? Leading or lagging indicators?

Would you like to learn more about good metrics? Join my workshop on July 3rd in Utrecht. More information can be found here.

12 guidelines for good metrics

One of the views of Marti, the Management 3.0 Monster, is Align Constraints. Align Constraints is for me about the behavior of people, but also about direction. In a Management 3.0 environment, there are maybe teams who are self-organizing, and also self-steering. These are two different things!

Self-organizing teams are common practice nowadays, definitely when an organization has implemented Scrum. As it is written in the Scrum Guide: “Scrum Teams are self-organizing and cross-functional. Self-organizing teams choose how best to accomplish their work, rather than being directed by others outside the team.” These teams are not self-steering! They don’t decide themselves where to go. They only choose how to go, when the Product Owner has decided where to go.

As an organization, you can go one step further, and also create self-steering teams. Scary of course… how do you know they will walk or maybe even run in the right direction? You don’t, that makes it scary. When you would create self-steering teams, and they would go into a direction you, as manager, don’t like? What to do? You could step in, and order them to go into the “right” direction. However, by doing this, you just destroyed the self-steering team. It turned out it was not self-steering. You decided to step in…

If you are going to work with self-steering teams, it would be wise to implement a Delegation board. Also, understand your role as manager in the delegation board. Also, you need to make there is a clear vision and purpose for the organization. This will give the team a direction.

However, there is another thing that is required for self-steering teams. Metrics! No target-setting based on metrics, but metrics to understand what is happening.

There are 12 Guidelines for good metrics. If you keep those guidelines in mind, it helps you to develop useful metrics. Metrics that a self-steering team can use to find out where they are going and how they are performing.

Guideline 1: Measure for a purpose.

What is the reason you are measuring? Can you give a reason in a few seconds? If not you should question your metric.

Guideline 2: Shrink the unknown.

Always measure from multiple perspectives. Not just measure one dimension of a system, but try to measure various dimensions to understand what is happening in a system.

Guideline 3. Seek to improve.

How does the metric help you to improve? Is it an actionable metric? Or just a metric to make you feel good?

Guideline 4: Delight all stakeholders.

An organization is a complex adaptive system. There are many people and systems involved. You can’t please everyone, but you at least want to know when someone is getting unhappy.

Guideline 5: Distrust all numbers.

In the end, numbers are just numbers. Do you really believe 42 is the right answer? Always keeping your mind when you see numbers.

Guideline 6: Set imprecise targets.

Every process has a biorhythm. Every process always has deviations. Do you want to focus on every difference? Or just the significant exceptions?

Guideline 7: Own your metrics.

Involve the team, if possible ask the team to create their own metrics. By doing this, the team knows what is measured and will also get maximum insight into the data.

Guideline 8: Don’t connect metrics to rewards.

Do I really need to explain this?

Guideline 9: Promote values and transparency.

Make sure all your metrics are visible for everyone, but also work on values that promote correct behavior.

Guideline 10: Visualize and humanize.

Nowadays, you can create pivot tables in six dimensions, use extreme colors, almost an art itself. However, it is not the goal to use all features in Excel, the goal is to make simple to understand.

Guideline 11: Measure early and often.

Depending on your goal, you need to think about the frequency. Would it make sense to update traffic information in Google Maps every 1 millisecond, or would every five seconds also do?

Guideline 12: Try something else.

After a while, that can be any time, your metrics won’t give you any useful data anymore. The system changed, or it adapted itself to fit into the metrics. Time to change, an experiment with new metrics.

12 guidelines that can help you to improve your metrics. You will need good metrics to work with self-steering teams, to understand what is going on. These guidelines can help you to develop useful metrics.

If you want to learn more about this, feel free to reach out to me!

 

Wow, what a mistake we made as distributed team!

As maybe most of you already know, the Happy Melly One team is completely distributed. In case you didn’t know let me tell you about our team.

We cover four continents, five time zones, six languages, and eight people. The team, in different settings, has been working together since 2011. You can read more about our team members on this page.

Our zookeeper is Lisette Sutherland. She recently published a book about Distributed Teams. We are not going to promote the book here, but in case you are interested click here. Lisette interviewed more than 100 people. Asked them about their experiences with all kind of different setups of remote teams. The Happy Melly One team is of course also mentioned in her book.

As the Happy Melly One team, we take care of Happy Melly and Management 3.0. Both brands are doing well.

We do everything remotely and use all the best practices regarding remote working.

We always use webcams when we are in a meeting. Webcams are turned on, no discussion about that. Even when one of our team members is still in bed (and decently dressed, no worries). We all have the best headsets; we even once ordered a headset for a team member who didn’t think they needed one (they did!). We all are aware a perfect internet connection is essential.

We use the best tools available, and fit for our team. We use Slack instead of email; all information flows through Slack. Even when you have a question for one person we use Slack. We are in love with threads in Slack. We use Zoom for meetings. It is reliable and always works. When on a group call, you are not affected by the lowest bandwidth of one person (like Skype). Also, the gallery view of Zoom is great because we can see everyone on the call at the same time. We use IDoneThis to have asynchronous conversations every day. We use Bonusly and Kudo Cards to give each other compliments and feedback. We have introduced the concept of a proposal document to be able to make decisions in a distributed team. We use Google Docs for collaboration on documents. And most of all, we apply the concept of working out loud. Yes, we are definitely a showcase in Lisette’s book as proof that remote teams are possible and can be effective.

So far, so good… So what is the problem?

We did not realize that it could have been so much better all these years. This is also described in the book as a must-do and it’s one thing we didn’t do until January this year.

In-person retreats! Sorry if you expected something more shocking. It is that simple.

As I said, we all agree that remote teams can be as effective as co-located teams, however only when you realize it is not like working in the office. You need to set up extra tools, working agreements, hardware, etc.

However, getting together now and then, and looking each other in the eyes while discussing difficult topics, partying together, and being able to work for hours in a row together on a topic is important.

We believe that as a team, we made a huge step forward after our last retreat. One of the most important conclusions from that retreat, which was our first, was that we need to do this every six months.

So our next retreat will be in Dublin at the end of June. Again a weekend of building relationships, working for hours together, being able to make decisions and most of all, having fun. Last time not everyone was able to make it, we had three people joining remotely, this time almost everyone will be able to make it!

So remote teams are great, but meeting each other a few times a year makes things even greater!

Why is HR not agile?

The title of this blog post triggered you: Either you agree, or you disagree.

Let me first explain in a nutshell why you need agile, and then how it relates to HR.

I have a background in software development. Many frameworks in software development assume they can predict the future. In other words, they think projects can be managed entirely by making big plans, introduce hand-over moments, etc.

In the nineties, we had the Software crisis, the software was always too late, and quality was too low. The industry had to do something. There were two ways to go: one that would introduce even more frameworks, steps, documents, etc and the other is what we now call agile. To me, agile proved about realizing that you need to use an empirical approach to manage complex projects.

What makes those projects complex? I could name a wide variety of things here, but one of the most important factors is the fact you work with people. You simply can’t manage people like a machine. Nowadays we call this management 1.0, and you can read all about it in the works of Frederic Taylor.

In my career, I worked with many people from Human Resources, Human Capital and probably there will be more different names for this department. I don’t like it when people talk about ‘human resources’, but in this blog post, I will refer to HR as the organization who in most organizations needs takes care of hiring, career development, salaries, firing, etc.

All those organizations had one thing in common. They worked with corporate models for personal development and reviewing people. At every organization, HR created a framework to help people grow and to help managers to review people. In most cases, HR headquarters created it, sometimes assisted by a fancy consultancy company. The HR department then would develop this model further for all employees, and because they realize they have different functions, they described a lot of skills, competencies, levels, etc.

When we execute technical projects, we use an empirical approach. We are transparent and inspect & adapt. We understand that we need to be flexible, that we need to embrace change and realize that every project needs a different approach. We come to understand that there is no magic approach that will solve everything.

So why does HR still believe that they can develop a framework that can cover everything related to people? Why do they develop one size fits all frameworks that all departments need to use? Why do get agitated when a manager decides to disagree with the HR model?

I think the time has come for HR to use a different approach.

HR has a lot of knowledge about local employee laws, skills, competencies, and people. I am not saying they are prutsers. Definitely not! I am just saying they are using the wrong approach.

Why not create some guidelines, or principles on what you expect managers or teams to take care of? I think it is very useful to use a model in some cases. Nothing wrong with that.

HR should ask teams and managers to think about how they are going to help people develop themselves. They should offer their expertise when asked for by teams, tribes or departments. They should give teams and or departments the freedom to develop their own approach.

Isn’t this very ineffective or inefficient you may ask? Perhaps, I am not saying you should not talk to each other and learn from each other. However, I believe it should mostly be a bottom-up approach. When a manager does not know where to start, HR should definitely help that manager. They should help the manager develop a framework that fits the manager’s department or team. In doing this, there is nothing wrong to be inspired by frameworks that are used by other departments or teams.

So why is HR not doing this?

How to hire Great People

At one moment in my career, I really got involved in recruitment. Not just doing a few interviews, but the whole recruitment process. We were growing in three locations, two in Europe and one in the U.S.

As I recall, certain people in the organization such as HR and higher management got stressed on progress and often tried to push me to just hire more people. “Ralph, why don’t just settle for less? Is it really that necessary to find the top of the bill?” Yes, it was really important to find the people that have the right fit with what we needed. I explained to them that it is like fishing. You need that special fish for your dish. You could go for that other fish that came by, but then the dish would just not be as it should be.

There are many fish in the employment sea. Really, lots of fish. Still, we are going to try and catch that one special fish. Now sometimes you get lucky and you catch the fish in mere minutes. Sometimes you have to wait for weeks before you catch that ideal fish.

It’s the same with recruitment, you need that one candidate that will fit the role and fit your company culture. It may take days, or it may take months but finding the right candidate is well worth it.

HOW TO FIND THE RIGHT PERSON FOR THE JOB

Based on my experience, I created a new Management 3.0 Module: Hire Great People. It combines all lessons learned, theory, and some games relating to how to hiring the right fit for your team. In this blog post, I would like to give you a small excerpt of that module.

As management guru Jack Welch talks about in Winning, hiring great people is hard, and yet nothing matters more to winning than getting the right people in the field. But the current labor market is challenging. Heck, it is even very challenging to just find candidates, let alone the right candidate. In fact, 40 percent of global employers responded to a Manpower survey that they particularly struggled with this talent shortage. Why? There of course are several reasons but the most important reason is just a lack of quality candidates available.

In the same report, they also examine how organizations are trying to solve this staffing problem. It turns out that many organizations choose to just retrain their existing team members. This, however, does not solve the problem of finding fully new team members. The question is also if (just) training is the way to go? According to Laszlo Bock in his book Work Rules, some experts go so far as to say that 90 percent of training doesn’t cause a sustained improvement in performance or change in behavior. This leads to the question, should we focus on hiring people that are a 100 percent fit with what we are looking for or should we hire people that are just a 70 percent fit and train them on the job? Probably both. As always, it is about finding the right balance and looking for the right addition to your company culture.

What is most important is to find people with a growth mindset. There are people with a fixed mindset and there are people with a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe their skills, abilities, talents, etc. are fixed. You can grow all of these qualities a bit, but it is more about finding the right seat on the bus where your fixed mindset qualities can be put to use best. On the other hand, people with a growth mindset not only are open to expanding their skillset, talents, and abilities, but they can reinvent them. These are people that can adopt new technologies and methodologies again and again. With the right learning, challenges and competence development, they can really become smarter. Whenever possible, you want to hire people with a growth mindset.

Now there are candidates who are a “perfect” fit and you can look for the broad-shouldered T-shaped people who are a 200 percent fit, and there are the sheep with five legs (as we say in the Netherlands). You may be able to find such sheep but the question is if you really want to hire those star team members. There is a huge risk in hiring star employees. Remember Enron? This great New Yorker piece clearly explains what can happen when you hire only star employees:

“Groups don’t write great novels, and a committee didn’t come up with the theory of relativity. But companies work by different rules. They don’t just create; they execute and compete and coordinate the efforts of many different people, and the organizations that are most successful at that task are the ones where the system is the star.”

FOUR STEPS TO RECRUITING THE RIGHT CANDIDATE

Do I need to explain just how fast things change nowadays? Be aware that you want to hire people that are ready to adapt to solve whole new types of problems that you don’t know even exist today.

So now that we’ve defined what type of people we are looking for, let’s take a look at the four steps in recruitment:

  1. Define the job.
  2. Search.
  3. Interview.
  4. Hire.

All steps are important and some take a more time than others. Note that onboarding is also really important but let’s discuss that in a future blog.

RECRUITMENT STEP #1: DEFINE THE JOB.

Stop writing boring job texts. Seriously. Stop writing boring job texts. We are looking for a candidate with five years’ experience in XYZ, a strong communicator, team player. C’mon, trust me, these are boring job texts that do not attract any candidates anymore. So don’t let your HR representative push you into some boring corporate template. Make sure your job text is fun, stands out, and stands out. Most importantly, make sure it describes the reasons why a candidate needs certain skills. Why does a candidate need five years of experience in XYZ? By describing why someone needs a certain skill, you can attract a bigger audience.

In short, a great job description must meet three criteria:

  1. Have an inspiring job title, that stands outs. The Guy-Nagging-About-Scrum will attract more interest than Scrum Master. (Just make sure you add Scrum Master somewhere in there too so it’ll appear in job board search results.)
  2. Write a job text detailing what the team member will learn, do and become. In the future the candidate will leave your organization, that is a fact. So focus on the job text in how you are going to help the candidate to become a better professional while they are with your organization.
  3. As said before, describe why a candidate needs certain skills. Are you looking for someone with leadership skills? OK, why? How is the candidate going to make use of those leadership skills?

RECRUITMENT STEP #2: EVERYONE IS A RECRUITER.

One of the challenges organizations have is finding candidates. The best way to solve this is to make everyone in your company a recruiter! Leverage the networks of your existing team members and ask them to ask around for good candidates. But be careful with this, people like to be friends with people who are likeminded. So this could result in losing diversity in your team, which is a big risk (and probably also worth a future blogpost.) You could reward people with a referral bonus, as long as the bonus is not too big. Take a look at these six rules for rewards. Referred candidates still need to do all the steps in the interview process. No exceptions.

What to do with the candidate profiles you get? Simple, you can reject candidates based on their profiles, but please do not hire based on profile only. If somebody makes many grammar mistakes, unreadable descriptions, etc. it is clear. If someone can’t even take the time to create a decent profile, the candidate is not committed and definitely not a fit.

RECRUITMENT STEP #3: INTERVIEWS AND FIRST IMPRESSIONS.

Next up? The interview. Make sure you approach the interview as a professional. You represent the job, the product and the company. It is not just you who has to decide if you are going to make the candidate an offer. The candidate also has to decide if she would like to work at your organization. If your interview is boring, poorly organized, hierarchical, you will make a bad impression on the candidate.

As soon as you see me in real life, you will have an impression of me. It could be good or bad, it doesn’t matter. For more than 20,000 years, we have been able to judge a situation in mere seconds. It was necessary for us humans to survive in nature. We are still doing this, we can’t help it, we judge immediately. As the interviewer, it is your task to challenge your own first impression. Is it really true what your first impression was? Probably not.

A friend of mine was applying for a job a while ago. The process was a bit (too) long. At one moment in the process, he already had a total of five hours of interviews under his belt. He estimated that he had talked himself for a maximum of 45 minutes till that moment. Guess who talked the other 255 minutes? In this case, my friend just had to nod every once in a while and say yes, true, indeed… The result was that the people from the organization were very positive about him. And they should be, he is great guy. He, however, thought that time management and process wise, improvements were possible in this company.

During the interview, make sure you talk as little as possible. The other pitfall is that you only focus on facts. Asking a thousand things about a Web framework, features in the latest version of a programming language, about a certain IDE or social media tool may make you feel a candidate is knowledgeable but it doesn’t really mean anything. Facts can be found on the Internet anywhere. An interview is not the same as a quiz. It is better to ask what communities the candidates know and use, and how they would solve problems. Better yet, ask them to give examples of problems they solved.

My favorite question always is: “What are you really proud of that you accomplished in the last year? Could you tell me all about it?” You know in one question what the candidate finds difficult, they probably won’t tell you about an easy job. You can start asking clarification questions, like “What did you do…”, “How did you…”, “What made it difficult…” or just “Tell me more…” Big advantage of this question is, you know if the candidate is able to explain a complex situation.

Next, try to ask behavioral questions. Behavioral questions are a tool to find out about real-life cases. A further model you can use is STAR: situation, task, action, result. For example, if you want to know if a marketer can work with social media, a question could be: “Can you give me an example of a social media campaign you had to set up? What was expected from you in this situation? What were the actions you actually did? What were the results?” You can find more examples of behavioral questions here.

Other things you can do during the job interview is to ask a candidate to explain their motivation. You could use Moving Motivators cards for this, or ask the candidate to create her own Personal Map.

The final step of the interview process is to do a workshop. There are still organizations who hire people without a workshop. Serious, it is true! If you would hire an acrobat for your circus, would you not like to see them perform first? You need to give every candidate a workshop, as a sort of practical trial of the job. You should be able to come up with a workshop for every role.  I would go so far that if you cannot decide on a workshop, you do not really know what the job holds that you are recruiting for. You can just ask candidates to make a plan, to do a presentation, to think of a strategy, to write a piece of code, or to break a project down. Nothing compares to real life like seeing a candidate present their work like this.

There are even organizations who invite candidates to work together for three days, an investment from both sides. This kind of workshop works both ways as it’s an opportunity for the candidate to learn about and experience your business and team. It should add value for the organization and candidate. Don’t put the candidate in a small room far far far away. I once had a candidate who went to the shop floor and started asking team members how she had to solve the case. During the review, one of the team members involved in the hiring process said the candidate cheated. I asked why? Because she asked for support. “Er… don’t we expect team members to ask for help.” There is no cheating possible in a workshop, everything in a workshop will learn you more about the candidate and the candidate will learn more about you.

I often hear: “Ralph, we have the XYZ online personality test. We are fully covered”. Er… right. What shall I say… Yes, there is value in a test, but, as with CVs, you don’t hire based on a shades of grey psychological test. Nor should you reject based on a test. You use it as something to discuss with the candidate. Most tests require training to be able to interpret the data. Most organizations only send their HR employees to this training, but they do share the result also with people involved in the hiring process. If you would like to use the results as most effective as possible, make sure everyone attends a (serious) training on how to read and interpret psychological test results.

RECRUITMENT STEP #4: DECIDING WHETHER TO HIRE.

The last step in the process is just the hiring. A simple step, and only has two possible outcomes: it is a hire or no hire. There is nothing between it, it is binary, a 0 or a 1. To make sure, you understood me correctly here, there are only two outcomes possible: hire or don’t hire. Things “Let’s give it a try”, “Great candidate for team Beta”, “We really need someone so..”, “If we are able to..”, “Given the right coaching…” all synonyms for don’t hire! No matter how urgent a role is, don’t compromise on hiring quality. It’ll backfire.

On the other hand, if someone seems like a good fit for your company, but not for this role, tell them to keep her eyes out for the next opening.

And I understand that this in real life is a bit more grey, but we haven’t talked about the toll on a team that’s absorbing new members. If you compromise you are making another group of people pay for your choice. (OK, probably yet another blog on this one…)

The last things I want to share with you is that you should make sure that every candidate, and most definitely the candidates you reject, should become an ambassador of your organization. Treat them with respect, be nice to them, be transparent to them. You want them to tell to friends: “They rejected me, I understand why, but I felt it was a great company. You should apply for a job there.”

This blog post was originally published on the Happy Melly blog by Ralph van Roosmalen