Who Is To Blame For The Culture of No?

“If there’s a big problem in corporate America, it’s that we say ‘Yes’ too much at times. There’s a whole lot of yes going around. The problem? Only about 1/2 of the “yes” responses are followed up with action that is representative of all of us living up to the commitment we made. That’s why you need to say ‘no’ more.”  – HR Capitalist

You haven’t experienced all the fulfillment of service delivery management until your told something that is so foreign, so alien, that your first reaction is bewilderment. With a dash of astonishment. What the heck did this guy just tell me?

What could anyone say that would create such a reaction? When someone says someone represents the culture of no.  Traditional help desk, engineering, and information security has thrived in a culture of “no”. To be accused of perpetuating the culture of no.  Seriously?  Let’s break it down…

What is the Culture of No?

“Rather than encountering a world that encourages you to dream big, you may find yourself mired in a ‘culture of no’ — one where fear of failure means that great ideas don’t even get a try” – Wafaa El-Sadr, director of the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Program

“We have all met that wall. And when those walls exist, people find ways around them. The workarounds make their lives easier. They implement what they think is best. Their efforts are not intentionally destructive but can lead to unintentional vulnerabilities and, potentially, harm.” – Article from DZone

Let’s unpack the why…

First, is to acknowledge no one in management wakes up in the morning and says, “I’m going to tell 10 people no today”. Talk about a crazy goal. No is a often considered an emotionally negative word, so delivering it is avoided.  Sometimes, at all costs.

Second, is often ‘no’ is grounded in policy and standard. Especially if it’s a politically sensitive subject. In my early career, I’ve been directed, a couple of times, to refresh my memory on a policy as the no was delivered.

Third, Leaders are often asked to get creative to say no without saying no. Wordsmithing ‘no’ is a career maker for many leaders, especially in the public relations functions. I’ve been told this falls into the “interpersonal savvy” characteristic, which is a sought after leadership trait.

So mix all that up in a information security or systems engineering context, and you have an explosive mixture pitting IT against business units and developers alike. It’s not surprising there are movements like DevOps to correct the cultures behavior.

Again, all that said, the why of the problem is commitment delivery and lack of clarity that is so succinctly described by the HR Capitalist’s quote above. It’s far easier to just slide into corporate ambiguity versus a clear response.  Yet clear responses are sometimes not appreciated by types of leaders.

So, Who Is To Blame?

Many employees  who are described as being a part of the culture of no are often swimming to stay alive in a toxic company culture. DevOps won’t solve that problem, nor any other service management framework. If CAMS represents DevOps’s core values, start with the first letter: C = Culture.

If your organization is mired in the culture of ‘no’, look hard at your company’s culture and how you are affecting it.  This article isn’t about saying ‘no’.  It’s about having the right culture so ‘no’ is not political, but academic.

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Constraints, Asking for Money, and Kristin Cox…

“Everyone runs to technology for the answer” – Kristin Cox, Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget

I don’t think she meant that in a good way… Maybe if we used our brain versus technology to solve our problems.  Wow!  That’s crazy talk!

Nevertheless, I stumbled across her articles and posts in my Linkedin thread.  An “Expert at Constraints”, here is the highlights on her video, which I would recommend you go watch:  Kristin Cox’s “How to Ask for Money”.

Four questions:

1. What do you do? What services do I produce?
2. How well do you do that? (Quality – Couple of things: Faster, Outcomes better, etc.)
3. What is your operating expense? (What does it cost to make it)
4. What is my ambitious target? (What % quality for I want? Better Outcomes)
– Get clear on what we are really focused on.

Government is lucky to have her.

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Spinning plates as hard as I can…

Routinely, it’s easy to get into deep water with tickets and projects.  Here is an email exchange between one of my team members, JC Foster, and I.


Jon Foster

Where does this fall on my priority list?

  • Tickets
  • AD Project
  • PBX Project
  • Office 365 Project
  • Visual Studio Project
  • Teams rollout

I am spinning plates as hard as I can here.


Jonathan Merrill

Thank you for asking.  My own list is overwhelming.  The organization is hustling.  Projects are piling up and plates are falling as only so much can be done to keep those spun.  Let me turn you onto a recent EntreLeadership podcast, #263 – Thriving in the Age of Overload.  Skip to the Daniel Tardy’s talk about, “The Tyranny of the Urgent”.

Questions Needing Answered When Looking At Your Workload

  1. Does it have to be done?  Can we eliminate it?
  2. If I can’t eliminate, can I automate it?  ß This is where I feel the most work needs to be done.
  3. If I can’t automate it, can I delegate it?  Let someone else do it.
  4. If I can’t delegate it, is it urgent?  Is it a fire?
  5. If it is urgent, how do we approach, getting the right people in the room?   Most often, someone’s fire is not a fire to the organization.

Our temptation is everything is on the list is a fire.  We need to prioritize on impact and urgency based on the most impact to the most people.

If you’ve listened to the pod cast, tasks (or WIP) should be limited 3.  So, looking at this list, here is my recommendation where your head should be at:

  1. Tickets – I agree.  Although take care against this taking up 100% of your day.  Handle Critical and Highs only.  Sometimes, that means contacting customers, negotiating and adjusting the criticality.
  2. Visual Studio Project – Most impact.  Most urgent.  Key to our business.
  3. Office 365 Project  – Most impact.  Most urgent.

This is an exercise everyone can do.  And should be aligned to what is on our team Kanban.

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Hiring in Robert Britten…

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” – John C. Maxwell

It’s not very often you run into exceptional leaders who believe in what you believe, who care at the same level you too care, and execute at the same level and often better than you. I’ve been in this business for a long time and meeting Robert Britten was one of the high points of my career.

He took the reigns at Santander Consumer USA from another colleague of mine, Shaun Hendricks. The team he took on was troubled and when he got going, I admit I was skeptical. Robert is unassuming, humble, and eloquent. Something is wrong with this guy… After working with him for a couple of months, boy was I wrong. After six months, I knew I had a partnership that I would come to trust and rely on in both my professional and personal faith life.

Robert is a titan leader and I am proud to announce he has accepted the position of Director, Technical Services at Lanvera. Rob is going to head up a operations team which has responsibilities across multiple disciplines: application support, database support, and production services support. His team is central to service delivery, connecting infrastructure, development, and client services teams.

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When to Cut Partners Not Meeting Expectations…

“What got you here, won’t get you there” – Dr. Marshall Goldsmith

This post isn’t about leadership, coaching, or ways to win.  It’s in the context of when you have to make the hard decision and cut a partner or vendor that has been in your service for many years.   Why?  I’ve done it wrong many a time.  It wasn’t good.

Any sales guy worth their salt will tell you it’s all about the relationship and, in my time, that advice is right.  I’ve gotten more done on the backs of relationships than not.  I’d even bet that I was more successful with the relationship than without.   That kind of deep partner.  The kind that involve knowing each others’ spouses, kids names, where they go to school, sharing the good times and the bad.

So, what to do when the partnership no longer performs to standard?  When should you cut bait and move onward?  Here is some of my practical advice having been through those scenarios.

#5.  Measure against Expectations.  I am one of those guys who preach, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”  If partners aren’t performing, can you quantify your unhappiness?  Are you able to explain the failure against what is contracted?  Even if it’s outlined in a statement of work, the key is “outcomes” and ensuring expectations are laid.  The more nebulous or gray it’s kept, the harder this will be to enforce.

#4.  Give Feedback Often I sometimes include contractors in my quarterly  evaluation.  I mandate minimum annual review of yearly contracts against our organizations’ outcomes.  This is the administrata.  However, what I am referring to is getting on the phone at least quarterly and letting your partners know how they are doing is good business.  Even if it’s a difficult conversation.  Let them know what the issues are as they happen.  Let partners attempt to fix.  This goes to the root of a good relationship.

#3.  Have a Plan.  After multiple conversations and no progress made, it’s time to formulate an exit strategy from your partner.  Examine contracts, look at work product, what is your obligations, how did they violate, was it reasonable effort to resolve?  Look at replacements, can you transition easily, what is necessary to transition?  Cost deltas?  Time impacts?  Have a plan to move.

#2.  Warn Before You Cut.  Plan in place, I’d give it one more opportunity to fix.  Relationships are hard to build and long to cultivate.  Give them the final meeting where it’s on the line:  change or we move on.  If hands are tied and your partner isn’t responding fairly, then you know what you need to do.

#1.  Always Treat With Respect.  As much as our instinct is to light a fire and watch it burn, how you leave the relationship speaks volumes about your character an professionalism.  Not to mention reflective of your company.  Send the letter formally terminating the relationship and stop paying the bill.  Then walk away and don’t look back.  Move on with respectfulness.

Food for thought.

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Cross Training Teams in a Knowledge Culture

“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.”
— Chinese Proverb

There is so many things IT people need to know these days.  Gone are specializations in many organizations.  Yep, IT pros must know 20 to 30 different types of technologies to remain relevant and competitive.  In fact, as I interview younger candidates, there is evidence the new generation of IT people already have these skills and more.

And that’s just infrastructure.  All organizations expect IT people to know core business applications.  Specifically, how they relate to the organization and customer, technical work flows, monitoring, and on and on.  How does an organization tackle it all while keeping IT pros at least tuned into the periphery?

How I’ve done this historically is this idea of knowledge culture and DevOps’ “Sharing” idea, where team members present material via a TED talk.  Below is my deck on peer learning.  I hope you find it applicable.

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Why We Need and How We Execute Strategic Meetings

Speaking strictly of Patrick Lencioni’s vision of Death By Meeting, the strategic meeting is the hardest meeting to get off the ground.  Although, I argue it’s the most critical.  At LANVERA, we’ve succeeded at stand up and tactical.  Easy parts.  Now, onto strategic…

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LANVERA’s System Engineering Team – 2018

“NIHIL SINE MAGNO LABORE”
– Translated ‘Nothing Without Hard Work’

Rebuilding technology is no small feat.  It takes people who are willing to work the extra hours, have the attention to detail, put their technical skill to the test, and work with peers who expect the same.  It takes a team.

ITO SE 2018

LANVERA System Engineering Team – 2018

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Rob England IS the IT Skeptic

“You don’t change culture team by team or app by app. You don’t get to pick and choose where you DevOps. You can do it for a while – operating bi-modally – in order to experiment, to allow new ways of working to incubate, but it is essential to converge quickly. DevOps is not a piecemeal tool, it is an organisational transformation.” – The IT Skeptic Blog, July 22, 2017

This blog isn’t about DevOps.  There are now thousands to choose from with authors off all walks.  This blog is about Rob England and his blog, The IT Skeptic.

If you haven’t read this blog, start.  It’s a must read.  In fact, I’ve spent evenings rolling through his old content to follow his train of thought in the hottest topics all IT shops struggle with:  How to do IT service delivery, effectively.  It’s an art.  It’s not simple.  And done poorly, costs organizations dearly.

I do not have a recommendation where to start.  If you read his last blog, currently on December 5, 2017, it’s titled, “Project Management was the worst thing that ever happened to IT“… Wow.  And right on target.  Do organizations think this way?  Most can not.

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