Proactive Means Watch Your Step Please

Proactive Means Watch Your Step Please

I am at Podcamp Pittsburg X this weekend getting all sorts of ideas to improve the podcast and the blog.  I am looking forward to improving the site and getting access to both the blog and podcast in one spot. That said, the next installment of  Re-read Saturday is not ready so let’s revisit the first entry from the first Re-read.  The first re-read featured Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Enjoy!  Back to the Mythical Man-Month next week!

 The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey Reread – Habit One:  Be Proactive

The first of the 7 Habits is: Be Proactive.  Being proactive means choosing how you will set your own course. Many people believe that they are constrained by their genetics, their upbringing or their environment. These constraints create a trap that dictates a response. By falling into the stimulus/response trap we become the dogs in Pavlov’s famous experiment – we are controlled by the situation, rather than taking control of the situation.

Covey’s first Habit makes clear that how we react to any stimulus is our decision (Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath also reinforces this habit).   Actively making a decision allows us to bring our intellect to bear on the situation.  By being reactive we are driven by circumstance. When we are proactive, we are driven by our values.  Covey states that we are responsible for making things happen. The concept of the daily standup meeting helps to inject a decision process into the stimulus – response equation. Instead of stimulus = response, now stimulus => decision => response.

This is not merely an intellectual exercise.  I recently talked with an Agile team that had stopped doing retrospectives because the only problems they could identify were organizational.  The team was becoming frustrated because they felt that they couldn’t to anything to change these problems that impacted their performance. Instead of reframing the issues so they could proactively work on them, they just stopped doing retrospectives.

Covey also introduces the concepts of the ‘circle of concern,’ i.e. what we are worried about, and the ‘circle of influence,’ i.e. what we can affect, in this chapter.  Unless an issue is in our circle of influence we will not be able to affect them.  For example, the Agile team above stopped doing retrospectives because they decided that the issues they identified were in their circle of concern, but not in their circle of influence. Teams and individuals that focus on things they can’t control will breed negativity, which shrinks their circle of influence because negative attitudes make it even harder to create change. A better solution is to try to increase the team’s circle of influence – in other words, be proactive!

In many cases, our choice of language reflects whether we are reactive or proactive.  One of the comments that the Agile team made was: “Our team is distributed, therefore we have communication problems. That is just the way it is.” Instead, they could have said: “Our team is distributed and we are having communication problems, let’s try an experiment and use video.” Rather than reframing the communication issue and acting upon it, they let the environment act upon them. From their language, you can see that their failure to deal with the challenge became a self-filling prophecy.

We will always have constraints, but how we react to the constraints determines whether we are reactive or proactive. When we are proactive we empowered to work on changing our constraints instead of letting them work on us. However, giving our genetics, parents or environment the power to control us is not being proactive.  Being proactive empowers us and our teams, allowing us to ask, “What can we do to impact …”

The re-read entries:

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Welcome to the Software Process and Measurement Cast 271.  The SPaMCAST 271 features our essay, Revisiting the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  As this is the first new podcast of 2014 we felt that it a good time to reflect and retool with a bit of Stephen Covey!  The essay begins:

Approximately 23 years ago I was in the middle of the second of three process improvement program reboots brought on by another bank merger. During the stress of the scenario, I picked up a copy of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.  I was not alone – the copy which I still have as in it 13th printing (Fireside Imprint), nor am I alone now – The 7 Habits sitting at #62 on Amazon’s Best Sellers as of September 15, 2013.  The popularity is not only a reflection of timelessness and usefulness of the advice, but also its approachability.  I can pick the book up, and with a bit of reflection, derive value in excess of the effort.

One final thought, if you don’t have a copy of the book, buy one (I would loan you mine, but I suspect I will read it again).  If you use the link below it will support the Software Process and Measurement blog and podcastDead Tree Version Kindle Version

The SPaMCAST 271 also includes Kim Pries’ column.  In this instalment Kim describes experimenter bias.  Experimenter bias is a form of congnitive bias that needs to be understood!

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The Software Process and Measurement Cast 272 features my interview with Jeff Anderson we discussed the lean startup for change method he has been honing!

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Rereading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Rereading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Over eight of the past 9 weeks I have chronicled my re-read of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. As I noted when I began this endeavor, this book and the advice it has provided have been helpful for me as I have addressed the turning points in my life. The habits that Stephen Covey posits are a framework that reminds me that decisions and growth come from my core values. Our values, which we own, control and refine our circle of influence.  Our circle of influence, those areas that we can effect, can be expanded by being proactive, having an end in mind, knowing what to put first, thinking win-win, listening, finding synergy in the world around us and continually sharpening the saw.   In other words, through the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The impact I have on the world requires constant reinforcement. And in an environment that emphasizes what I should be concerned about without providing access to the tools to expand my circle of influence, I need to take control of our both my circle of concern and influence. I think it is important to take a step back on a daily or weekly basis to reflect and remind myself about what is really important. It helps me make sure that my focus is true.

Whether today or sometime in the future, everyone will face real concerns, concerns that we can and should deal with. Ignoring them is not an option.  In his lecture, Slaying The Dragon Within Us, Jordan Peterson says “if we don’t deal with our dragons they will continue to grow” The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People provide us with tools to understand how to deal with our dragons.

One final thought, if you don’t have a copy of the book, buy one (I would loan you mine, but I suspect I will read it again).  If you use the link below it will support the Software Process and Measurement blog and podcast. Dead Tree Version Kindle Version

The re-read entries:

A sharp saw cuts faster and cleaner.

A sharp saw cuts faster and cleaner.

Motivational Sunday

The final habit in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is Sharpening the Saw.  This is a reminder that who and where we are today can’t be who or where we are tomorrow. This habit is a prescription for balanced self-renewal.  The balance is based on a four-category model that is integrated into the previous six habits. The four categories are:

  1. Physical: This category reflects the need to care for the machine; the body, with exercise and diet. Our bodies provide endurance, flexibility, and strength, which enable us to grow.  It is easy to see that struggles with health will make it difficult to concentrate on intellectual growth.
  2. Spiritual: Covey states that, “If your motives are wrong nothing can be right.” The spiritual category reflects our commitment to our own value system.  Our values provide leadership to our lives.  Grounding our values in the habits of proactivity, beginning with the end in mind, and putting first things first helps us to focus on providing service to our community.
  3. Mental: Continuous education and renewal of skills is critical for personal growth. This category includes exploring new topics, debating, and writing critically. Development needs to include a broad approach with hands-on training rather than the more common corporate training. This broad approach should challenge those involved to examine and question underlying assumptions.  An example of how this approach can be implemented is reflected in the Kanban, which requires making policies explicit so they can be challenged.  Mental renewal provides the tools so that we can rise to a challenge when the challenge comes.  This category is also a reminder that when a challenge comes, it is usually too late to re-tool.
  4. Social / emotional: The final category of a balanced renewal is social / emotional.  We are deeply influenced by our relationships, which help write the scripts for how we interact and relate to the world around us.  In the end, integrity to our values is an important attribute of how others view us and is the most important attribute of how we view our selves (assuming some level of introversion).  This category also speaks to providing service to others, which we see as a central tenant of agile leadership (servant leader).

Renewal requires us to pay attention to all four categories.  Ignoring any one category will negatively impact progress on others.  For example, without our health it is difficult to provide service to others or continually re-tool.  In the final habit Stephen Covey advises his readers to continually improve.  Covey caps this habit with a model of growth as an upward spiral of learning, committing, and doing.  This model is reminiscent of the Shewart Cycle (also known as the Deming Wheel) of plan, do, check, and act.  Regardless of the model, continuous improvement requires a cycle that is repeated forever and ever.

Synergy makes the garden grow.

Synergy makes the garden grow.

Habit Six:  Synergize

The sixth habit is synergy.  Synergy is present when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  For example, data from University of Texas suggests that in some cases pair programming yields a higher productivity than two coders working separately. The probable reason for this outcome is identification of new ideas, close communication and continuous review.  Covey suggests that the habit of synergy, which builds on the knowledge derived from implementing the previous habits combined with creativity, is the highest activity of life. Put another way, combining empathy, win-win thinking, being proactive while thinking outside the box generates alternatives!

The power of synergy is derived from the creation of new, win-win alternatives.  Covey provides examples of synergy across many categories of life such as communication, business, nature and the classroom. An example of creative cooperation from nature can be seen in the relationship between basil and tomatoes.  Organic gardeners know that basil suppresses insects that affect tomatoes. The tomatoes, in return, change the soil composition so the basil grows better.  The downside to synergistic creativity is that it is unpredictable and messy. Finding this combination plants required experimentation and failures before the perfect companion plants were discovered.

Experimentation with the attendant potential for failure does not suit all teams or organizations. Organizations that fear the potential for failure will seen seek certainty. Organizations and teams that have a need for structure, certainty and predictability will generally resist the unpredictability and messiness of creativity. The resistance is reflective of a lack of trust, which suppresses the win-win communication needed for creativity and synergy. Interactions reflecting low trust and low cooperation generate communication focused on win-lose outcomes.  Many, if not most, outsourcing contracts are low trust/low cooperation interactions, and therefore require lawyers and negotiators to communicate.  On the other hand, high trust/high cooperation environments provide the basis where structure, certainty and predictability can be offset by empathy and a belief that the outcome will be positive and might exceed expectations. Mature Agile teams that exhibit high customer satisfaction generally are a reflection of high trust and high cooperation environments.

Understanding and practicing the first five habits provide an environment that can overcome the forces that restrain creativity.  Creativity is a requirement for creating alternatives to the tried and true, which is where we can find synergy from being interdependent.

Links to the First Five Habits:

Listening is hard work but  when understand it pays off.

Listening is hard work but when understand it pays off.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey Reread

Habit Five:  Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood

Communication is the act of giving or receiving understanding, and it is a critical skill in every part of our lives. In order to fully communicate, the person receiving must not only understand what is being communicated, but also let the communicator know that they have truly been understood. Listening is at the heart of understanding and communicating.  Even so, we tend to spend very little time learning about or being trained in listening.  Training in listening teaches the trainee how to pay attention and interpret the story being told, and the how language and body language impact the story. These are skills that can be learned. Because of lack of training most of what we hear is filtered through our own frame of reference because we don’t have the skills to listen from the speaker’s frame of reference.

When we listen from our own frame of reference we practice selective listening.  Selective listening generates one of four classes of response.  Based on our baggage, we evaluate communication by agreeing or disagreeing. We probe, asking questions based on our own point of view. We advise, providing counsel based on our experience. Finally we interpret, ascribing motivation based on our motives and behaviors. Our scripting makes it difficult to both hear what is really being said and understanding the emotions and feelings behind what is being said.  Both are required for true communication. The alternative is to put ourselves behind the eyes of speaker, seeking to hear from their frame of reference leads to deeper understanding.

When we fail to listen and understand, we tend to act first then have to take the time to pick up the pieces afterwards. For example, would you trust a doctor that prescribed before taking time to diagnose the problem? No, the expectation would be that the doctor listen and communication with the patient (assuming that is possible) first.

In this habit Covey identifies four stages of listening:

  1. Mimicking – This the classic pattern of feeding back.  In my estimation, this form of listening confuses hearing with understanding.
  2. Rephrase the content – In this stage of listening the listener paraphrases what is heard.  This is typically what is referred to as active listening.  It helps develop a bridge between the listener and the speaker.
  3. Reflect feeling – The stage of listening focuses on reflecting the feelings behind the communication.  The focus on feeling makes the listener put himself in speaker’s shoes.  This stage reflects a change in the listener’s frame of reference.
  4. Empathic listening – This stage is the most powerful form of listening in which the listener plays back both the content though rephrasing, but also the feelings.  The focus is understanding the whole communication package (content and feeling) which allows the listener to build powerful rapport.

Empathic listening requires listening as if you were behind the eyes of the speaker. In many cases when we are not practicing empathic listening, it is because we are listening to be understood. In other words, we are listening just enough that we can craft a response. How many meetings or teleconferences have you participated in and been guilty of listening with the intent to reply rather than with to really hear the other participants’ points of view?

Anyone that works in a corporate environment spends a huge amount of time in meetings, presentations and teleconferences. Huge quantities of words and slides are shared with the assumption that communication is occurring. Even if you are not spending the majority of your time in meetings, you still rely on communication.  Developing the ability to listen empathically forces you to listen from the speaker’s frame of reference, resulting in a deeper understanding.

Win - Win

Win – Win

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey Reread

Habit Four:  Think Win/Win

The fourth habit, Think Win/Win, shifts the focus from an internal point of view to habits that effect how we interact with the world around us. This shift is critical as we attempt to exert influence. Leadership reflects a move from independence (an internal point of view) to interdependence (an external point of view).  Effective interpersonal leadership requires communication, interaction and cooperation, i.e. thinking win/win. As organizations embrace and become Agile communication, interaction and cooperation become critical success criteria for projects and programs to effectively deliver value.  Competition, on the other hand, both within and between teams elicits behaviors that are designed to accentuate one person or group over another.

Covey suggests that interactions can be classified into basic 6 paradigms:

  • Win/Win – This paradigm seeks mutual benefit.  I think of this as the basic paradigm required for all Agile teams. All parties need to invest and work together to deliver value.
  • Win/Lose – One party or team wins and the other loses.  This is the classic sports paradigm, for one team to win another must lose.
  • Lose/Win – This paradigm is the alter ego of Win/Lose. The Lose/Win might be employed to keep the peace, however if it continues it can lead to passive-aggressive behaviors based on suppressed needs.
  • Lose/Lose – Simply put, if no one wins everyone loses.  The classic example of this behavior is when a child playing football gets mad and walks out of the game and takes their ball with them.
  • Win – Individuals leveraging this paradigms of interaction focus exclusively on winning, and everything else is irrelevant.
  • Win/Win or no Deal – If all parties can’t find a beneficial solution they walk away.

IT Projects are perfectly suited for the Win/Win paradigm of interaction.  Unfortunately many organizational structures make win/win difficult.  For example, organizations that embrace decimation (cutting those who are perceived to be the lowest 10%) will elicit competitive rather than cooperative behaviors. This management style generates a mentality of scarcity focused on jobs, making a win/win mentality for team members economically irrational. This is the antithesis of the behavior we would expect in an Agile team.  I recently observed the interaction between a development team incented on time-to-market and a testing group incented on the number of defects found and reported during testing.  The conflicting goals set up a win/lose confrontation between the two groups.  If the focus of both teams had been on customer satisfaction, both teams could have developed a win/win relationship.

Developing a culture of win/win is not as easy as waving a magic wand.  Embracing win/win requires integrity, maturity and a belief in abundance.  Developing a win/win paradigm often means reviewing how we manage and incent.  Like embracing Agile, embracing win/win means organization change. However if you are interested in becoming Agile, you are interested in win/win.