Category Archives: Book Notes

Book Notes : Leading Snowflakes

Leading Snowflakes: The Engineering Managers Handbook by Oren Ellenbogen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Overall this is an ok book but there are a couple of nuggets in it which are quite useful.

Initially there is the highlight the difference between makers and managers – the role of the manager being to amplify the team. It highlights the importance of balancing making and managing and the need for concentration in the making zone. The key for managers is not to measure your output but the output of the team.

When making something we can review it quickly, such as by running unit test on our code. As a manager we rarely review the decisions we make to actively learn from them. The book highlights the importance of this and proposes a template to achieve this and get more continuous feedback. These decisions could be to postpone a decision, but this itself is a decision. There are no right or wrong just different takeoffs between different approaches.

The importance of feedback is discussed and this being hard as a transition from a team mate to a team leader. I diverge from the book here as we should not only be getting feedback from the leader, all members of the team should feel comfortable providing feedback but it might be that the team leader needs to deal with harder situations. Dick Costolo, Twitter’s CEO, uses the term “The Leader’s Paradox” – as managers and leaders, we need to care deeply and thoroughly about our people, while not worrying about what they think of us. It is key to share your own lessons learned, to summaries and share written feedback, using the wrong medium to present a message and delaying feedback.

Getting things done by extreme transparency, reducing risk (releasing smaller chunks etc), planning, leverage peer pressure, retrospect & delegate. Using the Must, Delegate and External lists – where Musts are absolute musts that as a manager we must do, if it is not a must then we can delegate it. External are things which are outside of your sphere which impact you.

When moving from maker to manager people approach it with a view of productivity. In reality building trust should be a higher importance, both inside the team but (crucially) with other teams.

Optimise for value. Depending on the product phase this could be focusing on Acquisition – how to bring in more users, Activation – increasing the usage of the product, Retention – keeping the users using our product, Referrer – having happy customers who recommend our product, Revenue – making more money or gaining more customers. When we are uncertain optimise for getting answers fast, “If you can’t make engineering decisions based on data, then make engineering decisions that result in data.” (Kent Beck). When we have business certainty, optimize for predictability and optimise bottlenecks. “Companies fail when they stop asking what they would do if they
were started today, and instead just iterate on what they’ve already done.” (Aaron Levie) this statement is a bit contentious as there are many re-writes which have failed so this is not a proven answer but reviewing what you would do with what you know now is a very important task to undertake.

“Culture is to recruiting as product is to marketing.” (Dharmesh Shah). This is what attracts employees and keeps them. Building an inbound feed of candidates by showing what you are doing, exposing your culture and demonstrating your tech to attract people to work for you.

To build a salable team requires an alignment of vision (Will it move the company into a winning position? Is it big enough as an engineering challenge?), alignment of core values without which the team will self-destruct as such it might mean loosing some key individuals (e.g. Never let someone else fix our own mess, Loyalty to each other above all), distributed responsibilities (What can you expect of me? What can you expect of being part of this team?), sense of accomplishment.

You can’t empower people by approving their actions. You empower by designing the need for your approval out of the system (Kris Gale)

Book Notes : Great Boss Dead Boss

Great Boss, Dead Boss: How to exact the very best performance from your company and not get crucified in the process by Edgar H. Schein
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
This is a book written in a story style which presents the idea of tribes and how these are how people in a business operate.

The book presents tribal dimensions:

  1. Individuals are socially, emotionally, and psychologically defined by their tribal membership.
  2. Individual Security (IS): Individuals act to reinforce their security when under threat.
  3. Individual Value (IV): Individuals act to reinforce their self-worth when their security is not under threat.
  4. Tribal Security (TS): Tribes act to secure their self-preservation if their security is under threat.
  5. Tribal Value (TV): Tribes act to reinforce their self-worth when their security is not under threat.

Though the book various things happen which are then evaluated against the dimensions in a positive or negative way.  Initially the idea of positive tribal and individual security is presented as a bad thing resulting in complacency, process focus, rules and regulations, in fighting and backstabbing, taking no risk or innovation however during the rest of the book TS+ and IS+ are presented as good things – to me security is more nuanced than positive or negative.

The book presents a continuum from corporate failure at TS-IS- up to TV+IV+, as follows, with actions to progress to the next stage.

Status Action
TV+ IV+ Maintain the status quo.  Set new just cause.
TV- IV+ Work to improve TV+. Reinforce super tribe.  Emphasis just cause.
TV- IV- Reaffirm individual’s capability.  Define common enemy.
TV+ IV- Identify source of IV-, create new source of IV+
TS+ IS+ Define and create new source of TV+ Create new superordinate tribe.  Create source of IV+
TS- IS+ Reinforce the rite of passage.  Reinforce common enemy.  Reinforce just cause.
TS- IS- Redefine source of power, just cause, common enemy.  Replace leadership.
TS+ IS- Reaffirm IV+, beware of sub-tribes, seeing others as common enemy.  Replace leadership or reeducate leaders.

The book presents tribal attributes:

  1. A strong tribe must have a common enemy.
  2. A strong tribe has clearly defined symbols.
  3. A strong tribe offers a super ordinate identity to all sub-tribes.
  4. A strong tribe has a credible, just cause for its continued existence.
  5. A strong tribe has an accepted rite of passage.
  6. A strong tribe has clear external measures of success.
  7. A strong tribe understands and protects its source of power.
  8. A strong tribe knows how it compares to the “untouchables.”
  9. The criteria for tribal membership are clear and credible.
  10. Tribes communicate in a non-traditional, subjective, and intuitive manner.
  11. A strong tribe develops its own unique language.
  12. Tribal roles are fundamentally different from accepted functional roles.
  13. Strong tribes record and celebrate significant events that reinforce their identity and value.
  14. A strong tribe has a clearly defined and well-known justice mechanism.
  15. A strong tribe has a clearly defined icon that embodies the tribal value.
  16. A strong tribe has a walled city–a place of refuge where things of value to the tribe are kept.
  17. A strong tribe possesses objects of value that embody the tribe’s value.
  18. A strong tribe has a revered figurehead.
  19. A strong tribe celebrates and cares for the skills, tools, and implements required for its prosperity.
  20. A strong tribe expects unquestioning loyalty.
  21. A strong tribe has clearly defined roles, responsibilities, values, authority, power structure, and chain of command.
  22. A strong tribe has a leader dedicated to the tribe’s success.
  23. Strong leaders have capable mentors whose psychological limits exceed their own.

The book provides a grid detailing communication between tribes and individuals and their impact.

Communication Result
Enemy Tribe to Tribe Potential to harm or destroy the tribe, creates TV- or TS-
Ally Tribe to Tribe Has potential to strengthen the tribe. Creates TV+ or TS+.
Enemy Tribe to Individual Expulsion, eviction, discipline, creates IV- or IS-
Ally Tribe to Individual Promotion, join inner circle, seat on the board creates IV+ or IS+
Enemy Individual to Tribe Company sabotage, leak secrets, spread rumours, creates TV- or TS-
Ally Individual to Tribe Supports the just cause, attack common enemy, creates TV+ or TS+
Enemy Individual to Individual Dislike one another, threats and accusations. Creates IV- or IS-
Ally Individual to Individual Good friends, supportive creates IV+ or IS+

The book presents a list of tribal and organisational roles, this is not very well explained and magically the book restructures the organisation by magic.

Tribal Role Traditional Organisational Role
Hunter Sales person
Farmer Manufacturing
Care giver Human resources
Cheif CEO
Elder Board member
Herder Accountant
Story Teller Advertising
Witch doctor Financial analyst
Spy Public relations
Builder Maintenance


Book Notes : Humble Inquiry

Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling by Edgar H. Schein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The book introduces three types of humility basic humility – the status in society you are born with, optional humility – the way we feel when in the presence of someone who has done great thing and here-and-now humility – when you are dependent on someone else. The humble inquiry comes from a place of interest and curiosity with here-and-now humility, this maximises the interest in the other person and minimises bias and preconceptions.

The book talks about espoused values, the values which we openly talk about e.g freedom, equality, etc, however these are sometimes in contradiction to tacit assumptions which are the values which are actually in action, e.g. poor education, discrimination. The problem with the humble inquiry is that cultures which value task accomplishment over relationship building and telling over discussing means there are cultural forces working against it.

The Johari Window contains four sections:

  • Open Self – things we know about our self and others know too
  • Concealed Self – things we know about our self but we hide from others
  • Blind Self – things we don’t know about our self but others know
  • Unknown Self – things which are known neither by our self nor by others

Through the use of the Humble Inquiry we can expand the amount of Open Self which a person feels confident to display, reducing the Concealed Self.

Book Notes : Product Mastery

Product Mastery: From Good To Great Product Ownership by Geoff Watts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

  • A good Product Owner delays when they can.  A great Product Owner decides when they must.
  • A good Product Owner trusts themselves to make the tough calls.  A great Product Owner knows when to call for help.
  • A good Product Owner knows what is needed.  A great Product Owner knows what can wait.
  • A good Product Owner takes calculated gambles.  A great Product Owner also knows when to walk away.
  • A good Product Owner trusts their instinct.  A great Product Owner finds data to test their ideas.
  • A good Product Owner knows enough to make a decision.  A great Product Owner knows enough to ask questions.
  • A good Product Owner is reliable and dependable.  A great Product Owner knows  flexibility is essential to strength.
  • A good Product Owner defines a cohesive vision for the product.  A great Product Owner empirically evolves the product.
  • A good Product Owner leads from the front.  A great Product Owner leads from within.
  • A good Product Owner writes good stories.  A great Product Owner tells great stories.
  • A good Product Owner represents many different parties.  A great Product Owner knows they can’t please everyone.
  • A good Product Owner avoids bad mistakes.  A great Product Owner makes good mistakes quickly.
  • A good Product Owner knows how to use agile tools and artifacts.  A great Product Owner are driven to develop their subtle, softer skills.

Book Notes : Extreme Programming Explained

Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change by Kent Beck, Cynthia Andres
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

  • Communication – important for creating a sense of team and effective cooperation
  • Simplicity – eliminating unneeded work the simpler things are the easier communication is
  • Feedback – this is a vial form of communication contributing to simplicity
  • Courage – to speak the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, fosters communication and trust; to discard failed solutions encourages simplicity; and seek real, concrete answers in feedback.
  • Respect – the contributions of each person on the team needs to be respected, I am important and so are you
  • Team values – this is adding extra values which the team feel are important and by having them explicit means they are important e.g. safety, security, predictability, quality-of-life etc
  • Humanity
    • Basic safety – freedom from hunger, physical harm, threats, fear of job loss.
    • Accomplishment – to be able to contribute
    • Belonging – to identify with a group from which they receive validation and accountability
    • Growth – to develop skills and perspectives
    • Intimacy – to understand and be understood deeply by others
  • Economics – delivering bussiness value, meeting business goals and serves bussiness needs.  For software development the economics are that the sooner there is delivery the sooner there is value.
  • Mutual Benefit – help me now, in the future and the customer
    • Automated tests – help design and implement better solutions today, in the future this benefits people maintaining the system
    • Refactor – removes additional complexity giving me satisfaction today and fewer defects, in the future it makes the code easier to understand
    • Names – makes code coherent and explicit which speeds up my development, in the future the cleaner code is better for new programmers.
  • Self-Similarity – try to keep the same structure even at different scales, such as the processes you do in a week you might do at a larger scale every month (e.g planning, demo etc)
  • Improvement – things are never perfect, starting with something and evolving it in the right direction to provide a solution which is good enough
  • Diversity – this brings creativity and different perspectives to the problem
  • Reflection – exposing mistakes and learning from them after the action
  • Flow – aiming to produce value quickly with new features flowing through the team at the highest possible rate
  • Opportunity – taking each problem and using it as an opportunity to learn
  • Redundancy – this might be needed to ensure the product is correct, it should not just be removed immediately but work should be done to improve the process until it is not needed and then removed
  • Failure – this could be the cheapest way to learn given the option for weeks or research compared to a similar time trying things the latter might result in multiple failures but result in a good solution quicker
  • Quality – quality can not be cut to save time or cost, for software quality needs to be improved to identify defects early, enable new joiners to get up to speed etc.  If time or cost need to be cut then feature scope is the only leaver that can be pulled.
  • Baby Steps – and grow in the right direction rather than a big bang approach
  • Accepted Responsibility – a person should be responsible for the whole feature from estimate it, designing it, implementing it and testing it.
Primary Practices
  • Sit Together – to boost communication
  • Whole Team – all the skills needed to complete the project, everyone in it together
  • Informative Workspace – such as whiteboards, stories on the wall etc
  • Energised Work – actually getting quality work done, not just clock time – if you are unable to sustain working more then stop working rather than burning yourself out for the next few days
  • Pair Programming – keep each other on task, brainstorm refinements, clarify ideas, support each other, hold each other accountable for the team’s practices
  • Stories – plan units of customer-visible work and estimate them as soon as they are written, the estimate gives more visibility for prioritisation
  • Weekly Cycle – plan the work a week at a time, review progress, select stories and break them down into tasks
  • Quarterly Cycle – reflect on the team, the project, its progress and align with the larger goals.
  • Slack – it is important to meet your commitments to build trust with stakeholders so including minor tasks which can be dropped if needed could be beneficial
  • Ten-Minute Build – produce the shortest feedback time possible and certainly less than ten minutes aka the time to get a coffee
  • Continuous Integration – ideally in a synchronous way get the whole system built, integrated and deployed (even if only into a test environment)
  • Test-First Programming – write failing tests first so that you can prevent scope creep, improve the loose coupling and high cohesion of the code, improves team trust and produces a rhythm focused on delivery
  • Incremental Design – regularly reviewing the design and then allowing for refactoring so that the design emerges as more is learnt about the way things need to work.
Corollary Practices
  • Real Customer Involvement – this is to increase the value produced by the system
  • Incremental Deployment – when replacing something gradually take it over small piece by small piece as early in the project as possible
  • Team Continuity – keep effective teams together and move them to other projects
  • Shrink Teams – try to get the team as small as possible to deliver the work required
  • Root-Cause Analysis – the aim is that when an issue occurs that it is not just fixed but a similar type of issue can not occur again
  • Sharing Code – the team should own the code so anyone on the team can make changes to it
  • Code and Tests – should be the only permanent artifacts other documentation should be generated from them
  • Single Code Base – there should only be one code stream and short lived branches
  • Daily Deployments – getting the code to generate value as soon as possible but this needs the support of sufficient tests etc which take time to build up
  • Negotiated Scope Contract – have shorter contracts with fixed time, cost and quality but negotiable on scope
  • Pay-Per-Use – this is a great feedback for which features are actually used, should be developed further or removed

Book Notes : Who Are You, Really?

Who Are You, Really?: The Surprising Puzzle of Personality by Brian Little
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Biogenic : This is the biological you, and can be split into The Five Personality Traits

  1. Open to Experiences (vs. Closed) – being attracted to new ventures and exploring new things.  Such people succeed in coming up with novel solutions.
  2. Conscientious (vs. Casual) – being laser focused, this helps achieve more academic pursuits and conventional problem solving.
  3. Extraverted (vs. Introverted) – being attracted to potential rewards in their environment choosing quantity of experiences (as opposed to introverts who look for quality).
  4. Agreeable (vs. Disagreeable) – smooth other conflict and build alliances.  They are highly trusting and might be seen as being naive.  They have high levels of empathy.  Disagreeable people are cynical and distrusting of others.
  5. Neurotic (vs. Stable) – being attuned to punishment and which leads to anxiety, depression and vulnerability.  Such people are the canaries in the coal mine.

Sociogenic : This is the environment in which you are and are your historical experiences, this is how you engage with the world.

Idiogenic : All people are essentially scientists creating experiments and testing hypothesises about the world and evaluating their results.  This is the personal way that we view the world that is constantly in flux.

The Biogenic, Sociogenic and Idiogenic aka nature, nurture and the way you view the world work together and evolve as you experience every day.

The book goes on to detail how can you build and develop the traits that you might want with the key to these being the projects which you undertake. Some of these projects will be you working by yourself (e.g. keeping the lawn tidy) or it could be projects which you do with one or more other people (e.g. looking after a pet).

Book Notes : The Five Dysfunctions of a team

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The book presents a story which dives into a team and the problems with them working together towards a common goal.

5 dysfunctions of a team

Dysfunction 1 : Absence of Trust
When you have a group of people who feel that they have to be great to be in their role it is important that people can be open and honest, without this people hide mistakes and work for their own personal aims.

As a leader it is important to lead by example for people to be open and to share without fear of negative criticism or reprisal.

Dysfunction 2: Fear of Conflict
Where there is no trust there is no ability to have tough discussions and for people to actively come to the best decision for the organisation.

If you present an idea which you know is bad and no one challenges it then you know that people are not engaged or they fear an active discussion on topics.

Dysfunction 3: Lack of Commitment
Once there has been an active discussion and an outcome agreed then people need to commit to it and run with it. If this is not the case then people go against the decision intentionally and this can cause conflict elsewhere in the organisation as a result e.g. between teams from different departments.

There needs to be closure on issues. To focus the mind deadlines can be set and a formal review scheduled to reevaluate the decision.

Dysfunction 4: Avoidance of Team Accountability
If there is a lack of commitment then there is a lack of holding people to the decision. This can result in poor performance and the leader becoming the sole source of discipline since no other people will hold people against the agreed decision. When accountability is in place then things are clear. can be reviewed and helps teams remain healthy.

Dysfunction 5: Inattention to Team Objectives
Care needs to be taken that it is not every person for themselves e.g. personal recognition etc. The team needs collective goals and team members need to be constantly striving for the achievement of the team. When the team is working well then team members will be glad to feel part of it and will be focused on delivering value.

Book Notes : Radical Candor

Radical Candor : How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean by Kim Scott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book covers a number of topics, of which the one about radical candor is just one, a second is performance management for Rock and Super stars, giving and encouraging feedback, pushing people personally, how to be the boss and getting things done as a team.

Radical Candor

Radical Candor is the mixture of caring personally and challenging directly.

Performance management

At any point people can be in two gears – “Rock Star” and “Super Star”, an effective team needs a mix of these people the people who are solid, getting things done and are dependable as well as those pushing ambitious, agents for change and promotion.

For the Super stars (top right) keep them challenged and be prepared to replace them when they move on. The aim for Super stars is not to become a manager – the development path for them needs to be appropriate for their needs and desires.  Promotions need to be fair and there needs to be an aversion of promotion and status obsession.

Since a team needs both Rock and Super stars it is important to look at how you reward Super stars compared to Rock stars as most talent mapping or pay review processes favor the super stars not the rock stars who the team actually depends on. The rock stars (bottom right) deserve recognition and respect as much as the super stars. The aim should not be promotion as this might not be what the rock stars actually want but there could be other things or opportunities you could give people such as being a guru or teaching, these might not be what they want to first find out.

For people stuck in the middle or top left they need help moving them to the right and if this is not working then likely they will need to leave the company.

For people Super stars in the top left there might be reasons they are under performing such as wrong role, taking on too much too fast or a poor fit. For these people a change of role might be needed.

For under-performing rock stars and super stars who are in the best role then they need to find a new company. Firing people is never an easy thing and managers tend to do it too late because they think it will get better, somebody is better than nobody, better to transfer them to another team or they are worried that firing them will be worse for moral. In reality these are never good reasons and they should be helped and if that does not work they should leave the company to find a role that is more suited to them.  Don’t unilaterally decide to fire someone, consult with others to get a fuller picture but don’t wait too long to do it – genuinely care and follow up after they have left.

Ways to give praise and criticism

  • Ask for feedback and push past the “Everything is fine” such as “Is there anything I should start or stop doing which would make it easier for you to work with me?”
  • Reward criticism
  • Feedback box
  • Be humble
  • Be helpful
  • Give feedback immediately in just 2-3 min between meetings
  • Feedback in private in person
  • Praise in public
  • Don’t personalise
  • If you have to do a performance review there should be no surprises
  • Put at least as much effort into looking forward as into looking back
  • Get people to talk directly
  • Encourage story sharing
  • Skip level meetings (speaking with the people two levels below)
    • Feedback should not be attributed to who gave the feedback
    • Take notes and project them in the meeting for everyone to review as you go
    • Start with things like “What is your boss doing well?”  “What could a boss do better?”
    • Prioritise the list so the recipient knows what is most important
    • Tell people you are sharing notes right after the meeting, this gives a last minutes push to get things finished
    • Ensure the recipient notifies people of what areas they will work on

To push people and to avoid boredom

Complete three meetings with each person

  1. Their life story – hear about their history and in particular any changes whey made, e.g. took up football to more team activities, this gives insight into the individuals values.
  2. Their dreams – what do they dream about at the peak of their career.  From this list the skills required to be able to achieve the dreams.  If there is a discrepancy between their dreams and their values find out why, e.g. hard working value and a retire early dream could be because they have children who will need more care.
  3. Eighteen month plan – “What do you need to learn to move towards your dream? How would you prioritise what you need to learn? How can we evolve your role so you can learn these?”

Being a boss

Sometimes you should lead and sometimes you should manage, depending on what exactly needs to be done – as such the book uses the term boss as a way to cover both.  The extremes of this are absentee management and micro management.

Absentee manager Partnership Micro manager
Hands-off, ear-off, mouth-off Hands-on, ear-on, mouth-off Hands-on, ear-off, mouth-on
Lacks curiosity. Doesn’t want to know. Displays curiosity. Recognises when they need to know. Lacks curiosity. Pretends to know all.
Doesn’t listen. Says nothing. Listens. Asks why? Doesn’t listen. Tells how.
Is afraid of any details. Asks about relevant details. Gets lost in the details.
Had no idea what’s going on. Is informed because hands-on. Asks for make-work presentations, reports and updates.
Sets no goals. Leads collaborative goal-setting. Sets goals arbitrarily.
Remains unaware of problems. Listens to problems. Brainstorms solutions. Tells people how to solve problems without fully understanding them.
Causes collateral damage by tripping on grenades unaware. Removes obstacles and defuses explosive situations. Tells people how to remove obstacles/defuse situations, but watches from a safe distance.
Is ignorant of both the questions and the answers. Shares what they know; asks questions when they don’t. Pretends to know when they don’t.
Is unaware of context. Shares relevant context. Hoards information.

Get stuff done together

There are a couple of take aways which I feel are really useful from this book. The more structured approach to understand peoples motivation, the idea short feedback – I think the idea of “micro feedback” is one which I will pick up as well as the sequence

Listen, challenge, commit

Book Notes : Powerful

Powerful : Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility by Patty McCord
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The greatest motivation is contribution to success
  • The greatest team achievements are driven by all team members understanding the ultimate goal and being free to creatively problem-solve in order to get there.
  • The strongest motivator is having great team members to work with, people who trust one another to do great work and to challenge one another.
  • The most important job of management is to ensure that all team members are such high performers who do great work and challenge one another.
  • You should operate with the leanest possible set of policies, procedures, rule and approvals because most of these top-down mandates hamper speed and agility.
  • Discover how lean you can be by steadily experimenting.  If it turns out a policy or procedure was needed, reinstate it.  Constantly seek to refine your culture as you constantly work to improve your product and service.
Every single employee should understand the business
  • Employees at all levels want and need to understand not only the particular work they are assigned and their team’s mission, but also the larger story of the way the business works, the challenges the company faces, and the competitive landscape.
  • Truly understanding how the business works is the most valuable learning, more productive and appealing than “employee development” training.  Its the rocket fuel of high performance and lifelong learning.
  • Communication between management and employees should genuinely flow both ways.  The more leaders encourage questions and suggestions and make themselves accessible for give-and-take, the more employees at all levels will offer ideas and insight that will amaze you.
  • If someone working for you seems clueless, chances are they have no been told information they need to know.  Make sure you haven’t failed to give it to them.
  • If you don’t tell your people about how the business is doing and the problems being confronted – good, bad and ugly – then they will get that information somewhere else, and it will often be misinformation.
  • The job of communicating is never done.  It’s not an annual or quarterly or even monthly or weekly function.  A steady stream of communication is the lifeblood of competitive advantage.
Humans hate being lied to and being spun
  • People can handle being told the truth, about both he bussiness and their performance.  The truth is not only what they need but also what they intensely want.
  • Telling the truth about perceived problems, in a timely fashion and face to face, is the single most effective way to solve problems.
  • Practicing radical honesty diffuses tensions and discourages backstabbing; it builds understanding and respect.
  • Radical honesty also leads to the sharing of opposing views, which are so often withhelf and which can lead to vital insight.
  • Failing to tell people the truth about problems is their performance leads to an undue burden being soldered by manager and other team members.
  • The style of delivery is important; leaders should practice giving critical feedback so that it is specific and constructive and comes across as well intentioned.
  • Consider setting up a system for colleagues to offer one another critiques.  We created a successful one at Netflix and instituted an annual feedback day for the whole company to share comments with anyone they had thoughts for.
  • Model openly admitting when you are wrong.  n addition, talk about what went into your decisions and where you went wrong.  That encourages employees to share ideas and opposing views with you even if they directly contradict your position.
Debate vigorously
  • Intense, open debate over business decisions is thrilling for teams, and they will respond to the opportunity to engage in it by offering the very best of their analytical powers.
  • Set terms of debate explicitly.  People should formulate strong views and be prepared to back them up, and their arguments should be based primarily on facts, not conjecture.
  • Instruct people to ask one another for explanations of their views and of the problems being debated, rather than making assumptions about these things.
  • Be selfless in debating.  That means being genuinely prepared to lose your case and openly admitting when you have.
  • Actually orchestrate debates.  You can have people formulate present cases, maybe even have them get up on stage.  Try having people argue the opposite side, poking holes in their own position.  Formal debates, for which people prepare often lead to breakthrough realisations.
  • Beware of data masquerading as fact; data is only as good as the conclusions it allows you to draw from it.  People will be drawn to data that supports their biases.  Hold your data up to rigorous scientific standards.
  • Debates among smaller groups are often best because everyone feels freer to contribute – and it’s more noticeable if they don’t.  Smaller groups also aren’t as prone to groupthink as large groups are.
Build your company now for what you want it to be then
  • To stay agile and move at the speed of change, hire the people you need for the future now.
  • On a regular basis, take the time to envision what your business must look like six months from now in order to be high-performing.  Make a movie of it in your head, imagining how people are working and the tools and skills they have.  Then start immediately making the changes necessary to create that future.
  • More people will not necessarily do more work or better work; it’s often better to have fewer people with more skills who are all high performers.
  • Successful sports teams are the best model for managers; they are constantly scouting for new talent and culling their current roster.  You’re building a team, not raising a family.
  • Some members of your team may simply not be able to grow into high performers for the future your’re heading to.  It is not the job of the business to invest in developing them; the job is to develop the product and market.
  • Develop and promote from within when that’s the best option for performance; when its better to hire from outside, be proactive in doing so.
  • The ideal is for people to take charge of developing themselves; this drives optimal growth for both individuals and companies.
Someone really smart in every job
  • Hiring great performers is a hiring manager’s most important job.  Hiring managers should actively develop their own pipelines of talent and take the lead in all aspects of the hiring process.  They are the lead recruiters.
  • The team and companies most successful in staying ahead of the curve manage to do so because they proactively replenish their talent pool.
  • Retention is not a good measure of team-building success; having a great person in every single position on the team is a better measure.
  • Sometimes it’s important to let even people who have done a great job go in order to make space for high performers in new functions or with different skills.
  • Bonuses, stop options, high salaries, and even a clear path to promotion are not the strongest draw for high performers.  The opportunity to work with teams of other high performers whom they’ll learn from and find it exhilarating to work with is by far the most powerful lure.
  • Making a great hire is not about bringing in an “A Player”; its about finding a great match for your needs.  Someone who is a high performer for one team may not be for another team.
  • Get beyond the resume.  Be really creative about where you look for talent.  Dig further that a list of experiences.  Consider wide-ranging experiences and focus on people’s fundamental problem-solving abilities.
  • Make the interviewing experience extremely impressive all the way through.  You want every single person you interview to want to join the company at the end of the process.
  • HR must be businesspeople who truly understand the way your business works, even if that’s quite technical.  They should be creative, proactive partners in the hiring process.  Investing time in explaining to them the details of the talents you need will pay remarkable dividends.
Pay people what they are worth to you
  • The skills and talents for any given job will not match a template job description, and salaries should not be predetermined according to templates.
  • Information from salary surveys is always behind current market conditions; do not rely on them in making salary offers.
  • Consider not only what you can afford given your current business but also what you will be able to afford given the additional revenue a new hire might enable you to bring in.
  • Rather than paying at some percentile of top of market, consider paying top of market, if not for all roles, then those that are most important to your growth.
  • Signing bonuses can lead to the impression of a salary decrease in the year after the person joins; paying the salary you need in order to bring in a top performer is the better option.
  • Being transparent with staff about compensation encourages better judgement about salaries and undercuts biases, as well as offering the occasion for more honest dialogue about the contributions of various roles to the company’s performance.
The art of good good-byes
  • Employees need to be able to see whether their talents and passions are a good match for the future you are heading to, in order to determine whether they may be a better fit at another firm.
  • People should hear frequently about how well they’re performing.  Even if doing away with the annual performance process is not feasible for you, institute much more frequent meetings to discuss performance.
  • If doing away with the annual review process is an option for you, try it!  The process is a big waste of time and can become a stand-in for real-time information about performance.
  • Either make performance improvement plan genuinely efforts to help people improve performance or get rid of them.
  • The chances you’ll get sued by an employee who is let go are vanishly slim, especially if you have been responsible and regularly sharing with that person the problems you perceive with their performance

Book Notes : Breaking the Fear Barrier

Breaking the Fear Barrier : How fear destroys companies from the inside out and what to do about it by Tom Rieger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book presents the Pyramid of Bureaucracy.

At its lowest level is Parochialism. This is a tendency to force others to view the world from only one perspective or through a narrow filter, when local needs and goals are viewed as more important than broader objectives and outcomes. The result is functional silos, protective policies and rules, defining success for what is best for the team and not the wider organisation. Policies and rules are needed in organisations, they only become bad when they protect the team more than they help the organisation. Rules which are absolute promote parochialism, helpful rules promote an organisations ability to serve customers or achieve strategic goals.

To overcome parochialism a company needs to evaluate every rule to ensure it has a clear benefit that it has to the customers, create a better work place, improve financial success, avoid risk or liability, or prevent catastrophe.  Someone must own the rule so that it can be challenged or changed.  A rule must be evaluated for unintended consequences.

In the middle there is Territotialism. Where as parochialism was about protecting the team from the outside, territotialism is about controlling what is going on within the team. The motivation for this is to reduce waste but results in the following happening to team members:

  • the removal of freedoms e.g. enforcing a script when speaking to customers
  • taking away extra time – this can remove the ability to work with other teams and build links
  • eliminate the opportunity to gain knowledge or skills – in times of scarcity this is the first thing usually to be cut
  • restrict information flow – giving managers more control to micro manage
  • withholding support – because the manager does not want to get blamed for potential waste but then there is no chance for new learning

In territotialism it is not just people who are restricted but everything.

To overcome territotialism employees need to be trusted and given freedom to work.  They need to be aligned with the mission of the company and a reasonable set of ground rules.  As an accompaniment to freedom the employees need time to exercise this, the ability to grow and develop as well access to information and resources so they can fully participate and innovate with support from management.

The peak is Empire Building, this is where a team expand their span of control when it is not in the best interests for the company.  This shows as teams competing for shared resources such as IT or recruitment, teams speak on the behalf of other teams to prioritise their work and in the worst case results in duplication of functions e.g. a team forming its own IT department rather than using the standard one which they can not fully control.  These come from trying to reduce costs but the result is in increased costs instead.

Empires try to gain control in four areas information. budget and resource, decision rights and supervisory rights.  When deciding where something should reside these are the questions to answer:

  • impact on financial performance
  • improvement on the workplace
  • strength of customer relationships
  • limiting liability
  • avail catastrophic failure

Beware of courage killers: inconsistency, the blame game, hoarding information, public floggings and rewarding sub-service over service.