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The leader's mindset required for organizational agility

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Dr. Thomas Grisham

Shifting to organizational agility can mean making a tectonic shift in how you structure your business and empower teams. In today’s podcast, leading author and Agilist, Dr. Thomas Grisham shares proven examples to help leaders through their transformation to agility.

Full Transcription

Bill Raymond: Hi and welcome to the podcast. Today, I’m joined by Dr. Thomas Grisham - agilist, consultant, and author. Hi Thomas, how are you today?

Thomas Grisham: Doing fine, Bill. How are you?

Introductions

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Bill Raymond: I’m doing great. We’re going to be talking about the mindset required for organizational agility. Before we get into that, could you please share a little bit about yourself?

Thomas Grisham: Sure I’d be happy to. I’m going to share with you what the past four decades have given me the opportunity to learn, and it comes from global endeavors primarily. Consulting and education for 400 or so organizations, ranging from, the United Nations to General Motors in 84 countries, and a whole lot of research to try and figure out what was right and what was wrong with all of what I had experienced.

What is ‘organizational agility’

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Bill Raymond: We could talk about agile and agility all day long, and I think everyone has their own definition for that.

Bill Raymond: So maybe what you could share, just to kind of put some context for this conversation, you can share what you mean by organizational agility and what it kind of means to have that mindset. So if we can start there and then we can drill into it a bit more.

Thomas Grisham: Okay. What it means in the 21st century, is that the organization is as flat as possible, you need to be as nimble as possible because change is going to be consistent.

Just look at the world today. The third law of thermodynamics says that any system, including organizations, tends to move in a direction of chaos. And if you look at Ukraine and trying to do business in Russia and trying to do business in the EU, today, any company is going to be challenged by that. Even if you have a perfectly agile organization, you’re going to have to adapt to things that you did not anticipate.

Thomas Grisham: So an agile organization to me, is an organization that is as small as possible, that is as anticipatory as possible, meaning, you need to be aware of politics, finance, economic, technical issues, who’s doing what. You need to have a broader view so that you can see things coming before they happen and maybe make an adjustment to go around them rather than have them stop whatever it is you’re doing.

XLQ

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Thomas Grisham: To be able to do that, it requires basically three things, which is, I call it Cross-cultural Leadership, XLQ, which is X for cross-cultural, L for leadership, Q for intelligence.

Thomas Grisham: If you make too many mistakes, you’ll spend all of your time cleaning up while the world has changed four more times and you’re cleaning up the wrong mistakes. There is no perfect fix for this, but the idea is, if you’re flatter and if you’re not overworking your people, they have an opportunity to think and just take a walk and imagine, what might this have to do with people that are my colleagues in other locations and them on me? If the organization is hierarchical, it means that all the communications, the vision and strategy, and all have to trickle down all the way through the organization.

Organizations work horizontally

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Thomas Grisham: Organizations don’t work that way. They work horizontally, matrix idea. And so the communications, the functional communications go laterally. The visions and the values go vertically. That doesn’t work. That will not make you agile, it will make you the other thing. And so the three pieces, as I said, are leadership, top to bottom.

Thomas Grisham: Communication and knowledge sharing, so that knowledge is shared quickly. And I don’t mean weekly, I mean daily, across an organization, top to bottom, side to side.

Communication channels

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Thomas Grisham: If you think about the old formula, any of you that took the PMP training sessions to get your credential, n x n - 1 is the number of communication modes, if you would. So if you have an organization that let’s say, has 10,000 people in it, n x n - 1, a lot of communication channels out there. If you’re communicating by email, it’s not possible. It’s simply not possible. You cannot send and receive that many, let alone read them.

Thomas Grisham: And so, it requires a level of technology, a comfort with technology from top to bottom, not just the IT guys, that enables you to use the technical resources to reduce the amount of time that people have to spend dealing with communications. Just simple communications.

Thomas Grisham: When I ask people, Bill, around the planet, how many emails do you get a day? For example, one of my friends was a VP in Dubai. I met him in the elevator, bumped into him, As-salamu alaykum, I ask him, how many of these do you get a day?

Thomas Grisham: He says, oh, at 300-400, and this is the president of a company. And I said, what do you do with them? He said, I delete them. So you communicate with these guys. He says, if it’s important, they’ll call me. That’s a fairly crude way to go at this. But the answer to that question that I’ve gotten in dozens and dozens of countries is, most people will get hundreds of emails a day. And then you add in the text messaging on top of that.

Thomas Grisham: So if you just do the math, you can’t cope with it. You can’t do some work, go to some meetings and answer all this stuff in the course of a day. If your world changes daily, by the time you get today’s emails done tomorrow, now you got tomorrow’s emails, so it’s a never-ending cycle of things that shouldn’t be pulling on time people spend, because people’s time is worth a lot.

Thomas Grisham: And so between technology and leadership, the communication and knowledge needs to flow easily through a company. And so for companies like, oh think of the Swedish guys. Their internet company, the challenge they had was that they were having people learning lessons in Kenya that were really important to the overall company and needed to get that information from Kenya to Japan. And the problem was, again, if it goes email up the chain, across, down, by the time they get it, it’s old, it’s stale. Shelf life’s gone.

Thomas Grisham: And so the key to it is, you have to be as fast doing what you do as the speed of changes. That is not designed for 21st-century organization. You can’t do this hierarchically.

Hire people that share your vision and values

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Thomas Grisham: I’ve seen enough companies try it, big companies like Lufthansa, and I’ve seen them go at this from four or five different ways with different divisions to see, okay, how can we sort this out? And the problem always comes back to, it’s dependent upon the three things that I mentioned. And for people, the assets, did you hire people that share your vision and your values?

Well, no, because we couldn’t communicate it to the HR guys because they’re in the United States, you know, and that kind of thing.

Thomas Grisham: And so the dilemma here is that these things are all interconnected. You can’t just separate them out and put them in nice little piles. They’re all interconnected.

Change Fatigue

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Thomas Grisham: But the idea is, the board of directors and the CEO set the vision and the values. Those shouldn’t change weekly.

Bill Raymond: Mm.

Thomas Grisham: Those need to be in place for at least a year. Should be looking five years out so that people have something to hold onto. Too much change, change fatigue, is a really horrible thing for an agile organization. It’s exactly what you do not want.

Bill Raymond: Mhm.

Thomas Grisham: And so in order to anticipate and to avoid, you have to have some anchor.

Thomas Grisham: The anchor is the vision and the values. They can adjust, but they shouldn’t change. And that’s usually five years, then it percolates down to the CEO, the C-suite people, etcetera, etcetera, depending on how the organization is structured.

Thomas Grisham: Think about it this way. Let’s say you’re the CEO of a company, and you’ve just realized that the United States government has issued a sanction on the products that you sell to Russia. And it’s going to go in effect next Tuesday. And imagine that you’ve got some product in, you know, being shipped some project in design, some in manufacturing, scattered all over the chain. If you’re a global company, you may be manufacturing in seven other countries. So you got all this mess out there going on and you realize, uhoh, government just changed the rules.

Flexibility of hierarchical organizations

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Thomas Grisham: Okay. How many people need to know this? Let’s imagine it’s hundreds, just for sake of discussion. Okay. So you’re the CEO, you just got word of this from your lobbyist in Washington, and you need to get the word out. And let’s assume in your organization, there are 10,000 people and let’s assume that 200 of them need to know. But there’s also 200 that need to know that are not in your organization, they’re in other organizations that are subcontractors and consultants to you.

Thomas Grisham: How do you get the word out, quickly and efficiently, so that everybody gets the same idea? Because you know, the old plan that you tell Sam and Sam tells Jill and Jill tells Tom and then Tom repeats it to Fred. Fred hears something different.

And so if you think about it, the most efficient way would be, if you, as the CEO could turn to one person and say, Bill, let everybody know. Okay, I’m done, now it’s Bill’s turn. Okay. Bill’s got it now. Bill’s still got 200 people out there.

Thomas Grisham: In a hierarchical organization, Bill tells Tim, Fred, and Sam. Now Bill’s done. Tim, Fred and Sam tells. (inaudible) So you can picture how this has to cascade down.

Thomas Grisham: By the time everybody who needs to know this gets the message, the products are already in Russia. Now you got a different problem.

Thomas Grisham: So in an agile organization, when I said flat, what I mean is Bill, for example, would turn to four people who have four people working for them and four people working for them, that kind of thing. Because four, six people, the research says is about the limit for CEO.

Thomas Grisham: I’ve seen CEOs with 12 and 18, it doesn’t work terribly well. There’s too many people.

Thomas Grisham: And so if you think, just dividing the organization into fours or sixes, that kind of thing, and then think through the numbers, the idea is you have to empower each one of those levels with more authority and responsibility.

Thomas Grisham: So it’s not just Bill in charge of design of products, it’s Bill in charge of R&D, design of projects, manufacturing of projects and customer service. That means Bill has got to be a pretty darned good guy. So when you hire him, he needs to have a broad set of skills so that he can function in those positions.

Thomas Grisham: So in a perfect world, you have the design, you know what each position requires and you acquire that asset. In the real world, where you have a hierarchical organization that needs to be more flexible.

Small as possible without overwork

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Thomas Grisham: My idea is, you go through the same math. How can I make this as small as possible, but still not overwork people. Come up with some numbers, come up with a basic design and then set just like you would for a strategy, a board of directors, five-year strategy, CEO’s job, and the people in the organization are tasked with a one-year tactical plan.

Thomas Grisham: How do we build for one year, what we need to build in order to achieve five years of the strategic plan? And then you adjust as you need to, during the 12 months. Each month you take a look.

Dual responsibilities

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Thomas Grisham: So you go back and you look at a way to make one first step. We need, let’s take the Operations group and let’s merge it with R&D. Just as an example. And so we’re going to give those people dual responsibilities. You may have technical layout guys, for example, if you’re a pharmaceutical firm, you may have technical geneticists, for example, that you hire, but you don’t want three layers on top of them. So that if they see a problem, for example, oh, we’re starting on this genetic test, but the problem was, we just realized that there’s a new variant to the virus out there. Oh my God, should we stop? Should we continue? What should we do?

Thomas Grisham: In order for a decision to be made that quickly, somebody has to know how to interpret what they’re saying.

I’m sorry, I’m not a geneticist, I’m a finance guy, what the hell are you talking about? And then the technical guys and the geneticists say, I don’t know, what are you talking about with cash flow, you know?

Thomas Grisham: So the dilemma is what you need are a couple of layers of people who are more like a Renaissance woman, someone who’s trained with one background, but has been put into the system.

Thomas Grisham: Give you one example, 3M, the company that makes sticky stuff, they move people from accounting into R&D. Why in the hell would you do that as a company? And the reason is. Because they walk in with stupid questions. What does this do? And instead of giving them an explanation of, well, yeah, just the polymetric structure of this and the chemistry, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. No, no, my question is, what does it do? Does it stick for good or is it like a Post-It note where it comes off?

Thomas Grisham: And likewise, the R&D guys that go into bookkeeping got no clue. But what happens at the end of it is, now you have a different world year.

Global View with Local Heart

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Thomas Grisham: One more example, quickly. We, like all companies, and here’s another difficulty for global guys. I want to build a new team in India. We’re going to open an office. Okay, question is, do you hire an Indian guy and train him to think like a global guy or do you take an American guy and train him in the culture of India? We answer that question by saying, we’ll take an Indian guy and put global goggles on him.

Thomas Grisham: So they sent him to me, I trained him, we sent him to, I was in Thailand, we sent him to Korea. We sent him back into India. Now you have a global view with a local heart.

Thomas Grisham: And the idea now is that instead of needing two people, for example, a Western person, who’s got the global standards and connection to the board of directors and all of that in her head, and a local person who understands the culture and how politics in the economy works in India.

Thomas Grisham: And you put two of them in. That would be a typical hierarchical approach. In a more virtual, more changing world that’s more flexible, agile, you just want one.

Thomas Grisham: And so the question is, which way do you go with this? Those are the kind of dilemmas Bill, that everyone faces, no matter what business they’re in. The only difference that businesses make is that things that the United Nations does, compared to Lufthansa. The businesses they work in just require different skillsets and different kinds of backgrounds and language skills, things like that.

Fewer People with More Responsibility

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Thomas Grisham: So that’s the way I see this again, to repeat is, to be more agile and flexible, you need to be as flat as you can be, which means you need to have fewer people with more responsibility and more authority, within the boundaries of what you can accomplish.

Thomas Grisham: You know, I’m telling you what the perfect world looks like. You need to have quick, easy communications across the organizations.

Thomas Grisham: I’ll give you an example, there was a group I was doing training for in Beijing, this R&D company. And they had a couple thousand people scattered around the planet doing different kinds of things, but they had all come together. So this was training on how to do agile from Beijing. True agile, you know, no paper, no schedules, no estimates, blah, blah, blah, all that stuff.

Thomas Grisham: How do we have teams in six different time zones doing this? They had figured that out heading down, and what they found is that they built themselves a hub. So that instead of me emailing seven people in six time zones, you need to blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, you simply like a tweet, put it up on a hub.

Thomas Grisham: Now everybody can see everybody’s comments all at the same time. There’s one communication. That simplified their life. So they used the technology to make sure that the communications took almost no time at all. It was super quick.

Thomas Grisham: So you can do it, but you have to have the goal in mind, which is, I want everybody to know everything. I want complete transparency. You know, it’s not even possible to do that, but that’s the goal. That’s the vision that you sort of strive toward.

Thomas Grisham: And then the third thing again, is the people.

PhD vs Engaged

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Thomas Grisham: One more quick example, if I can.I was hired to do, the first piece of technology done in the United States is a piece of Finnish technology. Never done here before. So all brand new stuff, you know, cutting edge. So I was working at a university, I got off the plane, went to visit with a chancellor. Chancellor said, great to have you, pick anybody you want, they’re all starving college kids, you know. They work for free. Okay. Where’s the engineering school, I said? And his eyes got kind of wide and his mouth fell open.

He said, I don’t have an engineering school. I have arts, I have medicine.

Thomas Grisham: So I thought, okay, how am I going to fulfill my first idea here, which is the assets need to be right? What I ended up with was a road scholar in Italian art, a PhD in psychology and another collection of crazy, unusual people.

Thomas Grisham: I thought, I’m toast, this is not going to work.

Thomas Grisham: But what I found out was, they came in just like the 3M story. They came in each day and said to me, hey, here’s a picture of this thing, I just saw it. What does this do? Ah, endlessly curious, endlessly interested and engaged.

Thomas Grisham: What I learned was, I don’t need PhDs in electronics. I need people who are wanting to come to work because they’re happy and because they’re engaged in what they do. I can’t wait to get there tomorrow, I hope something changes, I sure would hate to do the same thing two days in a row.

Thomas Grisham: You can do it, but it requires the leadership, the XLQ to know. My definition of leadership is the ability to inspire the desire to follow. People choose who they follow.

Thomas Grisham: And the second piece is to inspire achievement beyond expectations. And what I mean is, the expectations of the person who I’m leading. So if I work for Bill and Bill knows Tom’s not the brightest tack in the box, he could be a whole lot better at writing code than he is. And you give me a new piece of work to do, and I’m terrified. You can tell. But you support me. You let me experience it, you permit me to fail if I have to. That requires the kind of leadership that the C-suite people need to see and imbue in an organization. That’s not easy.

Bill Raymond: No, it’s definitely not. And then I think about the fact that, you know, very often when we’re talking about organizational agility, when we get to companies that are that size of 10,000 or larger, globally-dispersed, the number of levels in the organization seems to increase exponentially.

What does a flat organization look like in terms of numbers?

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Bill Raymond: And so you’re talking about keeping as flat a level of organization as possible. What’s that number? What does that number look like? Because I can think of any number of companies, 10,000 or over where the number of levels is at least 12, if not more.

Thomas Grisham: Yeah. For example, using Lufthansa, because they have, let’s say a quarter of a million people working for them, something like that. Some of them are Lufthansa employees. Some of them are outsourced employees, temporary workers, consultants, things like that. And so you’re right, it’s this collage of assets that exist, and what I tell them and what I suggest to people who have such large organizations that are global, is to try and look at them as individual component pieces.

Thomas Grisham: So for example, for Lufthansa, they have Lufthansa Technik. They’re the guys that, you know, fix the airplanes and parts and food and all that kind of stuff. And they’re scattered in, oh, I don’t know, couple dozen countries, at least, something like that. And what I suggested to them was, just look at your organization, look at one piece of it first, and see if there’s a way that you can reduce the distance from the top to the bottom.

Thomas Grisham: Try to find, for example, let’s say you have level one as CEO, for example. Let’s say that you have at level 5, 20 people. Can you reduce that to 19? And the question then becomes, let’s put a new person in, that we hire specifically with a skillset that’s able to work in that kind of environment. They thrive in that kind of environment.

Thomas Grisham: And let’s do a test. Let’s give it six months and we’ll do metrics on it each time. So for example, it’s not difficult to do metrics on communications or knowledge. You have to set it up and you need the technology to support all this.

Take it a piece at a time

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Thomas Grisham: So my suggestion to them is, take it a bite at a time. You can’t just trash an organization that’s this size, you can’t rebuild it overnight.

Thomas Grisham: You have to take a piece of it and see if it will work for you as an organization. And honestly Bill, in some cases, it won’t work. In Japan, there are organizations that are Keiretsu, which are groups of organizations that have unwritten ties between themselves, where the communications are not only vertically within one organization, but they’re horizontally across organizations through this buddy system.

Thomas Grisham: The hierarchy is too strong, it is not changeable. Now, more generation, perhaps two, yes. And the people who are now coming into are now different kinds of mindsets than the people they’re replacing.

Thomas Grisham: And so having these conversations with a group of people who are trying to do this in practice, Bill. That’s exactly what I suggest to them is, don’t try and upend everything because you’ll just create more chaos, which is what you don’t need.

Thomas Grisham: But think about this over the next five years. We have 12 levels now in Lufthansa Technik. Let’s see if we can get to 10 over the next two years. Build a plan, set the metrics, keep going.

Thomas Grisham: And that’s the only rational way that I can suggest to you. There’s no right number because, if you have, for example, General Electric, 18 businesses, 130 countries,it’s going to take a lot of people. Yeah.

Thomas Grisham: And so the dilemma is, you can only just take a piece of it and work on the pieces that you think will give you the greatest amount of flexibility.

Thomas Grisham: So it needs to begin at the board level and come down, not begin at the grassroots and try and come up. That won’t work. I know, I’ve tried it, I’ve seen it. Doesn’t work.

Bill Raymond: I mean, I think I’ve seen some teams, some groups adopt agility and in whatever sense that means. Usually when someone says that, they mean a framework like SCRUM or SAFe, or they mean that they’ve adopted some practices that, you know, help them kind of communicate better.

Bill Raymond: And what I’ve seen very often is they feel better because they have some sort of a planning process, they call it sprint planning. They have you know, time that they set aside to get that work done, and then they have time that they set aside to really deliver on what they planned. And that seems to work out fairly well, and we see that happen in the software development and IT world, fairly well.

Bill Raymond: The problem is that the rest of the organization isn’t behind all of this. And then you end up with all these external factors that almost try to force you back into some other way of doing things.

The Mindset of a Leader

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Bill Raymond: So let’s think about that from the mindset elements that we’ve been talking about in this podcast, what would a leader that’s maybe shifting to agility, what is the mindset that a leader should have, so that they can kind of keep this open mind and think about new ways of structuring the organization and thinking about how teams might function, you know, more productively?

That’s a good question, and it’s a big one.

Yeah, to oversimplify this quite a bit, the thing that I have suggested to many people and has worked, because again, depending on whether the organization is an IT organization by nature, or it’s this conglomerate thing that’s got an IT component, but it does a lot of other things, will make a huge amount of difference.

Thomas Grisham: But if we just confine it to the IT for just a second and just think about that arena. If you had a company,the kind of person that you would want being, let’s say a mid-level leader, somebody who’s, maybe two steps, one step, two step removed from the CEO, something like that.

Empower those under you

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Thomas Grisham: What you want to do, if you’re capable of it, what you want to do is you want to empower the people who are under you and adjacent to you to make their own decisions. That means that you’ve got to be responsible for their mistakes.

Thomas Grisham: The problem with leadership is, to be a leader, you have to be vulnerable. You have to expose yourself to risks for other people’s mistakes. People learn by making mistakes, they don’t learn by getting it right.

Thomas Grisham: And so think of it in that term. As a leader, you are in charge of mistakes. That’s really uncomfortable for a lot of people. And that’s the key. That is the absolute foundation for this, because there is no possible way that you can learn everything you need to know to work in this world today. It’s not possible.

Thomas Grisham: You’re going to make mistakes, whether you’re the board or whether you’re a person working, you know, writing code or factoring it or whatever else you do in the company, the key to it is to empower the people, to let them make their own decisions because you hired them as experts. Leave them alone and just support them.

Thomas Grisham: So if they call you and say, you know, I got too much going on, I can’t focus on all this. The answer is not, work more hours. The answer is, let me see if I can take some of that off of you. That means that you’re going to have to go find some more help, which means your budget’s going to go up, which means you’re going to get blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Thomas Grisham: And so the key to it is, you have to be comfortable in your own skin. Nietzsche said, if you’re not happy being alone, you’re a bad company. You need to be comfortable and solid in your knowledge of yourself. You can’t lead other people unless you know who you are. And so emotional intelligence, to use the academic term, maturity, to use a more common term, is fundamental in my mind.

Bill Raymond: Yeah, that, I think resonates with me as well. You know, I’ve gone through a number of organizational transformation projects. Some of them as an employee, some of them as even a consultant. And one of the interesting things that I always did find was that, as you know, you said you have to be comfortable with making mistakes and take accountability for that.

Bill Raymond: I do think that the more you shrink an organization and I think you used something along the lines of six levels or, you know, when it gets to that point, you can’t be an expert in everything anymore. You know, you do have to just trust that people are out there doing the work that they need to, and you’re just keeping a pulse on it.

Bill Raymond: And my experience with these types of things is that, as I think you were alluding to, you spend a lot of time thinking about how to alleviate the pressure on the team so that they can do more work. And that might mean hiring more staff. It might mean helping to change internal corporate processes. I can work with my other colleagues to maybe cut out some of that proverbial red tape for example, because I see the pain that my team’s experiencing.

Bill Raymond: And yes, people will make a mistake and yes, you need to take accountability for it. But I think the important thing here is that even as mistakes get made, you know, there’s a acceptance in the organization that we are putting trust in people where we don’t necessarily have direct everyday knowledge of everything that’s going on, and that we focus on fixing the problem, not focus on targeting the person.

Broaden your horizon

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Thomas Grisham: Yes. I agree with you a hundred percent. And as you can imagine, and everyone listening can imagine, if you have a company with 10,000 people and you did everything that I said, you know, at the beginning, you designed it before you hired anybody. Where are you going to find 10,000 people like that?

Bill Raymond: mm-hmm

Thomas Grisham: And so the dilemma what most companies that I’ve consulted with, what I’ve suggested to them is, you need to broaden your horizon. There are people working in Ghana today who have exactly the characteristics you want. The problem is they have been suppressed into a culture that causes them to think in ways that are not particularly useful. Can you adjust that?

Thomas Grisham: And so my suggestion to people is, look globally when you’re looking for these kind of assets. You’ll find them in every country. I promise you I’ve done it. You’ll find them everywhere, but the thing is, picking them is not quick. It is not easy. You need someone who has emotional intelligence and knows where you’re headed.

Thomas Grisham: And I don’t mean, okay, here’s the nature of a person, go out and find me a bunch of EQP.

Thomas Grisham: No. Here is a person who knows how the company works, understands the vision and the product and the customer, but happens to spend some of their day hiring people. That’s a completely different mindset, and it’s one that you have to build into the organization, as I said, from top, down.

Thomas Grisham: You can do the individual projects and stuff bottom-up, and companies will look at them and say, wow, hey, that’s really cool. I wonder if we can make that a global thing. And that’s where, you know, this interface that we’ve been talking about comes in. Because most companies go exactly that direction because it’s easier. Oh, I’ll get yours six IT guys, let me just stick them in a room, leave them alone, they’ll come out in two weeks and oh, we got something we can use.

Thomas Grisham: I will tell your audience one more thing. I did my first agile project in 1975. In 1975, we didn’t have computers yet, let alone cell phones. But it was exactly the same idea. Precisely, we didn’t call it agile, but it was precisely the same idea as IT agile, as you described it.

Thomas Grisham: We realized that if you want to get something done quickly, you have to make a direct connection between the person who needs something, call them a customer, and the person doing it.

Thomas Grisham: Number two, give them enough time to do it. I’d like you to sweep the house, clean up the garden, wash the car, do these four codes for these six projects, answer 200 emails, don’t sleep tonight and come in with a happy attitude tomorrow. Thanks very much.

So the dilemma, Bill, is that everybody knows what they need to do. This is not new. Every MBA student, PhD student I’ve taught over the last 20 years, they get all this. I’ve taught them and they walk in an organization and go, oh, oh, you didn’t tell me what I was supposed to do with it. How do I use this in an organization that’s hierarchical?

Thomas Grisham: And I agree with you. I think that the thing is you just look for the kind of talent that is comfortable walking in those shoes that we were describing, and you do them one at a time.

People need to show their value and be seen

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Bill Raymond: Yeah, I think that’s really good insight. And although sounds simple, it’s really not because you do have to think about that vision that you talked about, you have to think about the, you know, types of people that you value, the way in which they work. You have to make sure that there’s a space for them to be able to show their value, right?

They want to be seen, they want to progress in their career and then you have to make sure that, you know, that they’re all going to work in this way that you expect.

Bill Raymond: I can tell you from experience, and I think you’re saying, talking from experience as well with everything you’re saying here. But you know, I just remembered there are some organizations I worked in where we always would get together and talk to a potential new hire, and we’d find time for them and we’d share our culture. But then there’d always be this sort of one role or this one important kind of, someone sees it as strategic role, where no one gets involved. And one or two people make this decision without letting anyone else know, and then they bring this person in. And 100% of the time that person was not a cultural fit because they weren’t vetted by the people that they had to work with.

Thomas Grisham: Yes. I agree.

Thomas Grisham: Okay, let me just say this. Think about it this way, in really just simple terms. If you’re the chairman of the board of directors for a company, your job is to think strategically. You know, what’s coming? What kind of competition’s out there? What do we need to be doing five years from now? So you know, those kind of things.

Thomas Grisham: And in many companies that I’ve worked for, and I’m sure you as well, one of the values that everybody has hanging over their front door is, customer first. Oh, okay.

Thomas Grisham: And what I’m sure, you know, as well as I do is when you get down to level 12 or whatever it is, and you have an IT person working with a customer, and the IT person knows perfectly well that if they provide exactly what was in the contract, the customer will be wholly unhappy, and it will not be functional.

Thomas Grisham: So just think of that for a second. So you have a board of directors member who doesn’t know this person, and you have this person who doesn’t know anybody on the board of directors.

Thomas Grisham: What does this person do? Do they do what you told them to do as value and make the customer satisfied? Or do they do what you told them to do because of the contract, which is give them this much and then stop. And if you guessed wrong, we’re going to fire you. Think about that scenario. It’s a real simple one that happens every day around the planet.

Thomas Grisham: If you want to cut that cord in that system, who needs to do something? And that’s the answer to the question. It’s all of those people in that communication chain, because if the board of directors says, the slogan needs to be customer satisfaction first, but in fact, our values are, we need to make our numbers for quarter 1 in 2023.

Thomas Grisham: And the person at the bottom doesn’t know that’s the current plan. Everybody’s going to be off in different directions. That’s what creates some of the chaos in organizations. And as we had discussed, the fix for that is, it’s in the middle of that chain. That’s where it exists, and that’s where you need to focus.

Bill Raymond: Yeah that’s really good insight. I very much appreciate that.

Some takeaways to implement these changes

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Bill Raymond: As we’re wrapping up the podcast, if there’s any leaders listening to this podcast right now and they’re listening to the things that you have to say,what are maybe one or two things that they can walk away with and start doing right now, that doesn’t need a lot of training or reading up on,that could start to implement these changes?

There’s I would say, it would begin with just personal reflection. Look at yourself in the mirror, honestly. If you Google, emotional intelligence, there’s a ton of free metrics out there online that’ll give you kind of a clue of where you are. But the idea is I’d say, look in the mirror honestly first.

Thomas Grisham: And then one thing that helps would be just to keep yourself a simple diary for maybe a week or two, where if you’ve got five people working for you, ask them a couple of simple questions. You know, Monday morning, Bill, are you happy? And write down the response. And you know, if they’re not terrified of telling you the truth, deal with that first or walk over there.

Thomas Grisham: But if they’re willing to tell you the truth and say, you know, God, I need help here, man. I’m my family, blah, blah. But whatever the issue may be. Offer to help and write it down.

Thomas Grisham: And then a week from then after you’ve helped this one person, go back and ask the same question again. And ask yourself the same question again, by looking in the mirror. It’s a stupidly simple way to begin, but the essence of all this is really simple, you lead from behind.

Thomas Grisham: If you are the leader, your job is to support people and to remove barricades. Your job is not to tell them what to do or tell them how to do it. Millennials, all of the literature shows that’s exactly the wrong thing to do. So many, if not, most of the IT people out there wandering around the planet, it’s exactly the wrong thing to do.

Thomas Grisham: Tell them what you need, support them and get out of the way. Practice empowerment by doing it. It’s really not complicated. Give it a try. I’ve suggested this to a lot of people and it’s a good way to begin.

Bill Raymond: And thank you for that. I do appreciate it. You know, I know that I had this revelation sometime in, you know, I am a very hands-on person. I get excited about the details of work. And that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to be a micromanager. It means that I get excited about whatever it is, the technology, the advertising, whatever it is that I happen to be working on, I get so into it that I start engaging with the teams. And the teams know that I’m the senior person in the room. And so as I start throwing out ideas, people start looking at that as me telling them what to do.

Bill Raymond: And when I start asking questions to learn more because I’m excited about it, and I’m just, and I’m interested, people are saying, I’m spending too much time working with you and not actually getting the work done.

Bill Raymond: And so I’ve definitely had those look-in-the-mirror moments to say, why does my team seem unhappy? And there was a lot of times when they would say something along the lines of, you know, Bill, you know, you’re too involved. And I just did not get it, right? Because people want to be, if you will, politically correct and they will try not to come right at you and tell you what the problem is. They’ll use terms and you have to kind of figure out really what you’re doing.

Bill Raymond: And I remembered when I was hearing that my team wasn’t too happy with what I was doing, and I knew that I needed to change and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. You know, I brought in a coach, and that coach sat in on a month’s worth of meetings, team meetings with me. They did not engage at all, they just listened. And then I got the feedback that told me that this is the problem.

Bill Raymond: And so I was able to step back and just say, okay, I’m doing actions that are reducing the capability of my team. And so sometimes that looking in the mirror can be hard without really know what people are thinking.

Bill Raymond: I like your diary idea as well, just kind of writing these things down. It gives you a self-inflection point. So I really appreciate that.

Closing

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Bill Raymond: Dr. Thomas Grisham, this has been a great conversation. I really appreciate all the insight that you provided today. Is there some way people could reach out to you if they’re interested in talking further?

Thomas Grisham: Sure, you can go to my web page at thomasgrisham.com. Go back to Bill, he’s got my contact information, either one, and all my emails and LinkedIn and all that stuff is up on the webpage, so you can get me there. That’s the easiest way.

Bill Raymond: Wonderful. And I’ll make sure that your information gets posted on the agileinaction.com website. Look up the podcast for Dr. Thomas Grisham. And of course, if you’re listening to this podcast in a podcast app, just scroll down to the show notes to the description and you’ll find those links there as well.

Bill Raymond: Dr. Thomas Grisham, it was wonderful talking to you today. Thank you very much.

Thomas Grisham: Oh, you’re welcome, Bill, it was a pleasure.

Thomas Grisham: Take care.

About the Agile in Action with Bill Raymond podcast

This business-focused podcast focuses on an audience that is passionate about making positive change in their organizations. The podcast presents interviews with leaders and practitioners who work tirelessly to modernize how teams work.

The Agile in Action with Bill Raymond podcast is sponsored in part by Cambermast LLC, an agile consulting firm that helps customers bridge the divide between business and technical leadership to improve team effectiveness.

Hosted by: Bill Raymond

Executive Producer: Reama Dagasan

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