What is it that injects energy into your knowledge workers and what leads to an energy drain? What inspires them?
These questions kept coming back in my mind when we were reviewing another quarterly Program Increment of our Agile Release Train; our group of scrum teams. The process of looking back to the Train’s objectives and achievements was not at all energizing to me nor the teams.
Of course Program Increment Objectives are very helpful to articulate the focus for the next quarter and vision. Moreover, it is an opportunity to communicate and highlight how each team can contribute to the business strategy. But the review of these objectives was not energizing at all.
The most painful part was the fact that at the end of the review we needed the stamp to call it ‘team partially meets expectations’, ‘team exceeds expectations’, etc. First of all the Agile coach was forced to continue to repeat with all the best intentions: “Meeting the expectations is very good, as the expectations are high already”. Moreover, the stamps were set with multiple teams in the review. You can imagine what it did to the team that was ‘partially meeting expectations’. It felt like ‘You’re not OK’. Not to mention what it does to other teams if one of the other teams was called ‘exceeds expectations’.
You can guess what happened: even the most ambitious team did their utmost to commit to lower objectives in the next quarter, because they also want a starting point that gives them the opportunity to exceed expectations. The risk of tempering objectives becomes even bigger if the performance against objectives becomes input for bonuses or salary increases.
I can totally follow Goodhart’s law: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure”.
Ralph Jocham wrote in his book [The Professional Product Owner]: “I was taught that you cannot manage what you cannot measure. I still believe that this is right. On the other hand, I also strongly believe that what you measure drives the behavior of the people involved”. That behavior is not always driven in the right direction.
Our sales colleagues have proven the truth of that statement for decades. Recently I was faced with the fact that sales leaders were asked to not decrease their sales forecasts even if you expect a decrease, because we don't want management to take painful actions again.
The disappointing results of previous months had been polished up with rather good forecast figures
Each salesperson can give you numerous examples of tricks to meet the targets: ship an extra large shipment to a distributor so that our monthly sales figure looks good. We don't want to scare our shareholders with a negative quarter again. Such an activity leads to a lot of value diminishing work like: accept extra returns, need to invest in extra promotions to help the distributor to sell your products to consumers, accept extra long payment terms, etcetera. What a waste.
I think we also all know that guy that has met his target already and stopped selling immediately, because that would only drive up the starting point for his next year’s target.
Clearly the ‘you are OK or not so OK’ stamp, doesn’t inspire our knowledge workers. But what does? Bonuses and salary increases have a temporary positive effect, but that is more for the acknowledgement of good work than for the money. I truly believe that real motivation will come when you feel purposeful; doing something well which is considered important. Being and growing into a valuable and purposeful direction will contribute to the motivation of your knowledge workers.
Objectives need to be SMART of course, but they are only inspiring if you can make clear how meaningful and valuable those objectives are to the company. In that spirit, the ‘planned value’ in Program Increment objectives is a great segway to articulate why this objective matters; and why YOU matter. For that reason it is crucial that the teams know the story behind the value between 1-10 that you put there.
When you go through the objectives and you compare the planned values with the delivered values, focus on celebrating the successes. And talk about what we learned from this quarter and how we can contribute even more to the business strategy in the next quarter. Forget about the stamp.
Make sure your knowledge worker’s salaries are at par so that they don't have to worry about the money.
If you add well-meant, well-timed and well-specified compliments, your Knowledge Workers will fly.
Agile Manifesto Principle number 5:
Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done