Signs of Failed Knowledge Culture

Every now and then I encounter interactions and communications that lend suspicions the team members are not managed from a knowledge culture mindset.  Reactionary behaviors are typical in so many shops to appear to be the norm.  Very similar to the stressful read from the famed novel, The Phoenix Project.

It’s unsettling to witness.  I espouse the necessity of a knowledge driven IT culture.  Equal bits of knowledge worker, knowledge management, and DevOps.  It’s unlearning bad behaviors and replacing with knowledge-based behaviors.  Teams who understand this dynamic see workflow acceleration.  Teams who do not understand…frustratingly do not understand and are friction prone.

This article talks about my top five signs technical teams show symptoms of failed knowledge culture.

#5.  Don’t understand the purpose of Tactical meetings.

“Why do I care what desktop support is doing?” or “I’d rather get an email, this is a waste of my time”.

Death by Meeting is a schematic for managing meetings.  The purpose is to ensure people are communicating together and tactically.  Intentional leadership is necessary to build a values-based culture.  This includes having a meeting.  In the above examples, these comments indicate not just a missing values culture, but missing alignment to IT or business goals and missing identifying their contribution to those goals.

For example, desktop support might want to know what systems engineering is doing that week, especially if it may impact that team.  Proactive knowledge replaces reactive behavior

#4.  Not tracking key performance indicators.  Metrics vs. KPIs.

“These reports mean nothing to me” and “Just another TPS report…”

There is a stark difference between generating metrics and the purpose of a key performance indicator (KPI).  Tools are usually great a cranking out metrics of every kind, useful and otherwise.  However, KPI’s tie to goals.  And if you’re not measuring team performance against KPIs, then you’re not measuring performance.

For example, I argue total tickets closed by technician is a KPI.  I challenge better KPIs measuring performance are average time a ticket is closed, ticket aging, and authored knowledge article reads, preventing the ticket from being opened in the first place.  Performance is often more important to measure velocity of success versus quantity of success.

And if you’re not surfacing team KPI performance in tactical, leaders are missing epic opportunities to cohere the team.

#3.  Argumentative as to medium of how KPI’s should be consumed in Tactical.

“Why do I care how much CPU the PROD environment consumed last week?” or “How many laptops are in inventory” and “We need to eliminate the noise”

Couple of key points to make.  First, I recommend teams starting out that getting members in the habit of measuring by reviewing metrics is a first key step.  Metrics quickly replaced with KPIs tied to IT and/or business goals.  Leadership is responsible for developing KPI targets.

Second, there is no right or wrong way to approach the consummation of KPIs.  That building phase usually manifests as PowerPoint slides or a reporting website from the tool.  I lean slides as I like to treat as a meeting with minutes and keep for historic purposes.

Third, cadence and tone of the meeting being set, there will always be overlap or measures, arguably, less valuable to few people.  As teams cohere to common KPI, it’s not horrible waste of time to spend a few seconds listening to KPI from follow teammates.  Use to recognize the work and appreciate milestones.  Moving the team in the same direction often requires acknowledging.  Nevertheless, leaders should ensure it’s being done reliably and consistently.

#2.  Doesn’t understand the knowledge culture fundamentals or values.

Lessening fire fights by lowering reliance on technical constraints is a key point made in the Phoenix Project.  There are two team member behaviors that I’ve witnessed that hinder lifting burdens from constraints:

Behavior #1, “Don’t want to do it”.  Shifting left, or moving towards self-service knowledgebase, is a cultural shift.  Some team members won’t get aboard the train to promote knowledge cultures.  They don’t want to write, they don’t want to share, and shifting left is met with skepticism.  Come to work and go home and/or “been doing it this way (unhealthy) for XY years” is the key behavior trait.

Behavior #2, “Don’t have the time”.  Expectations continue to heap on IT pros, true.  But, leveraging as a crutch to get out of their responsibility is a nasty behavior.  Often citing, “too busy” to embrace new policies and processes.  Too busy to write standards and knowledge articles.  Too busy!  Yet, first off to lunch, first to leave for early weekend.  First to waste time is the key behavior trait.

Leaders need to coach with expectations defined.  Else, release the team member.  Caustic cultures catch on like wildfire.  So, its critical team members have the right attitude, so to focus on goals and not the bad culture.

#1.  Leadership not aligned; how can employees be?

Be skeptical of the unread IT leader.  If Phoenix Project, DevOps Handbook, or Measure What Matters wasn’t on their read list, how can knowledge culture take root?

In my experience, I’ve been told culture is nice, but not as important as revenue, customer needs, senior leader desires, or what ever the fire of the week is.  In other words, leadership conditions itself based on treatment amongst the peer group or top-down treatment.  Culture does start at “the top” and if leaders do not embrace, there is no chance.

Looking at most successful companies, “culture” is king influences revenue, customer needs, and how leadership treats itself and direct reports.  Few companies realize good working cultures due to leadership not aligned to knowledge values and the consistency to stick with it.

What are you doing to drive knowledge culture?  Are you pushing positive proactive knowledge behaviors with your team?

\\ JMM

If you look good, you play good. If you play good, you will get paid good…

“If you look good, you play good.  If you play good, you will get paid good.”

Cam Newton, Panthers

Grabbed from Amazon’s “All or Nothing”, 2018 Season… Yet, this post isn’t about the challenges Cam is facing health and performance wise. Watching the show, Cam seems to have an acute understanding about the importance of performance and delivering.

It’s something many technology people do not seem to understand. Still.

As a long time leader of teams, this personality pops up either through inherited hires or the “transformer” hire (great interview, bad performer — you’ve been there, right?)

I’ve witnessed it as early as this past week. The typical scapegoat is “culture” or “leadership”. Reasons their career is in jeopardy and the hand that was dealt was somehow unfair. “Bad leaders!” Quite the contrary.

Not surprisingly, businesses and leaders put up with a lot to deliver excellent service. The best companies seem to put up with less overall, but I digress. In the majority of these cases, the why is conveniently left out.

Here are the top 5 issues I see routinely from low to mid performers:

5. Begrudging participation. Barring critical incidents, the reception getting the team together for team meetings, cross trains, or the occasional after hours events is either good or not good. This includes things like knowledge culture and documentation too! Usually a first sign of an iceberg ahead.

4. Poor execution > good execution. Catch that? Not superior or perfect execution. Just good, folks. Poor execution being the norm is donkey behavior, not thoroughbred behavior. Superior preparation. Knowledge builds confidence.

3. Not life long learning. Does not include Google search alone. If your in the support and engineering fields, what are you doing to keep yourself educated on technology? On the job and reading blogs is not enough for the big money. Certifications demonstrate mastery in lieu of decades of experience.

2. Not Understanding the business. Do you know how the business works? What we sell? How your role impacts customers?

1. Attitude Problems. Negativity doesn’t sell. It paints not just you badly, but your team members. And your boss. Blaming the company, the management, your peer group, your family life, the government… not thoroughbred behavior.

There are many excellent information technology people out there. I would argue the majority of this career field leans par to above par on performance. It’s the below par people we are talking about — you know who you are.

Let’s try coaching and correct the course. Talk to your leaders and determine if it’s truly a bad fit versus “you”. Find a mentor. Need feedback. Stand out!

Because if you play good… You will get paid good.

PS. When I wrote this blog, I immediately thought of the above episode, Picard getting a performance eval from Riker and Troy. “Stand Out. Take Risks.” I feel it’s important to underscore taking the right risks versus any risks.

\\ JMM

Managing involves measurement, doesn’t it…?

“We wouldn’t even know how to measure what healthy looks like. When we have a problem, we just know it’s resources.”

A Developer, Collaborating a slow application issue.

I immediately perked up at the man’s comment. It’s one any seasoned IT pro with server and storage background can identify with. And it annoys today no different than when I heard it years ago.

The relationship between development and infrastructure teams have historically been… professionally difficult. Nevertheless, in the age of DevOps, agile, and automation, this problem of developers vs. infrastructure still exists at some levels. And, in my experience, the root cause is typically the same: a lack of understanding how and what to measure.

Let’s take a common sample: An in house developed business application begins to get slow after load. The application works well under artifical testing workload. Passes quality and security testing. It’s released into production, but as the business grew, the application’s workload exponentionally grew despite no changes to the application.

Through the lens of the five stages of grief:

LevelThe Business Says…Developers Say…IT Says…
“1”
Denial
The business is growing. Keep the application healthy as we grow.Nothing wrong with the application. Application just needs more resources.Somthing is wrong. Resources are finite and can’t infinitely scale. As demand goes up, soft argue requests.
“2”
Anger
Clients impacted randomly, jeopardizes revenue. “This is unacceptable!” Sales and Executive team anger palatable.“Just give it more resources!” demands development. IT is at fault because they are slow to react, although recognize applications limits and technical debt growth. Will fix one day…“Iceberg ahead!” Technical debt grows. Business and development are at fault because they don’t understand workload vs. timing of resource vs. limits vs. financial realities.
“3” BargainingIf only the technical teams worked better together. Blame development and IT leadership for failures. Deny technical debt reality, priortize features over scale.If only the business recognized earlier the technical debt so developers could improve the application to scale. If only IT would be more supportative so development didn’t have to perform support.If only leaders would recongize the effort IT is trying to keep the application working, which is turning into a support nightmare. Morale low. People leaving.
“4”
Depression
Impacts on top of slow sales cycle lead to short tempers and broad opinions based on perception / feelings. Not data.Developers take a beating as primary causes for failure. Morale low. Talented developers begin to leave. Technical debt begins to be worked, slowly.Culture isn’t sustainable as we grow. People and process ignored as blame and fingerpointing ensure. Nothing based on data.
“5”
Acceptance
Option 1. Things Stay The Same. Culture, processes, and people remain unrecongizable or admitted problem areas. Status quo.Option 2. Things must change. Recongition to change, but how to change? Confusion and lack of alignment ensues.Option 3. Things do change. Leaders commit to mission and vision, collectively. Measuring and alignment replace confused culture.
I stole this table from a college class, which the professor underscored not just the business disfunction, but the importance of data making business decisions.

The point here is managing things, including developed applications, based on perception and/or reaction is not managing. It’s guessing. And when it works out where the thing is not a problem — the guess paid off — everyone enjoys feeling good. The “avoided bullet”.

But what about when it doesn’t work out? Take the quote at the top: “We wouldn’t even know how to measure what healthy looks like.” That is a serious flag on the field. If you don’t measure health, you can’t manage the patients’ health care. As we all know, unmanaged health care means shorter lifespans. Despite ownership.

Calls to action are:

#3. Every single piece of technology deployed must be (1) measurable, (2) being measured, and (3) react “able”. What does healthy and unhealthy look like.

#2. Every development project must have requirements outlining measurements of health, particularly what success and failure looks like. Evaluate peridoically to adjust to business climate and workload change.

#1. Leaders must commit to the culture of quantification by measuring business performance. Start with key performance indicators (KPIs) tied to business mission, goals, and initiaitves. Start with departments that don’t (won’t) measure will be instantly assumed to be failing.

\\ JMM

Real Reason Companies Don’t Want You To Work From Home?

From this article: https://www.linkedin.com/feed/news/working-from-home-is-the-future-5097042/

“Managers who set clear goals for what employees should accomplish in a given time period (whether it’s a week, month, quarter, or year) and regularly check in on progress against those goals “

Is the real reason you can’t work from home because some comapnies can’t set clear goals nor check in on progress? Are those companies measuring performance? Or just winging it?

Culture trumps process, every time.  Go along or lead.  Good to great starts with one leader.  Call To Action.  Managers.  We need to do better.


PS. This post was actually drafted on February 21, 2020. Now, with COVID-19 and shelter at home, this topic has taken a new meaning.

I spoke to a few colleagues today on different fronts that had an interesting take on “working from home”. Let’s explore a few notables:

3. VPN Technology is “flying off the shelves”. Many SMB companies were not prepared for large percentages of workforce to work from home. Interesting. VPN has been around for awhile, true. But I bet companies weren’t buying licenses to cover 90% of their workforce. Unlike toilet paper, plenty of VPN licenses availble to be purchased…

2. Old school leaders are coming to grips with work from home. Begrudlingly admitting it is working, but still prefer the office. I suspect there is truth in that statement. It’s less about “better collaboration” and maybe more about senior leaders like being in the office. So, everyone else should too! Hmmm…

1. Home networks may not be ready for work from home. It started innocently with headsets. But the ask has expanded to dual monitors, docking stations, and … subsidize my Internet! Working from home on my slow as hell 50MB isn’t cutting it. Should companies allow the equipment to go home? Pay for a percent of Internet usage? Consensus is no. No budget to equip home users this way.

All that said… as of April 1, any progress being made by managers setting clear goals? Measuring for employee performance? Status quo or WFH improving culture?

Last note: In March, I worked from home for two weeks and lost 5 pounds. Went back to work for one day, gained 2 pounds. Came back home, worked two more days at home, lost 2. Scientific evidence WFH is healthier for me?

\\ JMM

Blowing the Whistle…

Great leaders encourage dissent, welcome whistleblowing and encourage contrasting points of view.  Weak leaders demand blind obedience and threaten those who would dare point out any shortcomings or question their decisions.” – Robert Glazer, CEO, Acceleration Partners

This statement reasonated on two fronts:

First, the importance of leaders pushing team engagement. Academic debate is key to my teams’ success. Not just explaining the why. Getting the team to buy in on the why and carry the message.

Second, I would bet most seasoned leaders have encountered this scenario and faced a similiar decision: Speak up and possibly lose your job OR stay quiet, stay safe, and protect the bad decision. Risking being seen as a political pariah or worse, loss of financial safety. Especially as we get older.

Read the whole article here: https://www.robertglazer.com/friday-forward/value-of-whistleblowers/

\\ JMM

Top Valued Skills for 2030

Lately, I’ve been speaking to my boys, colleagues, and peers about the difficulties of finding people.  Specifically, what are the valuable skills that we need to instill in our people.

Shortly afterwsrds, ironically, I caught this slide during a recent technical conference:

Technology literacy can be taught. Judgement learned by wisdom and mentoring. Tougher to find is the emotional intelligence, logic, and creative drive.

\\ JMM

The single most important decider in your success at any job is your attitude…

I find this quote very naive:  “The single most important decider of your success at any job or company is how much your boss likes you or wants to succeed.”

This quote is more realistic:  “The single most important decider in your success at any job is your attitude.  This includes willingness to work, to improve, and learn from failures or adversities.” — Frank Walton, Saxon Global

Pro Tips On How To Do Tactical Meetings…

From the mailbag, here is an old email given to team members, old and new, pro-tips for how to approach the Tactical meeting every Monday.

Why?

If your curious where this comes from, check out the book Death By Meeting, by Patrick Lencioni.  His suggested meeting structure mentally optimizes and focuses on the tactical subjects of the week.  It’s far too easy to stray into the strategic or get into the weeds, which traditional meetings suffer from.

How?

Here are my tips for team members

1.    Lightening Round – Round table allowing 2 minutes per speaker to give what was accomplished last week and what is on your task list for this week.

The lightening round asks two questions:  What you got accomplished last week and What you have on your plate for this week.

  • Come prepared before the meeting. Don’t muddle through.  It’s obvious when it happens and doesn’t reflect well.
  • Talk about the top 5 or most significant things you accomplished during this round.  Think about your audience and what you would like the team members to know. Especially if it’s project work, client-related work, or tasks of high importance.
  • Don’t waste the teams’ time by telling the teams the obvious things, like “Did my security training” or “Cleaned up my tickets”, or “Went to Team Meeting”. This is what is expected of you.
  • It’s ok to say “Tickets” and/or “BAU” (Business as Usual).  This indicates you were head down focusing on what’s in your queue and don’t have anything of significance to share.

2.    Metrics/KPI Review – 10 minutes to review last week’s SLAs and KPI performance.

The teams leaders are responsible for asking team members what is important to measure.  If you’ve been asked to create a slide for KPI review, consider these points:

  • What is your KPI trying to communicate? What is “good” performance?  What is our current performance?  State the “good” on your slide.
  • Avoid busy or cluttered slides. Jamming a bunch of charts and graphs on your slide does not communicate or relay the message well.
  • Don’t “Wing It”.  KPIs are designed to get everyone on the teams aligned, goal in hand, and hitting targets.  If the KPI isn’t relevant to those ends, then skip it.
  • Use KPI’s to communicate problems. Got a particular problem you need to communicate but no one is taking notice?  Use KPIs to measure the “bad”.

3.   Adhoc-Agenda – Group comes up with an agenda on the spot based on time remaining.  Keep topics tactically focused.  No strategic discussions during this meeting.

Adhoc is where questions, answers, or announcements that pertain to the coming week are had.  Key goals are ensuring alignment and communication between our two teams!

  • This is not the venue to vent or rail against “something”.  Again, show professionalism by using time wisely, refrain from bloviation, and overly wordy.  Straight, to the point, and informative/questioning.
  • This is not the venue to challenge or have academic debate.  Take those topics offline, if needed.
  • Keep Adhoc discussion focused on items needing to be discussed tactically this week.  Shift “strategic” items somewhere else and talk to your manager about when/where.

Always forward, team!

\\ JMM

Begin Your Culture With a Mindset that you Cannot Force Culture…

“Begin your culture with the mindset that you cannot force a culture into existence.  Think of culture as needing a set of boundaries, but allow the culture to build itself using those brains that you have brought into the company to share and mold it into something that is a living breathing thing.  If you expect to build a culture of a PowerPoint presentation – you will be sorely mistaken that anyone will take you seriously.”
– Chris Hatley, Produt Manager for AT&T at Austin CSI.

I talk a lot about the importance of culture. More importantly about how leaders influence culture. But, never enough time talking about how to put the desired culture in place. It’s not easy. Arm chair quarterbacking culture produces a lot of hot air…

Here is my top 5 observations on planting effective culture roots:

5. Vision, Mission, and Values.

It all starts here. What is the vision and mission of the organization? Department? What are the organizations’ values that drive our actions? Where is it in writing? Ink signatures for acceptance. The absence of articulation and promise leads to gray areas.

4. Hire Leaders Who Are All In.

Leadership needs to not just talk the talk, but are all in on vision, mission, and values. Do you have their commitment? Are they driving not just results, but growing their people? Are you watching your leaders? Are they effective?

3. Eliminate “Toxic” and “Donkeys”.

Somehow, they seep in. Whether by best intentions, accidents, or inheritance, culture is most deeply affected by toxicity and donkeys. Kill toxicity where it grows, quickly. Let go the donkeys. Replace with thoroughbreds who can connect to vision, mission, and values.

2. Live and be Accountable to the Values.

People watch their leaders carefully. The best leaders attract disciples and model the desired behavior. The worst, drive people away. How do you model the culture? Are you accountable to yourself? To your team? Time to be real about culture: Are you a part of the problem? Fix it.

1. Reinforce Culture At Every Turn. Teach, Rinse, Repeat.

We joke on my current team about talking/forgetting about things said and “must say it ten times” for it to sink in. There is truth to this. To make change, you must drive it, and drive it, and drive it. Monthly, quarterly, annually. If culture is truly important to you, then make it a priority to teach it, display it, reinforce it, and award it.

\\ JMM