Friday, December 14, 2012

When Will We Ever Learn? How About Now?

I worked from home most of today. My youngest daughter, a 5 y/o kindergartner, stayed home to nurse her strep throat and her mother, my wife, works in the lunchroom at her elementary school. I was at work in the morning and news came in about shooting in Connecticut. The details were sketchy, but it seemed to have involved a school. I was involved in the ever important work and presumed I would hear more as the day progressed. I stopped by a friend's house to pick up my daughter, who he had been watching when my wife went to work and we talked briefly about sports and officiating. I drove home and my daughter, Amanda, "raced me" home on foot...she beat me, of course :).

When I came home, I decided to check the web about the shooting and that's when the horrific nature of this matter became apparent. It hit way too close to our home - to the parent of a child who is the same the age of those 18 (perhaps more) children who were executed in that Newtown elementary school. I broke down in front of my 5 y/o as I looked at her, asking the unanswerable: "How could a person shoot children?" A psychologist on CNN insisted constantly that society ("we" as he put it) have finally crossed a line and we have to take immediate initiative to change - from stopping the vitriolic talk in politics to identifying and helping potentially troubled people. The president of the US was overcome by emotion in his address to the country about the incident. It begs the question, "What the hell is happening in this country?'

I am more convinced than ever that we have a "gun problem" in this country. I felt this way before today's shooting, but I am resolute about it now. We had a shooting at a local high school a couple months ago and the story of how the shooter (a student) got a gun led back to his father, who is now allegedly jailed. Some people claim that we can actually reduce this kind of violence if we allowed people to carry "concealed weapons." Utter nonsense.

I was raised in Montana. Probably no state in the country has as many guns per capita as Montana. I was raised around guns and hunted with them. We understood how dangerous they were and we all knew that handguns and some kinds of rifles are purposely and primarily created to be used to kill people. They can either be easily concealed and/or hold a large number of cartridges in their magazines. Neither of these kinds of weapons is appropriate for hunting. Some of the rifles were variations of fully automatic weapons.

Even way back in the 60s and 70s, we knew the horror that guns could inflict on people, from watching the Vietnam War on nightly news, to living through assassinations of prominent people, to seeing the images of students gunned down at Kent State. Even the atrocities of the mass killings in World War 2 still resonated through photos and films created a generation earlier. Always, we asked “when will we ever learn?” We ask it again today. We will ask it again, wth the same incredulousness, when the next unspeakable, unfathomable act of horrifying killing occurs. We will debate rights, laws, acts, and other important and distracting topics, but will we actually agree that something has to be done and what that something might be? Or we again sing the tired refrain “When will we ever learn?” from “Where have all the flowers gone?”

We cannot continue like this. No community is immune from this violence, and getting more guns is not the answer. People committing these heinous acts aren’t “stereotypical” criminals and the mindset that someone else with a gun would have somehow prevented or limited the damage is ridiculous. Most people, even those who practice handling and firing their handguns, are not practiced or versed in these types of stressful and demanding situations. Such people would also hugely complicate the situation for police and demand even more options, actions and reactions of the police and other trained responders and adds even more risk to them and others.

We need to be more vigilant about others and that means we need to care and reach out even more, and become involved even more…and that requires something we cannot get by making and buying more guns: COURAGE. And that has to happen now.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Perhaps There is a Road to Sanity: Eliminating the Performance Review

Spoke with my pal, Bubba, recently.  You might remember Bubba - he got into some hot water when he aroused some of barking dogs at his company.  A couple of them actually bit him, though the scars have faded.  He was subjected to the asidiculousness (a portmanteau word resulting from combining asinine and ridiculous) of being punished by his management's use of the org's performance management system as the vehicle.  A PMS is bad enough, but when it is used punitively, it becomes even more inane. 

Bubba took it upon himself to bring the absurd system to the attention of a vice president at his company, fully expecting that it would be received with a "Thanks a lot....we'll look into that."  What he found was that his email to the VP was actually forwarded on to a manager in that dirty little secret department called HR.  Below is the chain of emails...Bubba redacted the names because, while he is brave, he isn't foolish, for the most part.

Enjoy...with more to come as the story unfolds.  Who knows, maybe Bubba will be remembered for some valuable contribution at his work if he can get this PMS eliminated.

Third Email
To: VP
From: Bubba
Subject: Performance without Appraisal

Thank you for taking initiative to send my thoughts on to HR, VP.  I will be very curious about where it goes.

I read through Chapter 8 Performance Without Appraisal in Peter Schotes’ The Leader’s Handbook.  He was a protégé of Deming so his thinking aligns much with Deming’s systems view of work.  He offers sage advice on the alternatives to performance appraisal (it is detailed and occupies the latter half of the nearly 70 page chapter.   Basically, he advocates debundling of the performance appraisal process with a focus on the following:
  • Focus on improving systems, not rewarding or punishing people
  • Focus on customer satisfaction, not management satisfaction (and truly appreciate who your various customers really are)
  • Don’t suboptimize an overall system by over-optimizing one or more parts of it
  • Don’t make the cure worse than the disease (to change the system, it must be accepted and understood why and how it is flawed)
  • Don’t just write a different verse to the same song; the current paradigm must be abandoned in favor of transformational change.
Elimination of this disease will require a change in “our culture” but this cliché is often at the heart of why we cannot change.  It will require our abandonment of not only Theory X management thinking, but Theory X management policy.  I suspect that we have a lot of closeted (and some open) Theory Y and Z managers here, but that thinking is not reflected at all in our policies and systems.  Our arcane performance management system is really a monolithic testament to our collective management beliefs that:
  • Many of our problems result from individual dereliction and inadequacy (which Deming characterized as special causes of variation rather than variance that is systemic aka common causes of variation.  95% of variation is common caused.)
  • Work success requires holding people accountable for achievement of measurable goals (accepting that a significant portion of variation is systemic, successful work requires consistent and reliable systems, processes, and methods that are continuously examined and improved by the people who actually use them.  Carrots and sticks do not improve systems and therefore have no appreciable effect on the org’s performance)
  • People withhold effort and they must be coaxed or coerced to deliver it (the old “get your feet off your desk and get to work!!”  The traditional thought is that incentive pay programs do this, except that the nature of any system proves this to be a fallacy.  People are motivated by most anything other than money as discussed by Dan Pink in this video:
  • Managers are responsible for motivating and controlling the workforce (this is so Tayloresque and Skinneresque that it should require no discussion.  Managers must tend to system issues that actually demotivate the workforce, and the performance appraisal is, ironically, on the major ones.)
We talked about legacy recently.  My greatest legacy would be to have a hand in the elimination of this really badly flawed system.  I hope it comes about.

Second Email
To: HR Manager
From: VP
Subject: Performance without Appraisal

Hi HR Manager,

Some time ago (a few years, at least), I met with some folks in HR and offered that we should eliminate the performance appraisal system. I believe that we can address performance assessment via things like:
  • Leadership competencies
  • Job description
  • Job expectations
The actual performance management system is an unnecessary, bureaucratic process.  Can we discuss at some point?  The item below was shared with me just this week…..I am sharing it FYI…because I think it has some good points that are pertinent to what I would like to discuss with you…


First Email
From: Bubba
To: VP
Subject: Performance without Appraisal

Hi VP,

It’s late on a Friday afternoon and it is a dangerous time for me because I have time to think…and think.  I’m interested in your thoughts about this subject.   If this gives you a headache, you can always amuse yourself with this from Forbes: 9 Dangerous Things You Were Taught in School.

A person came to me Thursday with a concern – a dilemma, really.  She related the travails of a colleague who had just been through the annual performance appraisal and was “decimated” in her words.  I know her colleague and I respect him.  I don’t know all the details of his sordid experience, of course, but what resonated with me was her comment: “Why do we insist on following such a horrifically demoralizing process (the performance appraisal process) that really serves no value and only causes dread??”  I had no answer for her, except the lame old “I suppose because that’s the way we have always done it.”

Mary Poppendieck, author and authority in lean software development, wrote about the dysfunctionality of the performance appraisal process in this article:

John Hunter, who has the Curious Cat management blog, writes quite a bit about W Edwards Deming and he offered some insight: 

Hunter writes: The idea of eliminating performance appraisals is one of Deming's ideas people have the most difficulty with. I can't convince anyone of the merit of this idea here. For years I thought this was one idea Deming just got wrong; but now I believe he was right. I suggest what Deming suggested, listen to Peter Scholtes: read chapter 9 of the Leader's Handbook - Performance without Appraisal.  I have that book and I am going to review those pages again.

Deming, of course, was highly critical of any performance management system and he listed it as #3 of his 7 Deadly Diseases of organizations.  He was blunt about his thought of it in his seminal book Out of the Crisis: The performance appraisal nourishes short-term performance, annihilates long-term planning, builds fear, demolishes teamwork, nourishes rivalry and politics… it leaves people bitter, crushed, bruised, battered, desolate, despondent, dejected, feeling inferior, some even depressed, unfit for work for weeks after receipt of rating, unable to comprehend why they are inferior.

It is unfair, as it ascribes to the people in a group differences that may be caused totally by the system that they work in…Basically, what is wrong is that the performance appraisal or merit rating focuses on the end product, at the end of the stream, not on leadership to help people. This is a way to avoid the problem of people. A manager becomes, in effect, manager of defects. 

A few years back, we even had a Six Sigma trainer come to our company to train a room full of managers where he asked if we still used “that horrible performance management system” here.  You could have heard a pin drop in that classroom!!   Perhaps not surprisingly, he was not invited back.

I read the Deming book passage to attendees at my workshops, but I omit the first few words (The performance appraisal…) and I ask them to what Deming is referring.  Almost always, a person comments pretty quickly “the annual performance review” or something similar.  Then most others nod in agreement.  Of course, many don’t know any other system, but they abhor it.  I have had numerous managers concede that that they feel the process is, at best, unfair and insufficient, but they have no other recourse.   A few have openly admitted to me that they feel it should be abolished 

My question: why haven’t we had serious discussions about the insanity and inadequacy of this problem? Of course, people will counter with “Well, what is the alternative??”  Deming offered several see below) and Sholtes and others have, too.  
  • Institute education in leadership; obligations, principles, and methods.
  • Be more careful selection of people in the first place.
  • Offer better training and education after selection.
  • Instead of being judges, leaders need to be colleagues, counseling and leading people on a day-to-day basis, learning from and with them… working for the improvement of quality
  • The people that form the system will be subject to the company formula for raises in pay. There should be no ranking within the group.
  • Discover who falls outside the upper and lower limits of the system tolerances, and reward/address accordingly.
  • Hold long interviews with every employee, three or four hours, at least once/yr., not for criticism, but for help and better understanding on the part of everyone.
  • Figures on performance should not be used to rank the people that fall within the system, but to assist the leader to accomplish improvements of the system.
Thoughts on what we can do about this?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Dealing with Occupiers

If you have seen Saving Private Ryan, you probably recall in the movie where the men of Charlie Company of the 2nd Rangers, in their quest to find the elusive soldier and last surviving Ryan son (James Francis Ryan), sort through an array of 82nd Airborne dog tags.  As the 82nd Airborne walks by en mass, C Company members playfully trivialize their activity by throwing some of the tags around and mocking them as poker chips. That is, until Charlie Company's medic, "Doc," jumps in and says basically "WTF, these aren't poker chips!!  And the whole Airborne is watching! Put them away!" 

That's what happens when people are given a mission where the purpose seems trivial...valueless...and even counterproductive.  It often happens when foreign armies come into a country and occupy, even in the name of liberation or defense (Afghanistan, anyone??)  Such is the case of what is happening at a company with which I am familiar.  They have initiated a huge endeavor and they have brought in a foreign army of contractors to fight for the cause.  This has left at least some of the citizenry of the organization variously suspicious, ambivalent, fearful, disconsolate, and perhaps all of these to some extent.  Some employees might well feel like soldiers in the 82nd Airborne as they walked past Charlie Company’s silliness and levity.

The parallels to the occupying force allegory are vast in this instance.  While the intentions of the occupiers are arguably sincere, there are subtle instances of actions and words that betray this sense.   For instance, one person overheard one in a group of contractors comment that he would rather be somewhere else.  I’m sure some of the org’s employees thought he should also be somewhere else. 

Also, the org’s leadership has done little to reassure its employees about the nature and purpose of bringing in so many contractors.  It has left the impression among at least some employees that they are inadequate in skill and ability to do the work.  Few reassurances have come forth.  Also, some employees have literally little or nothing to do in the face of this enormous amount of work that faces their employer.  They feel insecure, underutilized, and vulnerable and little support has been forthcoming to assuage these feelings.  Finally, some or perhaps even many of the occupiers seemingly have little regard for the company’s culture and legacy – its norms, behaviors, etc. – that have been in place for quite some time.  This causes frustration and consternation among the employees and does little to build relationships.

Like foreign interventionists, the contractors hunker down in areas where they can associate together and share derisive and sarcastic comments, often in ear shot of employees.  This behavior does little to endear them to the natives.  Like foreign occupiers, their occupation time will come and go and they will leave little behind of influence.  But their demoralizing effect can already be felt.  Interestingly, this organization has long had a rather large contractor population, some of whom have been there for 10 years and even longer. They have assimilated well, somewhat like being accepted as immigrants into a country.  The “new breed,” which seem to be of a haughtier species, is seemingly more distant. 

It will be interesting to see how this occupation plays out.  The nature of the newly adulated, company saving program has incubated an environment fraught with anxiety, uncertainty, skepticism, and a belief in magic, mixed in with bridled optimism and plain old realism. It will, ultimately, be a grand experiment and a most interesting spectator sport.  I wonder who, if anyone, will play the role of Doc in this instance and tell the occupiers to quit playing poker with the employees' dog tags.  Anyone??

Monday, April 16, 2012

Agile and Scrum - The "Moneyball" of Software Development

I finally found time to watch the 2011 movie, Moneyball, on television tonight.  It was nominated for awards and it was quite good.  It is a true story about major league baseball (Oakland Athletics) general manager Billy Beane and the 2002 baseball season.  I related the movie to both my own experiences in professional baseball where I was an umpire for 10 years in the 1980s and early 90s and my experiences over the last 8 years with agile software development. Beane was actually a player for the Athletics in 1989 when I umpired professionally and I knew him as a player.

Beane has a big problem after the 2001 baseball season: his baseball club has no money to buy big name players and, in fact, has lost 3 of its most productive and popular players to other teams via free agency.  Beane has to do things radically differently to have a reasonable chance of success in the next season and he knows he cannot pay for top talent.  Of course, he is the single wringable neck as he is expected to produce quality product fast (this probably resonates with anyone who develops software products) in the manner of winning enough games to be a contender for the World Series.

In his quest, Beane learns of the use of a radically new method to analyze player performance called sabermetrics and recruits an analyst, 25 y/o Peter Brand (the real life person was Paul DePodesta, who had a degree in Economics from Harvard and worked for the Cleveland Indians before Beane hired him away to work for him) who works for the Cleveland Indians and has a degree in economics from prestigious Yale University.  Peter knows nothing about playing baseball, but he knows a great deal about this new data analysis process that was created by a security guard at a pork and beans factory, Bill James, who had an affinity for baseball statistics.  Sabermetrics, coincidentally enough, has its own manifesto:

Beane hires the Peter away from the Indians to the A's and together they build a team of players who have really solid performance statistics in categories that all other teams ignored.  It was thinking "way outside of the box" and it brought wrath to both of them from inside and outside the Athletic organization.  They were accused of ignoring the traditions of baseball, the "proven success" of the old ways, and being dangers and threats to people's jobs and even to the integrity of the game (this may also resonate with people who have brought agile into an org.)

Beane and Peter bring has been and no-name players onto the Oakland team and the field manager and others in the organization are incredulous about what they view as the total insanity of the strategy. The team gets off to a slow start and then Beane makes some major changes in players through trades to change the team chemistry.  The team begins to perform as Beane and Peter anticipated and, in fact, wins 20 games in a row - a record.  Ultimately, the team is beaten in the post-season playoffs, but it finished the regular season with 103 wins against 59 losses, tied with the New York Yankees for best won/loss records in baseball that year.  The difference: the Yankees had a player payroll of $126,000,000 and the Athletics had a payroll of $41,000,000.  It cost the Yankees $1.22 million per win and the A's $400,000 per win.

There are a number of areas in the movie where a person with agile experience in a traditional organization can relate to the reactions people have towards Beane and his "whacky" ideas and the angst they exhibit. One telling moment is at the end of the movie where Beane meets with the owner of the Boston Red Sox, John Henry, and Henry says to Beane:

I know you've taken it in the teeth out there, but the first guy hrough the wall always gets bloody, always. It's he threat and just not the way of doing business. In their minds, it's threatening the game. But really what it's threatening is their livelihoods, it's threatening their jobs, it's threatening the way they do things. And every time that happens, whether it's the government or a way of doing business or whatever, the people who are holding the reins and have their hands on the switch will bet you're crazy.  But, anybody who's not building a team right or rebuilding it using your model will find that they are dinosaurs. They'll be sitting on the sofa in October, watching my Boston Red Sox win the World Series.
When I heard that, I thought Henry could have been talking about nearly anyone who has brought agile and agile ways into the work place!!  Indeed, the Boston Red Sox have used Beane’s methods (and they have more money in their budget for payroll) and won the 2004 World Series, their first since 1918 and won it again in 2007.  Beane turned down a contract offer from Henry of $12.5 million to become the general manager of the Red Sox and remained with the Athletics and they continue to win.

I could relate to the various emotions and tribulations that Beane endured.  Baseball is a ruthless game and I saw, experienced and endured the familiar brutal events I saw in the movie (including a phone call that I was no longer going to be retained as an umpire.) I’ve never experienced similar vicious actions or consequences in bringing agile into the company I work for, but I’ve tolerated lots of hostility. ambivalence, and skepticism there.  Resilience is a good trait to have in those circumstances.

Howeve, the metaphor here isn't about the money and not about failing to win the World Series (the A's still have not won a World Series since Beane became GM), but how Beane thought and acted completely differently from the traditional mantras in baseball.  I can imagine that Scrum co-creator Ken Schwaber felt a lot like Beane did when he first entered organizations during the infancy of Scrum to introduce and advocate for its use (and I bet others have likely felt similarly when introducing and incubating Scrum and agile in orgs, but Schwaber talked in pretty extensive detail with me about his experiences and we often talked baseball metaphors since he really enjoyed the baseball stories I shared with him.)   

One thing that became apparent to me is that Beane acted very much like a Product Owner.  He wasn't the owner of the club (Steve Schott was), but he was responsible for delivering a valuable product.  His backlog was comprised of players and he was constantly evaluating and prioritizing them based upon ROI (even sabremetrics delves into this.)  He even got rid of some of them to improve the overall performance of his product (the team.)

Also, In many ways, Art Howe, the A's field manager, acted like a project manager and impeded Beane. When Beane tells Howe to play another player at first base (who reaches 1st base 20% more often than the player Howe starts), Howe says bluntly: "I disagree with you,  plain and simple. And moreover, I'm playing my team in a way that I can explain in job interviews next winter."  Like many PMs, Howe was looking beyond his current project and was willing to do whatever it took to preserve his stature and reputation among managers.  The situation between the two of them climaxes with this scene:

Beane:        Art, you got a minute?
Howe:        Yeah. Take a seat.
Beane:        You can't start Peña at first tonight. You'll have to start Hatteberg.
Howe:         I don't want to go fifteen rounds, Billy. The lineup card is mine, and that's all.
Beane:        That lineup card is definitely yours, Art. I'm just saying you can't start Peña at first.
Howe:        Well, I am starting him at first.
Beane:        I don't think so. He plays for Detroit now.
Howe:        You *traded* Peña?
Beane:        Yeah. And Menechino, Hiljus, Tam are all being sent down.
Howe:        You are outside your mind.
Beane:        Yeah. Cuckoo.

That's basically what I was called when I first used Scrum in my little company.  I ran into Art Howes in my org. And into Grady Fuson, the traditionalist scout that Beane fired after a very funny exchange that struck right at the core of the baseball I knew (and those who defended the status quo in my org.)  We are often no better at predicting the success of a project than baseball scouts are at predicting the success of a prospect and doing things the "old way" simply perpetuated the insanity:

Fuson:    Now you're gonna declare war on the whole system.
Beane:   Okay! Okay. My turn. You don't have a crystal ball. You can't look at a kid and predict his future any more than I can. I've sat at those kitchen tables with you and listened to you tell those parents 'When I know, I know!  And when it comes to your son, I know'.  And you don't. You don't know!
Fuson:    Okay, I don't give a sh** about our friendship, this situation, or the past. Major League Baseball thinks the way I think. You're not gonna win. And I'll give you a nickel's worth of free advice. You're never gonna get another job when Schott fires you after this catastrophic season you're about to set us all up for. And you're gonna have to explain to your kid why you work at a Dick's Sporting Goods.
Beane:    I'm not gonna fire you, Grady. [Grady puts his hand on Billy's shoulder and Billy pushes it off]
Fuson:    F*** you, Billy!
Beane:   Now I will.

By the way, the 2012 opening day team payroll for the Yankees (#1 in MLB): $198 million.  A's 2012 opening day team payroll (#31 of 32 teams and just ahead of San Diego by $130k): $55.4 million.  Billy Beane is now a minority owner in the ball club.
In my future CSM classes, I’m going to suggest that class attendees watch the movie and read the book.  I will ask them if doing Scrum will challenge the culture and traditional structure of their company.  If so, they might learn a few tricks and lessons from Billy Beane.  As an aside, the Anaheim Angels won the 2002 World Series (beating the Yankees, Twins, and Giants in the postseason.) The Angels payroll was $61.7 million in 2002, right in the middle and the Angels were a "wild card" team finishing  second behind the A's in the West Division.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Tribute to My Friend, John Wicks, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Montana

It is often those we care about the most who elude us. Even now, when I look back on the Montana of my youth, I long to understand what happened there… and why. Eventually all things merge into one, and a river runs through it…On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops.  Under the rocks are words, and some of the words are theirs.  I am haunted by waters. Norman Maclean – A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

Regrets naturally occur over one's lifetime, but one of the greatest is the missed opportunity to see and visit with a friend one last time.  So it is with the recent death of my friend, Dr. John Henry Wicks. Dr. Wicks was an economics professor (a fixture, really) at the University of Montana Economics Department for well over 40 years and his indelible influence has infected many friends and students over that time.

I arrived at the University in the fall of 1976 a naïve, rambunctious and (perhaps at best) only half serious freshman.  It was the noxious seventies where the counter culture was still alive, an 18 y/o could drink legally, and the fallout from the Vietnam War was still fresh.  The campus social atmosphere was ripe for fun and like many of my peers I had few solid aspirations of what kind of work I might actually do when and if I graduated.

In the third quarter of my freshman year in March 1977, I found myself sitting in John Wicks’ Econ 201 class listening to the good professor digressing into all things economic.  I was more fascinated and mesmerized by his style and quirkiness than by the subject matter. I was especially amused by his insolence towards those who used the irritating idiomatic phrase “you know” at the end of spoken sentences.  He would simply say “Ding!!”  At first, I (and others) could not relate the phrase to his penal utterance, but soon it resonated with us and our amusement and delight grew with its frequency.  Of course, some of those victimized by the experience exhibited resentmen towrds himt, but the good professor never wavered.  Immediately, I found a growing fondness of him!

On the first Friday of class, John invited all students to FART.  You could hear a pin drop as he surveyed the class intensely and as I looked around, it was apparent that everyone was waiting for his follow-up punch line.  He appeased: “That stands for Friday Afternoon Recreation Time, which will start promptly at 4 pm at the Press Box Pizza and adjourn when in it is Pumpkin Time.”   “My god,” I thought, “I have to see this.” 

And so it was by accepting his invitation to FART that I commenced a friendship with this enigmatic man for the next 35+ years.  I was  increasingly intrigued and impressed by John’s ability to relate to everyone and to make economic principles relational to almost everything in life.   For the next many Fridays that quarter, I participated in FART and came to know this man well.  Eventually, the weather warmed enough that we moved FART to the Clark’s Fork River on rafts in a version deemed “Sea Duty” where we routinely landed our rafts on “Wild Asparagus Island” near the UM campus (the name and discovery of said island attributed by John to Greg Ingraham) where all who needed to exercise biological relief could do so among the island's high weeds. To my knowledge and John's, wild asparagus was never actually found on the island.

Ironically (and perhaps subliminally on purpose), I received a D in Econ 201 that quarter.  I did retake the class the next school year from John and received a B, much to John's pleasure. I then took a number of other Econ courses over my tenure at the school from the good doctor.  Our friendship evolved over that time and we shared a passion for hiking and fishing.  I stayed in Missoula the summers before and after my senior year and John and I took numerous outings to some of his favorite fishing haunts.  We always rode in John’s “empirical cruiser” – an early 70’s Chrysler if I recall correctly.  His peculiar habits always made me smile – one was to tap the horn as he was passing another car, noting to me that such a signal was part of the law of the Montana Code Annotated (which I confirmed years later.) 

My last class in college was the incomparable 2-credit “Edible Wild Plants” (in which, incredibly, I received a B.)  For my class project, I brought in John’s home brew he christened “PP” (its origins traced to John’s stint at Western Colorado College.)  This was 1980 and home brewing was certainly a rarity.  John brewed PP in a garbage can in his kitchen and it tasted…well, rather bitter to be polite.  But, it was a novelty and a hit with all in the class except the instructor, which is probably why out of 20 students, only one B was given and the rest received A’s. However, John beamed in pride at the warm reception given to PP by the class.  Seeing his pleasure was worth the B.

After I (surprise!!) evntually graduated, John and I stayed in touch.  I set off to become a Major League umpire and I lived and worked in Missoula for a few weeks in the fall of 1984.  I frequented FART again, this time as an alum, and I enjoyed hearing familiar things I had heard 8 years earlier. and John and I also managed a couple of weekend fishing excursions.  I saw John intermittently over the next dozen years after that – mostly at Grizzly homecomings - and we always traded Christmas cards where hs affinity for riding trains was a persistent theme in them. 

I never saw John after 2001 when I stopped  in Missoula and visited briefly with him on my way moving from Seattle to Bloomington, IL.  I never returned to Missoula thereafter. but we emailed each other occasionally and always traded Christmas cards.  Children came into my life and the activities of family and the labor of work made time fly.  I mentioned to him in a 2009 email exchange that I had done some work at the University of Illinois and he was excitedly recalled to me that he had earned his PhD there some 47 years earlier. He also talked of still hosting “seminar” – an exploratory quarterly (later semesterly) independent study which he had perpetually held since the 70s (regrettably and despite his frequent invitation, I never participated in it.)

John will be sadly missed by many of us who called him friend.  Though he was a life-long bachelor and lived in the same small house on South Higgins the entirety of his life that I knew him, he was never without his many friends.  He was an anomaly at the University – politically conservative and almost absurdly practical and rational.  If economics did not satisfactorily explain something in life, then fishing, hunting or hiking (or something related to them) did.  However, personal differences never stood in the way of John liking someone and he liked most every everyone as far as I could tell.  I was never as close to him as people like Greg Ingraham, Bob McCue, John Bulger, Otis McCullough, Nick Kaufmann, and many others. 

Bob was there for John throughout his life and especially in his final days.  Their friendship represented the unending bond John formed with many students over his years.  Bob established a Facebook site for John, The John Wicks Club, and many people have been added to it.  I smiled when I read that a celebration of John’s life will be held on April 28 at the Doubletree in Missoula.  I suspect that was planned intentionally to give people sufficient time to find the time, plan their travel, and find reasonable airfares.  It helped me and I will be there. 

A few professional tidbits about JW (a fairly detailed profile was done about John in the summer 2011 UM Dept of Economics newsletter.)  His “Official Biography” in 2004):

John Wicks  is Professor Emeritus in the Economics Department of the University of Montana. During his career, he has specialized in household economics and state and local taxation. Wicks received his undergraduate degree in Government from the University of South Dakota in 1957 where he graduated summa cum laude and was a Phi Beta Kappa member. He received his masters and doctorate (1962) from the University of Illinois in Economics. Professor Wicks has taught at Augustana College, Western State College of Colorado, Ohio State University, and since 1964 at the University of Montana. Although officially retired, he may be found at his university office and teaches undergraduate and graduate seminars in empirical research design each semester. He has been an author of nearly 50 publications, primarily articles in academic journals such as the National Tax Journal and the Review of Income and Wealth. In addition, he has been president of the Western Social Science Association and the Missoula, Montana City-County Planning Board and a director of First Citizens Bank of Polson, Montana. When not working, he rides trains on as many lines as possible throughout the world. Like most Montanans, he also hikes and fishes a lot.

Field Of Study: Household Production and Leisure
Published Works Include (partial list):
·         “An Application of a Stated Preference Method to Value Urban Amenities” Urban Studies, 2010, vol. 47, issue 2, pages 235 - 256
·         The Marginal Effects Of Consumer Characteristics On Internet Channel Choice” Journal of Applied Business Research  2007 Volume 23, Number 1 pages 43 – 54
·         Mothers' time spent in care of their children and market work: a simultaneous model with attitudes as instrumentsApplied Economics Letters, 2006, vol. 13, issue 8, pages 503 - 506
·         How Much Is Leisure Worth? Direct Measurement with Contingent ValuationReview of Economics of the Household, 2004, vol. 2, issue 4, pages 351 - 365
·         "Valuation of Household Production at Market Prices, and Estimation of Household Production Functions," Review of Income and Wealth, June 1996, 165 - 180.
·         "Market Valuation of Household Production," Journal of Forensic Economics, 5(2), 1992, 115 - 126.
·         "Measuring the Value of Household Output: A Comparison of Direct and Indirect Approaches," Review of Income and Wealth, June 1990, 129 - 141.
·         "An Empirical Comparison of Government and Private Productive Efficiency," National Tax Journal, December 1974, 653 - 656.
·         "Administrative and Compliance Costs of State and Local Taxes," National Tax Journal, September 1967, 309 - 315.
·         “A Model of Commercial Bank Earning Assets Selection” Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis
1966, vol. 1, issue 02, pages 99 - 113
·         “Discussion” Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, 1966, vol. 1, issue 01, pages 53 - 55
Your friends are what will matter in the end and when you die, if you’ve got five real friends, then you’ve had a great life.

John had many friends. RIP my friend

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Where Does This Track Take Us??? Transformational Change in Today's World

When I was a teenager growing up in Montana, we occasionally would set out on Saturdays with our .22 rifles to “go shooting.”  That usually meant adventure and fun and we were responsible enough that we resisted the temptation to shoot road signs and other illegal targets (including each other.)  One destination was to walk railroad tracks, and like in the movie Stand By Me, we would whimsically dreamed of having to dodge a train or perhaps of finding something really cool (besides a dead body.) 

Nothing so dramatic ever happened, but on one excursion, we did find a train tunnel and ventured into it.  Naturally, it was dark and foreboding and we had no flashlights, but none of us would admit to any cowardice or dare shy away at the taunt of a peer, so we foraged forward into the black abyss.  The tunnel curved slightly, so at one point we lost sight of the light at our entrance and we also could not see the light at the other end.  That was the point where our fears confronted our bravado face-to-face.  Fear, or perhaps its second cousin, common sense, prevailed and we turned around.  It’s odd how long even a rather short train tunnel seems when one is faced with the prospect of walking some portion of it without either egress being visible.

So, where am I going with all this? Well, I know a company that is metaphorically going into this kind of tunnel of change right now and without any light.  The company initiated a huge program late last year on which it is pretty much betting its future and that work will encompass several years.  The “light” that is needed is “working differently” according to its management.  The senior manager of the IT department recently wrote about it and used Eastman Kodak’s recent bankruptcy filing as a springboard for his message: Technology enables us to revolutionize the way business is done. Technology can help us leapfrog the competition. It can also be the way we are taken out of the game altogether.

He then reiterated an oft-heard mantra (even now considered a bit of a platitude around the organization): to make this change happen we need to work differently.  The change of which he writes is vague and in my discussions with various people in the organization, many express that there has been little clarity offered about the meaning of working differently.  Of course, they offer their speculations and opinions about what that phrase might mean, but the fact is that there has been little guidance from management, especially senior management, about what they believe it means.  One thing that does resonate across the workforce is that management does not appear to be working or behaving any differently than before this edict and the sense is that workers are being demanded to do things differently, but not management.  That doesn’t bode well for either the workers or the management.

Whatever the term change actually means to the management (and it is critically important that management have a common understand of what it means), change in this context will involve what author Robert E. Quinn calls transformational change, described in his acclaimed book, Change the World – How Ordinary People Accomplish Extraordinary Result.  Quinn describes this kind of profound change as a body of principles based upon seed thoughts of masters of transformation that reflect the simplicity from the other side of complexity. 

He contrasts this revolutionary change with normal (aka incremental) change that occurs almost constantly in organizations.  This change gives rise to another frequently used cliché variation: the only constant in our business is change. The difference in the change types is that Incremental change is actually “normalized” in that it typically conforms to or at least does not disrupt the behaviors, norms, and culture of the organization.  It is rarely very disruptive and it often occurs as the result of management decrees and instructions.  This can also  be termed intrasystemic change because it is encapsulated in within the culture that is organic to the organization’s system. 

Transformational change is typically catalyzed by a person (or sometimes persons) who become the masters of the transformation.  This kind of change is extrasystemic because it is often seen as very radical and a perturbance to the status quo.  Quinn uses Ghandi, King, and Jesus as examples of people who were masters of transformational change. They were catalysts of great change that endured beyond their lives. 

Normalized change tends to come about from telling people they need to change through reason and argument and by forcing change (where the presumption is that people usually resist change and must be told to do it.)  This actually formulates into a 2-step process for incremental change: first, communicate the reason for change and then force the change if the target audience resists and fails to adopt it. This kind of change will fail if it is significant - i.e. transformational.  The company of which I speak has taken this approach so far.

Transformational change requires a participative strategy where people collaborate and embrace change on its merits.  They do so because it will be good for them, for others, and for the institution.  The US civil rights, women’s rights, anti-war movements, India’s independence and the end of apartheid in South Africa are all examples of successful transformational change that resulted from collaborative activity.  Such change events are often termed ‘movements” because of the change brought about enormously impactive change.  While violence can be associated with such societal change, equivalent organizational change rarely involves violence.  However, the change is still enormously uncomfortable for many people and they often actively and passively resist it because it threatens the entrenched culture and authority and related norms, behaviors, conformity standards, power structure, etc.

Quinn goes on in his book to describe the framework that can enable transformational change based in eight transformational seeds:

1.    Envision the productive community
2.    First look within
3.    Embrace the hypocritical self
4.    Transcend fear
5.    Embody a vision of common good
6.    Disturb the system
7.    Surrender to emergent process
8.    Entice through moral power

Interestingly, much of what Quinn describes is also part of the calculus for Steve Denning's radical management as described in his book, The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management - Re-inventing the Workplace for the 21st Century.  Denning describes seven work principles that organizations can leverage to do well in the modern economy:

1.    Focus first on delighting the customer
2.    Utilize “real teams” that self-organize and self-direct
3.    Deliver value quickly to clients through incremental delivery of product
4.    Involve the customer directly in the development of the product
5.    Make the organization and its work transparent
6.    Apply kaizen in all aspects of the organization – a culture of continuous improvement
7.    Communicate directly, succinctly and effectively (apply crucial conversation skills)

Near the end of his book, Denning talks about implementing such change if these principles are not already embedded in the organization.  For many companies, that change will be wholly transformational.  It won’t come from edict, cajoling, or coercion.  It will require masters of transformation.  Those will be ones that put light in the tunnel so everyone can collaborate and make such change realizable and magnetic.  There has been much discussion about Steve's book and about how people might go about helping an organization undertake such radical management change.  A group met in Stoos, Switzerland about it in January.  Out of that gathering came the Stoos Network. An examination of the list of attendees reveals some familiar names in the agile community. Leaders of that gathering, Peter Stevens and Steve have collaborated and created a workshop to help people search and discover ways to change.  They have workshops scheduled through May.

The company has a mantra about being remarkable in its service.  It describes remarkable as simple, personalized, and caring.  That is exactly how it should approach this change it seeks.  That will mean transformational change for the management, and the master change agents have to step up to the plate.  Simply writing about it won’t suffice; it has to be demonstrated and involve the active participation of everyone.  Open Space events would be one robust approach to involving many people, especially those who care.  Such change will require relinquishment and abandonment of the rather tired management principles and practices of old.  What was learned in business school 20, 15, or even 10 years ago is insufficient today.  But, who is going to step up and turn the light on in this train tunnel?  Do they even know they need to do that?  Those and other questions are burning right now. 

In the future, I’ll talk about how the traditional change models are inadequate today and we need to leave ADKAR at home in favor of models such as those embodying the family therapy principles of Virginia Satir.