Executives and Safety

This is the third post on where Executives and Agile Experience diverge. It relates to the attitude towards creating a safe environment to work in and in particular the attitude towards “Get it done” individuals.


“Get it done” Individuals

Executives love “Get it done” individuals. “Get it done” individuals agree a set of outputs and deliver them with ruthless efficiency and focus. “Get it done” individuals speak to executives in simple terms that the executives understand. In return, “Get it done” individuals focus on the results and nothing else. Anything that stands in the way of the agreed outputs is steamrollered in pursuit of the goal.

Agile environments are learning environments. In order to learn, people need safety, emotional safety and job safety. “Get it done” individuals are toxic in those environments. If you are an executive, and you want to create an Agile Environment that delivers outcomes rather than outputs, you need to have a zero tolerance to the following:

  1. Threats
  2. Abusive Behaviour
  3. Bullying
  4. Prejudice
  5. Cronyism
  6. Cliques
  7. Wilful Incompetence
  8. Over simplification
  9. Lying
  10. Failure to deliver outcomes

These are all tactics that “Get it done”.

Agile practitioners have a zero tolerance towards these tactics. If you do not stamp these out, especially in your “Get it done” individuals, your best performers will leave and you will be left with a culture of under-performance.

Threats, Abusive Behaviour and Bullying

You would think that in any modern organisation, threats, abusive behaviour and bullying would result in instant dismissal. However it turns out that these behaviours are tolerated by executives in “Get it done” individuals, especially if it is in the pursuit of results. “Get it done” individuals are expert at these tactics. Years of practice means that they know just how far they can go. They know what to say that gets the menace across without putting themselves or their career in danger. They have honed their tactics to know when they can most easily get away with it (late at night in an empty office is popular) and when they cannot (in a public place where there are independent minds that they cannot control).

These tactics mean that the “Get it done” individual can slice through argument and get things moving in the way they want. The fact that they might traumatize people in the process holds no interest for the executive.

Agile is all about learning. Individuals who embrace agile start to learn at a much faster rate than colleagues who do not. Learning means taking chances and trying new things. The result is that these individuals become much more valuable in the marketplace. When these individuals experience threats, abusive behaviour and bullying, they discover they have options, ones that pay them more, and ones that have better working conditions… ones without threats, abusive behaviour and bullying.


If you are an executive and you tolerate prejudice in your organisation, expect your best people to leave. Prejudice takes many forms. As well as racism, sexism, homophobia, beware of more subtle forms like roleism or employee type.

Agile as a community is bringing together all of the roles to work out better ways of delivering value. If your developers are allowed to abuse your testers and business analysts, good people will leave. Similarly consultants and permanent staff should not abuse contractors or vice versa.

As an executive, it is your responsibility to stamp out any form of prejuduce. Agile believes executives own that responsibility and should actively detect problems and remove them rather than turn a blind eye or claim that you were unaware. A failure to be aware of prejudice is no defence as it is the executive’s responsibility to know.


Cronyism and Cliques

“Get it done” individuals love cronies. They love people whose primary qualification is loyalty. They will happily deploy individuals who have neither the “Skill” and/or the “Will” to do a job, simply because that person will be loyal drone and act as a spy. “Get it done” individuals will happily employ people who add no value simply because they are loyal and spy for them, or drive through their agenda.

People  without the “Skill” and/or the “Will” create resentment in the hard working individuals who are delivering value because they have to work harder to carry them.

Experienced “Get it done” individuals will have a number of cronies who form a clique. The trusted individuals who drive through the “Get it done” individual’s agenda are also allowed to do whatever they choose. The clique get the credit because its the “Get it done” individual who delivers the message to executives. By comparison, Individuals outside the clique get no recognition by the “Get it done” individuals even though they are the ones doing the work.

Guess what the highly talented, delivery focused individuals do when they encounter cronies and cliques?

Executives in learning organisations “go to the Gemba”, they connect with people at all levels of the organisation. They make it easy for anyone to tell them about risks and issues. Successful executives in Agile organisations make themselves accessible. Individuals do not abuse the option to access power, they respect the individuals time and only come to them with important issues. Giving everyone access to power rather than just the select few means there are no stones unturned, or dark places for the cliques and cronies to hide beneath.


Wilful Incompetence and Over simplification


“Get it done” individuals celebrate the fact that they are not experts. They celebrate the fact that they are incompetent as if that was a positive quality. They are action oriented individuals who are experts at making decisions. They often make the wrong decisions but that is never their fault. They celebrate the fact that they can take complex and complicated situations and come up with an obvious solution. Einstein said…

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.

“Get it done” individuals have simplified this statement further to form their own manifesto…

Everything should be made as simple as possible.

As a result, complex and complicated tasks like Lean and Agile transformations become reduced to a four step process:

  1. Measure the lead time
  2. Map the value stream
  3. Identify delays
  4. Remove delays

Executives love this simplification that removes the messiness of context and the challenges of understanding their customers and the things that they value.

Experts find themselves in meetings where they struggle to explain to executives that the over simplications are right… but utterly useless. Experts that discover they are valued more in other organisations where the executives share the view that “but no simpler” is just as important.

So Agile believes that Executives should learn about the things they lead. They should learn enough that “Get it done” individuals cannot violate the “but no simpler” rule.

Lying and Failure to deliver outcomes

Lying is an art form. Its harder to lie on an Agile project but it is still possible if executives lack experience with the Agile Toolkit. Executives that are new to Agile will be steered toward burn down charts, velocity graphs and lists of stories that are completed during a sprint. In other words, they will be steered towards activity and outputs rather than outcomes.

“Get it done” individuals will point to stories that demonstrate activity and inputs. They will point to the completion of features and stories.

Agile believes in transparency.

Agile practitioners understands that burn downs and velocity are tools for the team to help the team improve.

Agile practioners understand that progress is measure by achieving business value outcomes and showing progress toward delivering business value outcomes. (Progress is shown using cumulative flow diagrams.)

Executives are too tolerant toward “Get it done” individuals that fail to deliver business value outcomes. Executives are far too tolerant towards “Get it done” individuals who restate complex problems as complicated or obvious problems with a contractual check list of deliverables and outputs. Instead of “reduce churn in Asia”, the problem is restated as “build a blue widget” or create a “Service Blueprint” and a “Wireframe”.

If your deliverable does not involve an outcome involving the customer, you are probably being had.

“Get it done right!”

Agile practitioners “Get it done right”. They believe in delivering value with sustainable quality, and managing risk by reducing lead time and providing transparency.

In order to achieve this, the following constraints need to be applied by executives:

  1. Create a safe environment to learn, where it is safe to fail because individuals are taught how to create safe to fail experiments, and understand their risk limits.
  2. Have a zero tolerance to “Get it done” individuals or anyone for that matter who engage in any of the following.
    • Threats
    • Abusive Behaviour
    • Bullying
    • Prejudice
    • Cronyism
    • Cliques
    • Wilful Incompetence
    • Over simplification
    • Lying
    • Failure to deliver outcomes

Executives need to take responsibility for their organisations and the culture in their organisation. Not knowing is no longer an acceptable excuse.



About theitriskmanager

Currently an “engineering performance coach” because “transformation” and “Agile” are now toxic. In the past, “Transformation lead”, “Agile Coach”, “Programme Manager”, “Project Manager”, “Business Analyst”, and “Developer”. Did some stuff with the Agile Community. Put the “Given” into “Given-When-Then”. Discovered “Real Options” View all posts by theitriskmanager

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