Does »Agility« and »Controlling« fit together? The big Munich »Controller Congress« had the title »Agile Controlling in the digital reality – managing upheavals successfully?«. I received a fantastic offer: Deep immersion into the subject during a professional training to the »Agile Culture Coach«. In contributions to the ICV ControllingBlog, I report about it. Today: Module 3: Agile Methods and Scrum.
The first module 1 of the training, as described here, was focused on »Agile Leadership and Participation«, Module 2 – on the »Agility and Personality« followed in May. Here »The Construct Personality« became the center of interest, and among others we discussed structural and personality tests.
In July Module 3 presented the topic »Agile Methods and Scrum«. Various agile formats, design thinking, strategy tools and conference formats were discussed. We, 14 participants, should learn the logic of agile methods and the most important tools associated with them. Objective: To be able to build Scrum teams in organizations and accompany them.
In the main topic Scrum it was at the beginning about the Scrum framework with roles, artefacts, rules etc., dealing with questions such as emergent architecture and reporting. Scrum teams and the tasks of the Scrum Masters were dealt with in detail. It was also important to pay attention to the fact that another goal of this module was to get the necessary knowledge for a successful examination to the Professional Scrum Master.
For trainers the organizer, SYNNECTA, invited two renowned experts: Jean Pierre Berchez and Johannes Ries. They led us sovereignly and captivatingly through a whole mountain of new knowledge. Berchez (picture) has been familiar with Scrum since 1995. The certified Scrum Trainer and Coach organized a.o. Scrum certification workshops with the inventors of Scrum, Dr. Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber. Johannes Ries helps people in organizations find answers for business planning, strategy and organizational development in the unpredictable VUCA world.
Potentials of teams
Agile teams are VUCA-resilient if they have prepared themselves for any situation by a high degree of diversity and interdisciplinarity. Teams or projects can quickly »swell« and the »task jungle« can quickly become confusing. The team members often work at different locations, possibly even in various time zones. Effective tools for task management are essential.
For »agile project management« the training module focused on Scrum – an agile method for complex development projects. Scrum is effective by combining the ability of the stakeholders to unite their potential. The Scrum concept works for various, clearly defined positions such as product owner, development team, Scrum Master. The Scrum Master, selected from the development team, supports and monitors the entire process for example. The workflows are clearly structured, in a jointly maintained task board and the completed tasks are transparent to the team. We participants learn about different Scrum tools – and try them out on our own fictitious Scrum project. For example, the »Product Backlog«, a list of user stories or requirements maintained by the product owner. There are e.g. the »sprints« – each increment is a time box of as a rule 30 calendar days – and there is the »Sprint Backlog«, a list of tasks that are required to implement the Sprint’s selected product backlog requirements in deliverable product.
Also our training module 3 was divided into (four) sprints. In Sprint 1 we built teams, where we could actively experience Scrum during these two days. In Sprint 2, as a »Scrum Team Member«, we learned to understand the »why« for agile and Scrum, so that we could later use it in our organizations (Why agility? #Cynefin #VUCA #Simulation). In Sprint 3, we learned how to use the Scrum framework effectively (and pass the certificate validation) (#Roles #Practices/Tools #Events #Artefacts #Myths). And in Sprint 4, our teams ran a Scrum practice project where we could experience Scrum in action (#Vision #Product Backlog with User Stories #Prioritizing the Backlog Items #Estimating).
Obvious, but not simple
I understand now the agile procedures and Scrum: by clear prioritizations, e.g. the products that the customer most urgently needs are made available. Deliverable (sub)products are disclosed in e.g. monthly intervals, at the end of each iteration. In the entire product development, the level reached is always transparent at all times. If something goes in the wrong direction or obstacles arise, the entire team can quickly react during the daily checks. This frequent, regular feedback in the daily rhythm ensures continuous improvements, both in the process and in the product.
The basic principles sound plausible, but Scrum is certainly not simple. Trainer and also some students with first Scrum experiences made it clear in exciting discussions that the practical implementation in complex system landscapes and organizations is anything but easy. In practice, there are no homogeneous system environments. And the biggest challenge I see in the necessary changes of the organization for a suitable framework.
(Reports from other modules of the Agile Culture Coach training will follow.)
Hans-Peter Sander blog.icv-controlling.com
»Not yet an answer«
Consider a group of people. They are all different, not the same, but they have one thing in common: they work together. They were told that work these days needs agility, and diversity. Everyone nodded in agreement. All of them have the same education, know the rules and the goal. Yet cooperation simply won’t happen. They purchase new methods, from experts. Be different. Faster. More agile. Still, nobody understands what is to be done. Everybody does as they know. Until someone asks a question and listens well. That is new and different. The question asked for a meaning. That was inspiring. They notice that mindsets cannot be purchased. Agility and diversity also cannot be bought. They say, let’s ask some questions and listen well. While that is not really anything new, it has not yet been established everywhere.
I described the fundamental aspects of agile talent management in my last blog post on the topic of talent management: a development-guided notion of talent, talent enabling, self-organization and a supportive talent culture. Building on that, I will now propose further thoughts on actually implementing these in a company.
Talent management with flexible formats
In agile environments, talent management – or rather talent enabling – needs to be dynamic instead of process-driven. We therefore have to question specified annual cycles of talent management. There is little point to conducting employee conversations at pre-set points in time when work structures undergo dynamic change and project cycles take the form of thirty day sprints. The format of the employee conversation is still an important tool in principle. It does not do, however, to use it as a mere step within a process. In other words, feedback is provided, individual development desires and training requirements are talked about and employees are evaluated whenever there is an occasion to do so. The timing is variable, as are the persons who are invited into the setting. Team colleagues may be included, where necessary. Employees and managers have to be enabled to apply these formats for talent flexibly and apply them in their own manner as required.
Talent management software must not be the structural guide for talent development. This is even more true now than it was in traditional forms of organizations. Interaction and learning by experience are pivotal. A a result, talent management and its supporting systems gain a new flexibility. Adaptable and accessible formats for talent are more important than one continuous talent process.
New roles in intrinsic career management
My previous contribution described development-guided behavior and self-organization in talent management; these create a demand for new skills in an organization. Employees now shoulder more responsibility for themselves and their career development. In traditional companies, career planning is often still based on the mechanism of the system: pre-ordained career paths, promotion cycles, appointments as high potential, which will surely deliver the employees – given good work – to the correct (and crucial) position in the organization. Linear formats of this kind no longer work in agile environments. The employees need to establish their own profile of competence by themselves, as well as being able to name their personal motivation and values truthfully and in detail in order to deduce from these their career goals and action plans. It takes a new way of thinking and acting to be able to perform this kind of self-direction. The employees can be supported in their self-organization by way of staff offers with regard to career planning. Such offers include, e.g., position reckoning, peer coaching, job shadowing and mentoring.
Managers will also have to rethink and assume their role as a talent coach. As a professional coach does, they do not decide career questions, but are required to accompany the employee with regular feedback and negotiation that takes into account the available capabilities. They help to identify fields for development and to attain learning goals, they make educational offers, e.g, for new projects. Managers may need support in order to implement this role. This can come in the form of training. However, what is required is not only the attainment of concrete skills but also a new understanding of the management role, as is generally true for agile organizations. As in other fields, the managers will assume a moderating and supporting function in talent management.
Agile talent management requires new formats and interventions. New attitudes and roles need to be assumed and accepted so that flexibility and personal responsibility can be implemented successfully.
The form of talent management I witness in many organizations is maintained via talent identification and process management. Yet, these inflexible models are rarely able to permit the flexibility that is required in complex, agile environments. If talent management means to tap and foster employee potential in new forms of organization as well, it must leave behind the old, linear ways of thinking and acting and, like the business itself, become non-linear, agile and flexible.
Development-guided notion of talent
A development-guided notion of talent is a helpful addition in this context. In contrast to a static notion of talent, the development-guided understanding does not focus primarily on such categories as talent and high potential. It considers all employees and kinds of talent, essentially the »power of the many« and not the »vital few«. It is a way of maintaining performance and innovation in an uncertain and dynamic situation: by mobilizing the entire staff, distributing the risk and having an experimental attitude.
Differences in performance and potential should not be denied, but considered subject to alteration across time as well as situations. Stanford professor Dr. Carol Dweck demonstrated a startling effect in studies and examples: The mere conviction that abilities can fundamentally always be improved by way of effort and learning by experience has a surprisingly positive influence on individual learning achievements and eventually also the success of a business. Rigid categories of talent and intelligence are more likely to result in status thinking and eventually in standstill (Carol Dweck: Mindset. Changing the way you think to fulfill your potential).
Being guided by development also means that talent management in agile environments is less predictable and more iterative. The aspect of »management«, meaning direction, loses its primacy and can be replaced by »enabling«. Talent enabling is a more appropriate term to describe the way companies enable their employees to free their potential and make this potential available for the company.
Self-organization in talent management
Development-guided talent enabling will profit from concepts such as »learning agility« (a.o. Center for Creative Leadership). The skills entailed in learning agility include the ability to question the status quo, to learn from experience, as well as reflection, feedback and the willingness to take risks. These aspects are surprisingly reminiscent of a SCRUM Sprint. There is little room for rigid formats like career paths. This is so not only because career paths appear to be of little benefit in a fast-changing environment with fluid roles, but even more so because agile organizations live off their employees’ self-guidance and intrinsic motivation. Self-organization means giving the employees responsibility for their development while still remaining at the helm as a company and especially as a manager. Self-organization in the sense of learning agility means that employees identify the need to learn and expand their skill set by learning from experience, reflection and feedback; in that context, it falls to the manager as the person accompanying this process to provide stimuli, give feedback and actively offer learning opportunities. The company as a whole also needs to foster a comprehensive talent culture that goes beyond role descriptions and organization charts to value and sponsor employee learning, trial and error (yes, also the latter), and reflection.
Talent management in agile organizations therefore requires new terminology, new attitudes and a culture that adopts and integrates the company’s own non-linear development.
Coinciding with this article we are pleased to introduce one of our associated partners: Anke Wolf from Anke Wolf Coaching & Consulting is a recognized expert in talent management and leadership.
In Berlin, people are queueing up to see an exhibition comparing expressionist and impressionist painting. It is a very regulated experience of art: this is well established, known art. There will not be any exceeding challenges, irritations or surprises. Here, on the other hand, it is quiet and empty. Nobody knows yet what these sculptures and performances might have to say. These sculptures have not yet been classified and are on display without a commentary. The exhibition in Berlin puts the spotlight on something that is known and has been evaluated. We, on the other hand, are encountering something different here: openness and the undefined. We have to find our own position; there is no official interpretation to relieve us of having to have the courage of our own opinion. We have to give our own judgement.
Companies are nowadays almost desperately searching for innovation, vibrancy, creativity and agility. Such places as these here can show us the prerequisite: the ability to open up for something that has not yet been tested, which is definitely not »more of the same«: something provocatively different. Something that instigates conflict, causes uncertainty and that is risky to evaluate.
This kind of context allows for new experiences and may give way to new perspectives. These visits are a metaphor for companies. They demand some distance from the tried and tested. That is one of the reasons I love these places. Here, I can feel that I also have the right to stand in front of a sculpture and be utterly clueless as to what it might tell me. And to then go on to discover another one that opens up a new perspective.
What does that have to do with companies, you might ask. I still experience companies attempting to be transnational – often successfully so. Leadership is considered to be a globally defined behaviour, the approach is inclusive. Groups from a wide range of cultures are learning to apply this model behaviour. However, while companies may be transnational and culturally global, the markets are multinational and are in fact in the process of becoming even more »multi« and diverse again. Like the pieces of art in this space, they contain difference, surprise, strangeness and sometimes provocation.
In my extensive travels throughout Asia and my encounters with many people at work, I have learned that we need to concentrate more on »multi« than on »trans« or »mono«. By retreating into trusted knowledge and established patterns, we will never meet the diverse otherness of cultures and ways of life. Our introverted orientation will fail to direct us to the dynamics of our dazzlingly diverse world and its needs.
Let us return to innovation, agility, flexibility: in order to be able to create a culture of openness, one must expose oneself to the new and yet uninscribed and allow it into our midst. Of course there are things I do not understand, things that leave me clueless and looking for what I know – and yet at the same time I am aware that it is these very encounters with the »other than I« that give me an understanding of difference. I realize that it takes internal difference for us to be able to cope with the diversity of the outside, which requires vibrant and creative adaptation.