Friday, February 17, 2012

Zipcar smashed my enthusiasm

How should a company react to a customer's suggestion?

Since I am only staying 6 months in Washington, I don't want to buy a car. Renting for the duration is expensive. Furthermore, I live on the border between Washington and Maryland -- we won't even talk about the joys of trying to park when two different jurisdictions are involved in policing on-street parking! But life without a car is difficult in the US. So this led me to choose Zipcar - a car sharing service.

Zipcar is really cool: you pay by the hour or by the day. You have a broad selection of cars parked nearby. Just reserve, walk to the car, swipe you smart card and off you go! Couldn't be easier. And you can even use your smartphone as a remote control to unlock the door. The geek in me smiles from ear to ear.

Now they have many models to choose from, but my favorite model is not close by, so I asked them if they could position one to a nearby parking location. Here is how they answered me:

Dear Peter,

Hi! Thank you for the time you have taken to offer your thoughts and suggestions. We sincerely appreciate this, and do take suggestions and input seriously. While we can not act on every suggestion immediately, we compile them all for future reference and planning. If you have any further suggestions please feel free to forward them to us here at Zipcar. If you have any further questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Thanks and have a nice day!

Regards, (name)
Zipcar Member Services

What are people thinking when they write answers like this? This is classic Management 1.0 with a lot of sugar coating on top! It's quite friendly, but the meaning is clear: It ain't gonna happen. Ice water. Disappointment.

Now, I have really don't have anything bad to say about Zipcar. But my inner self is saying, 'yet another soulless corporation'. In my eyes, Zipcar's NPS rating has gone from 10 down to 7.

Let me tell you another story: I was an early adopter of Target Process. I had an idea for a feature which I communicated to TP. It was simple and made TP much easier to use (at least for me). They put the suggestion on a site where their customers could vote on the suggestions they liked best, and in each release they implemented a few. In the next release, there was my feature! They may even have skipped the voting process - it was a real win. In fact, in happened so fast, I am not sure they did it for me. But who cares? I spent the next two years telling people about 'my feature' in Target Process and how cool TP was that the reacted so quickly.

A suggestion is an opportunity to delight a customer. A suggestion is an opportunity to win an evangelist.

Since then, I have always encouraged Product Owners to include some 'sweets' for their customers in each release, just so that the customer can proudly point to 'their' features in the product. It does wonders for your customer delight ratings.

When you take the time to make a suggestion, what answer would you to receive? Here's what I would like:
Dear Peter,

Thanks for you suggestion! Delighted customers customers are top priority at Zipcar. I have checked on availability, and we can put your favorite car at a nearby location within 30 days. We'll leave it there for three months, and if the demand justifies it, it can stay there permanently. I hope you enjoy the car!
If you have any further questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Thanks and have a nice day!

Regards, (name)
Zipcar Member Services

You can bet I'd be telling everybody about 'my zipcar' for months there after, and I would be motivated to drive it a lot. If that happened to you, how long would you be singing the praises of Zipcar?

It is anybody listening at Zipcar? Why don't you try that answer again?

Update 28-Feb: Once this article came out on twitter, their DC Office reacted very quickly and with a smile. Within a week, there was a BMW at my nearest location. Thanks, Zipcar!

Monday, February 13, 2012

From a Blame Culture to Fearless Trust


As a manager, you understand the second principle of Radical Management: your role is changing from being a controller of people to an enabler of teams. In my coaching work, I've met many managers who, even though they understand this principle, they get really uncomfortable with relinquishing control.
If I trust my team, how do I prevent them from abusing this trust? How do know I will I get results?
This is a perfectly normal question at the beginning of a transition, especially in large organizations. What is trust? How can you trust your people? And how do create a climate that encourages trust?

Without trust, people have to protect themselves from betrayal and attack. Work is a dreary grind, in which people are constant fear of punishment, and the workplace resembles a Dilbert cartoon with slightly more lifelike renderings of the people involved. In fact, if Dilbert is a favorite subject for decorating people's offices or the coffee corner, then you probably have a problem with trust and fear in your organization.

A company living a trust culture can be a wonder to behold! Happy, motivated staff working effectively with each other, with stakeholders, with managers and even with customers to produce great outcomes! Is your company like this? Stop and imagine for a moment what it would be like...!

Trust means a lot of things to different people. Let's look at the different kinds of trust in an organizational context:
  1. Blind Trust: Don't worry, be happy! It will all work out in the end.
  2. Commitment Trust: I say I will do something and you can have confidence that I will do it.
  3. Confidence Trust: You can tell me something in confidence and can be sure I will not betray that confidence.
  4. Alliance Trust. You and I commit to a course of action and we both have confidence each will stay the course, even in the face of political resistance.
  5. Fearless-Trust: I can admit weakness without fear of attack.

Blind Trust
Blind trust is what every manager is afraid of, and rightfully so, especially when s/he will be held accountable for the results.

It's a common fear that Radical Managers must engage in blind trust. Let's look at how Scrum addresses this issue:
  1. A Team commits to a achieve a "sprint goal" within a defined time box of one month or less. The goal was requested by a special management role, the Product Owner. Only items representing potential value for the customer or user are normally defined in the sprint goal.
  2. At the end of the time box, Product Owner and Team review the results.
  3. The product owner may not change the sprint goal until the time box has expired.
If the team achieves the goal, everyone is happy. If not, it is a learning experience for all concerned. In the future, the team may commit to less (overly) ambitious goals and/or the team will seek to eliminate impediments which limit its capacity.

Radical Management calls this process Dynamic Linking. I prefer the expression Direct Linking because people seem to grasp the essential idea more quickly: The people doing the work have a direct line of site to the beneficiaries of their work. The results are visible in form that the customer can understand after a short period of time. After a learning phase, when the team learns what it can really do in one month, the team should be able deliver what it promises, month after month. The manager can now focus on managing outcomes, not inputs, outputs or coffee-breaks.

Commitment Trust


When I ask groups of managers and team members what trust is, their answers often refer to Commitment Trust. This is more or less the main dictionary definition of trust. Managers want employees to do what they say they will (e.g. show up for work, deliver on commitments on time, etc.) and management's control function is to ensure that they do so.

Commitment trust is closely related to delegation and accountability. As manager, what can you can you delegate and to whom? How much do you need to be involved in creating, validating, verifying the results?

Jurgen Appelo has created an excellent tool for visualizing and discussing delegation as part of his Management 3.0 Training: Delegation Poker. (BTW - I am a Management 3.0 Licensed Trainer). He identified 7 levels of delegation ranging from
  • Level 1 — Manager decides and communicates his decision, to 
  • Level 7 — Manager delegates and does not even inquire about the results). 
So given a task, you can identify how much competence you wish to delegate. You can reflect on how and whether you want to develop your staff so they develop the ability and/or earn the reputation necessary for higher levels of delegation. And you can put display a delegation matrix on the wall, making the policy visible, transparent, and easy to adapt when needed.

BTW — A Scrum product owner works at about Level 6: Manager delegates and inquires about the results.

Confidence Trust 
When I talk to individual employees, I am often confronted with Confidence Trust. For instance, "You didn't hear this from me, but...." There is an issue, but s/he is not allowed to mention it in public for fear of the consequences.

There will always be a need for discretion. Particularly discussing about individuals and personal problems requires sensitivity. However if people in your organization rely frequently on confidence trust when discussing what should be factual issues, this is a sign that a culture of fear is preventing a free flow of information in operationally or strategically important areas.

Alliance Trust

Every successful manager understands the importance of Alliance Trust. It's often the only way to get things done in an organization. Build alliances to help each other advance. Build consensus to ensure decisions

Like with confidence trust, there will always be affinities between people and relationships that endure over time. But what decides key decisions in your organization? The positional power of the people involved or the power of the arguments brought to the discussion (especially in context of what's best for your customers)? And when a decision is taken, do the proponents of the road not taken commit to the decision? Or do they wait for the chance to say 'I told you so!'

One symptom of too much reliance on alliance trust is an inability to make decisions or set priorities.

This often manifests itself as constantly shifting priorities in the organization. One faction has the upper hand and gets a decision in their favor, but the losers don't give up. A dramatic event (real or imagined) causes a shift in the priorities and the decision changes. Running projects are canceled and 'resources' are reallocated. This is a nice way a saying that you have wasted a ton of money and a lot time on unfinished work which will never delight the customer or produce a return for the company.

Fearless-Trust
Fearless Trust is like Fearless Change. Fearless change is not about a daredevil's approach to change. It is about change without fear, i.e. taking the fear out of change. A trust culture is about taking the fear (and politics!) of out of work, so people can focus on the real issues.

Only once have I coached a company that had an explicit policy of Fearless Trust, also known as a Trust Culture, before I started working with them. This was the easiest and most delightful transition I have ever had the pleasure to assist. People were willing to learn and try out new things. They were not afraid of the consequences of trying something which might not work out as planned (because they will not punished for trying) so the hurdles to trying out Scrum were very low. They also tripled their productivity almost instantly and made tremendous strides in improving customer delight from the first product release onwards.

The alternative to a trust culture is a blame culture, in which people are held responsible for mistakes. The most immediate symptom of blame culture is whenever anything goes wrong, the first order of business is identifying the guilty party. Those accused focus on deflecting the blame to someone else. The loser gets to fix the problem. I believe that most companies have a blame culture, because this is natural side effect of emphasizing individual performance over team performance.

Why should you foster a trust culture? Simple! In trust cultures people don't waste time and energy looking for guilty parties or defending themselves from attacks. People don't choose CYA strategies over doing what's best for the customer. People can commit to decisions - even those they did not agree with  - and hold each other accountable for delivering. (For a deeper understanding of trust cultures and the dysfunctions associated with blame cultures, check out The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni.

In my next article on trust, I want to look at how to create a trust culture in your company.

Are there other aspects of trust in an organization that I overlooked? And how have you experienced the flavors of trust in your company?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Video Introducing #Stoos to the Scrum Breakfast

Yesterday, the LAS Coreteam organized its first Scrum Breakfast without me. To fill in the spot left by the thought for the day, Kai asked me a few questions over Skype and edited them into a short video. The main topic was Stoos, but we also talked about this years Lean Agile Scrum Conference and the Scrum Retrospectives. You can watch the video or read the (partial) transcript below.



Q: The last I heard from you, you were getting ready for the Stoos gathering. What was the Stoos Gathering?

A: In January, a diverse group of 21 thought leaders, executives, and coaches from around the world met on the Stoos. Our inspiration was the Snowbird Lodge gathering with produced the Agile Manifesto.

Our invitation went beyond Agile and Lean practitioners to include Business, Leadership and HR communities. This group identified much common ground on how management should be and a tremendous discrepancy between that and how most companies are actually run. For instance, we believe organizations can become learning networks of individuals that create value. We believe the role of leaders should include the stewardship of the living rather than the management of the machine.

We want to facilitate the tipping point - the sustainable transformation of management from the command and control philosophy of the 20th century into something compatible with the context of the 21st century. I believe that Scrum, Kanban and Radical Management are examples of ways to "do Stoos," and other approaches will surely arise.

Q. How can people in Switzerland get involved?

A. Many ways: First join the conversation on linked in and twitter. The group is called the Stoos Network and it has a Linked In group, and our twitter tag is #Stoos (with two o's). Second, create or join and build community in your region to develop and exchange information on doing Stoos -- much like the Scrum Breakfasts. John Styffe is organizing a group in Zurich and I have started a Leadership Breakfast in Washington (together with the American University Business School).

Q. Is that why you are in Washington?

A. The driver was that the building I live in is being renovated and we had to go somewhere for 6 months. I had both personal a professional reasons for choosing the DC area. Steve Denning, the visionary behind Radical Management lives nearby. I want to work with him to make Radical Management a widely accepted approach for doing Stoos across the organization. So I plan to work on three things:
  1. Create a course with Steve Denning around Radical Management and doing Stoos
  2. Work on the WIKISPEED project - both on actually building cars and on helping this crowd-sourced project become a viable company that continues to live its Stoosonian values.
  3. Develop the Stoos Community in Washington, DC.