Candor in the workplace, even “extreme” or “radical” candor, has become a hot topic in recent years. And for good reason. The creativity, buy-in, and efficiencies possible through candid conversation are remarkable and well-documented. There’s no question that candid dialogue, when seen as the norm and practiced routinely, is a key source of competitive advantage — companies like Netflix and Bridgewater Associates are good illustrations. Yet practicing candor company-wide is not nearly as easy as popular writings imply, especially if a company’s existing culture is less than candid. At the top of the recommended reading list for candor-challenged workplaces is The Fearless Organization by Amy Edmondson. Published two years ago, this book addresses the often subtle yet widespread effects of fear in the workplace, and how fear impedes candor and creativity. The basic argument is that, for a culture of candor to take hold and endure over time, an organization must first propagate psychological safety throughout its ranks. We couldn’t agree more. This book is strongly recommended for leaders at all levels.
As many of you know, ever since the “Agile Manifesto” for software development was published about 20 years ago, Agile teams have been growing exponentially in number. At the risk of oversimplifying, Agile is an iterative approach to software development in which developers work collaboratively in small teams and deliver measurable work products in short time frames; in so doing, Agile teams are able to adapt and respond quickly to always-evolving client needs. Documented successes naturally led to the spread of Agile principles from IT to other organizational divisions. Just over a year ago, however, an article in Forbes declared “The End of Agile,” due to its scope of application having far outgrown the contexts for which Agile methodology is well-suited. But not so fast! As argued powerfully by veteran software developers Douglas Squirrel and Jeffrey Fredrick in their brand new book, Agile Conversations, most failures of Agile are traceable not to the methodology itself, but rather to the inability and/or unwillingness of its participants to regularly engage in the challenging conversations necessitated by the Agile framework. At PMC, we’re not at all surprised by this conclusion. As our teacher Chris Argyris pointed out decades ago, promising workplace initiatives will continue to turn into “passing management fads” as long as people avoid the hard conversations that will help them truly learn from each other. For more on the why and how of difficult conversations in Agile teams, we highly recommend Squirrel and Fredrick’s outstanding new book.
You’ve got your work cut out for you. Yes, expectations are high, but we believe in you. Please know we will do all we can to help you become a role model for your successors.
This is the most preaching you’ll ever see from PMC. And it’s tongue-in-cheek, at that. The message is nonetheless vitally important as we enter the mostly indoors months ahead. In addition to protecting our neighbors, let’s protect the workload (and sanity) of our health care workers by doing whatever we can to minimize the reach of the virus. The more we all make safety from the virus our priority in these winter months, the more we will be helping our already-strained health care system as we await vaccine distribution and, eventually, Spring (yes, Spring will come, both literally and metaphorically!). Such efforts are truly the best Holiday gifts we can give each other.
Wishing you happy and safe Holidays!
The National Security Agency has again asked Brookings Executive Education (BEE) to provide instruction on conflict resolution to executives at NSA Headquarters, Fort Meade, MD. BEE’s goal is to support the men and women who serve our country with cutting-edge leadership courses, either at the Brookings facility in Washington, DC, onsite at the requesting agency, or virtually. The BEE instructor retained for this purpose is Paul Paese, of PMC. Paul will teach “Strategies for Conflict Resolution” at Fort Meade virtually next month. This two-day course has been converted from in-person to virtual delivery with agencies like NSA specifically in mind. Paul is excited to have the opportunity to continue working with the distinguished executives at NSA.
With election season upon us, the deep political and ideological divisions in our country are especially palpable. Passions run strong on all sides. Is it possible to debate and disagree in today’s climate without “going tribal” and putting one’s tribe ahead of our nation as a whole? As we’re bombarded by inflammatory rhetoric in the weeks and months ahead, let us remember the words contained in the Seal of the United States – E pluribus unum, or “Out of many, one.” Lively political discourse is essential for a healthy nation, of course. Yet even as we debate, we are still one. It’s easy to forget this crucial fact. The more mindful we are of our national unity, the more peaceful we will be toward each other, despite our ideological differences. And who knows? If we can see beyond our political divisions, what’s to prevent us from defining our loyalties even more broadly? As Martin Luther King said so famously: “If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.” Here’s wishing us all some perspective this electoral season.