In the early days of Agile, many in the Agile leadership community embraced “Trust First” meaning if you trust me, I’ll deliver. Some of them hunted for ways to “build trust fast”, looking for a magic formula like the one in David Maister’s “Trusted Advisor”.
It turns out that trust is something that is earned over time as we interact with others. Not only is it earned over time, there is one phrase which is guaranteed to destroy trust, and that is “Trust me”. Furthermore, trust is contextual. Would you trust your sixteen year old niece or your mechanic to perform heart surgery? Would you trust your sixteen year old niece or your surgeon to fix your beloved classic car? Would you trust your surgeon or mechanic to babysit for your young kids?
Introducing a new approach or technology is a high risk venture for any leader, especially something like Agile or Cloud. Now imagine that you are one of those leaders who knows next to nothing about the new thing because you have never worked with it in the two decades it took for it to come to dominate your industry, we will call this group “The Majority”, then you really want someone you trust to lead the flagship first project. Leaders in failure cultures are used to encountering people who tell a good story, and then fail to deliver… They trusted those chaps from Negligenture (its not an Accidenture if the people driving are not experienced), they trusted those chaps from Kinsey’s Daughter. All of the big name consultancies said that Safe was the safe option… so why would these people they never heard of be any different, especially as they are not offering you personal guarantees like a better job if something goes wrong, nor a skiing holiday to recuperate from a retrospective (whatever that is), or free training material written by people who they guarantee do not understand the material. So the persons chosen to lead the introduction of new technologies and approaches are always people that the leaders trust. People they have worked with many times before, normally on initiatives that failed, but people they know and trust. Given that they cannot tell who is competent and who is not competent, without listening to their own subordinates who have been advocating for the new approach for years, they might as well pick the people they have worked with before.
Trust is the cat nip of the incompetent.
Rather than focus on trust, focus on integrity.
- Does the person or organisation do what they said they were going to do.
- Do they make it easy for you to identify that they have failed to deliver what they promised, and even make it easy for you to understand that they WILL fail to deliver.
- Do they silently correct the spelling of Intregrity in the title of this post that is so annoying? Or do they openly discuss their mistakes in the retrospective so that others can learn from them?
Someone on the internet defines integrity as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.”. “A person of complete integrity” <– If we are being honest, I replaced “gentleman” with “person” because it felt a bit sexist and class systemy (not a real word), the idea that women, or men who were not gentlemen are excluded from the definition of integrity seemed outdated.
Rather than simply trust a person, or an organisation, give them small goals and see if they deliver.
- If they claim to have a lot of experienced developer or agile coaches – Interview some of the potential candidates. Get your existing experts to interview them and if they are not experienced, then clearly the person or organisation is not acting with integrity. Reject them if they lack integrity.
- If they claim to be agile developers, ask them to deploy a “Hello World” application through the entire build chain (including setting up the build chain) into a production environment in hours or days.
- If they claim to be cloud developers, ask them to deploy the application to the cloud in that first release.
- Create a very small story that delivers business value to a small group of users and get them to deploy into production.
- Get them to limit work in progress to one, possibly two epics at a time.
- Hold them accountable to the things they say they can do, and listen when they say they cannot deliver.
- NEVER let them take on a large amount of work in progress that takes more than a few weeks to deliver value before it can be verified.
When someone promises something and fails to deliver without giving you enough warning so that you can exercise alternate options, they are acting without integrity.
At one organisation undergoing a transformation a number of the key leadership role were taken by people with no experience of the technology and approaches being adopted. Those individuals were the same people who had key role in the previous attempt at a transformation THAT HAD FAILED. They were given key roles because the executives trusted them even though they proven their incompetence in previous transformation.
So the message to executives in failure cultures is simple. STOP TRUSTING PEOPLE. Instead set small goals and see if they deliver against those goals. Test to see if the people and organisations deliver what they sell, test to see if they act with INTEGRITY!