Welcome to Uncommon Leadership.
I’m Michael Hunter with Uncommon Teams.
Today I’m talking with Zach Bonaker.
Zach proudly describes himself as a benevolent troublemaker, by which he means a catalyst for positive disruption. He applies his wealth of experience steering both Fortune 500 companies and startups and his deep expertise in systems thinking and fostering team-centric approaches to work to skillfully advance organizations that prioritize humanity. His intent is always to combine the competitive advantage of business agility, cutting-edge organization design techniques, and the transformative force of flow science to cultivate vibrant and human-centric environments and a deep passion for work that empowers individuals to unleash their full potential.
Zach Bonaker 1:07
Thanks, Michael. Thanks for writing all that for me. It makes me sound so good. Like wow, I’m feeling pretty excited now.
Honestly, I took what you have in your LinkedIn profile, and I smushed it down a bit. So you wrote it.
Thanks. It’s great to be here. And thank you for the introduction. I can’t wait to talk with you.
You’re welcome. And it makes you sound like the person that you are. So it’s a perfect introduction.
In your journey to seeing people as people and learning to leverage their unique gifts to best accomplish your goals, what have you struggled with recently?
Struggled with recently? Well, I’m glad you asked that.
That word “struggled with” is the perfect framing.
Earlier this year, I negotiated some agreements to leave an employer and to look and transition into a new opportunity.
Just like many people right now, they know, there’s statistics that say unemployment is great and the labor force looks wonderful, but there’s so many people that I talk with regularly including close friends and people in my network that are in similar situation. We’re looking for work.
So struggled with recently…thinking about the idea of treating people and seeing people as people.
I’ll be starting a new opportunity next month.
In about two months of seriously looking for work, I experienced what I like to call the convention of hiring, which is that, I don’t know Michael, have you ever heard people say, “It’s so tough out there, I apply and I never hear anything or I don’t get any feedback and it’s just that’s the way it goes. That’s the way it is looking for work.” I call that the convention of hiring.
It’s something that we accept and we think is just kind of normal. It’s just the way it goes.
I think it’s incredibly inhumane and absolutely sees people not as people.
Organizations see the very people that they’re dependent on to achieve their goals: their workforce, their humans, their people that work for them, they see them as resources and treat them from a position of power and authority that really consumes them and tosses them away.
Give you a couple of stories.
Maybe for some listeners, this might resonate with you.
Let’s think about seeing people as people.
I talked with the company; they invited me in for an interview.
After a few conversations, I sat down with one of the stakeholders.
The stakeholder informed me up front, “I’m going to be talking about your values. I want to know who you are. This interview is about your values.”
I’m thinking to myself, “This is great. That’s a fantastic question. It’s something I believe in.”
I’ve done a lot of personal values work and personal values exercises through my mentors and people that have guided me.
I know very clearly my values.
I explained to them fairly emotionally, about the importance of who I am and what I need in a workforce and what truly gets me going.
The person said, “All right, well, okay, cool at the top of the hour, that’s it, all right. Great. Thanks for that and we’ll let you go. You’ll hear from us.”
I didn’t hear anything for almost three weeks.
Tried following up with people just to say, “Hey, thoughts, What’s going on?”
And eventually got a canned form letter that said, “Thank you. While your qualifications are very impressive….” All that lies and deceit.
I thought that was an interesting experience.
Because imagine coming in and telling somebody, if you truly see people as people, imagine bringing somebody in and having them open up to you about who they are in, and something that they care about, and then just saying, “Thanks.”
Can you imagine that?
Just walking away and ghosting without even providing feedback?
That’s a very personal, intimate type of question to engage somebody on.
It’s an important conversation hiring process.
To just leave it?
That would hurt, right?
Then I had a situation where a company who was very much about their statements of inclusion, trust, we hear, see and value people, is what they said.
We had a series of conversations.
I get a message from the recruiter that says, “We’d love to you. We think you’re fantastic. We’d love to talk about a future contract with you. This is great.”
Cool. Great. Let me know when you want to chat. This is wonderful.
The next day, I get an automated rejection letter. “Thanks for your time and interest.”
Was this an accident?
I follow up with the recruiter.
The person, paraphasing it, says, “Yeah, gosh, oops, my bad. Yeah, I misunderstood all the feedback and we actually don’t like you. So, thanks.”
Was anybody going to say anything?
And, by the way, could you give me some feedback, what was it that you misunderstood that doesn’t make sense?
The person says, “We don’t do that for applicants.”
I thought, “Trust and inclusion and seeing people as people?” Actual quote: “Only the people that work here.”
I could go on and on with stories.
Luckily, I’m very fortunate.
I navigated through this and I’m gonna start my next, going back into consulting and enjoying things, starting next month. That’s great.
But if I’m experiencing stories like this in a fairly short period of time, I know, Michael, you’ve probably heard people saying they’ve been looking for work for nine months or so or longer.
To think about the damage that stories like I’m sharing can be doing on somebody’s psyche.
On their family.
Imagine if my mental health is degrading, and I have kids who depend on me, and now I’m feeling; imagine the social harm that can happen through the practice of people looking for work, and the way that organizations view the convention of hiring, which is truly from a position of authority, from a position of power, and this sense that they can have total dereliction of their impact on others, they can abdicate all their responsibility for doing good in the world.
Just to basically find the person that we think is great, that 10X or whatever.
It’s really sad.
If anybody out there listening wants to think about a place that they can start in their organization today to start seeing people for people, as people, and understanding how important that is, maybe you could ask yourself and your organization, what if our hiring process was our greatest recruiting tool?
What if it was a competitive advantage?
What if it didn’t drive people away from our company and say, “I’ll never work at that company ever; you’ve just lost out on me?”
What if it was meant to build community and mentor and relationships and maybe even treat people so that they feel fairly assessed at the end of a stressful experience that they’re putting a lot of time and effort into?
When you ask what I’ve been struggling with lately, my own personal experiences, but then I have struggled thinking about and talking with people that are out there looking for work and hearing the experiences that, the fear, the anxiety, the pressure, the stress that they’re having on top of companies just treating people like they’re truly resources, like truly inanimate resources.
How do we humanize this experience?
When we’re trying to balance taking in the hopefully swarms of people who are interviewing; we may not have the time and resources to do this deeply human experience, lots of feedback, give them all sorts of basically Agile retrospective on every interview loop for the team and with the person and all of that.
As you say, it would make such a difference in the applicant’s experience, in the team’s experience, and the perception of that company in the community.
How do we move all this stuff forward in a way that respects the humanity of everyone involved and also respects the purpose of the business, which is to make great product and make money?
It’s a good question.
I’ve been actually speaking for years on the convention of hiring, and sharing stories, sharing possible ways that might help to humanize things.
I said something earlier that is important: what if our hiring process was an actual competitive advantage? What if it was our greatest recruiting tool?
Starting with humanizing that is one of the pathways to it.
I like to use principles.
I talk with people about principles, because if we start from a principle-based approach, our methods, our ways, can be infinite.
So I don’t think there’s one way to humanize it.
There’s possibly many ways.
Not all of them necessarily need to be, if I have to hire 100 people and I’m under a business pressure today to get these 100 people hired as fast as possible, I may not be able to make it a completely humane process today.
But there are things that we can do to help.
The first principle of my new forms of hiring is just a statement of attend to needs.
When I say that, I mean thinking about it from a systems perspective and understanding who the parts and the actors are in this interaction.
There’s a need that exists when we’re bringing people into a company, for a company, which is I need to find the right people. I need to make sure that I hire the right person. That’s a perfectly valid, reasonable, a very good, important need: I’ve got to find the right people. I’ve got to find great people to bring in.
What I find is that most companies stop there. They stop there.
If I’m taking a systems view, I may have one or many parts in this interaction, and I’m just focusing on one part.
That’s how systems break.
When we overemphasize on managing parts and attending to behaviors or interactions of parts rather than the cause-effect between them.
That’s when systems break down.
This principle is important.
I remember talking years ago with a friend named Jason Kearney, and at the time, he was working with a company called Hunter Industries. I’m based in San Diego and Hunter is here in San Diego.
Hunter Industries is an interesting organization. You may have heard things about mob programming or ensemble programming and generally, that’s where we assumed that this started with the team lead with Woody and people there at Hunter. Jason was part of that team.
When I was doing research on interviewing, he had said, “There was this really big transformative moment for us when we were thinking about bringing people into our way of working, which is very human-, people-based, interviews suck for people. How can we make it so that the people interviewing have a great experience? That their needs are met as well?”
What they did is they wrote down three practices or three things that their interview process must follow.
This follows this principle of attend to needs, which is that first one: we need to find great people. We need to make sure the person is right for us.
Then what they did is they doubled down.
They went all-in on the candidate’s needs as well.
So, rather than just having one, in favor from the company, they decided to have two, in favor of the candidate or the interviewee, which was for them to make sure that that person, the interviewee, the candidate, feels that they’re the right fit for that company too.
But they don’t stop there.
Their third one is to make sure that the candidate feels fairly assessed.
That’s an interesting one.
If I say fairly assessed, how do we humanize it? That might be the most human way that I can think of to humanize an interview process or the act of trying to join a company, is to feel like, whatever the decision, it’s fair.
You’re never going to get 100% success.
There’s always going to be some sort of need that wasn’t met or a misunderstanding there that makes people feel unfairly assessed.
This is not something that we can meet every time.
It is a worthwhile goal to pursue.
They did things like assign a buddy to the person who’s coming in for the interview.
That person’s job is to adopt the mindset that I want this candidate to get hired, no matter what. I want them. So I’m there for you. What do you need? What do you want to practice? You want to do some programming beforehand? Do you want to talk about something? Study materials in advance? They’re basically there to nurture them and guide them into the interview process.
Then they have a feedback process. At the end, they go through the feedback and they discuss.
We talked about maybe we don’t have the time to have her perspective on everything, but I do think it’s possible for everybody that you speak with, you can take ten minutes, and you can reserve the ten minutes of an interview process and time to talk about the feedback and to talk about things, to ask them, “How did you feel about that?”
These are little things.
The idea of ensuring that the way that you’re going to evaluate how you’re, what you’re going to look for.
Have you ever had an interview where somebody tried to surprise you or trick you? With a tricky question?
When does this ever happen in business?
This is how it works.
Maybe the best way to humanize it is to model the interview process, what it’s like to actually work together, rather than placing people on trial, trying to trick them, trying to make sure they feel fairly assessed.
This fits with a lot of thinking that I’ve done. It’s really challenging to discern within an hour, a day, over a couple of days, whatever an interview process looks like, how a person is really going to fit in and perform in the context of the team, in a company.
Maybe a more efficient, effective approach would be, what if it was super easy to, we’ll hire, come be part of the team for a week, a month, a quarter. And let’s just see how things work out. If at any point, one of us says this isn’t working out, we end it, no harm no foul. At the end of that, if things are going great, then we can talk about what it might look like to work together.
There’s probably somebody hearing that that’s saying, “It’s so expensive and costly and we don’t have the processes and policies to put it in. So I have to contract. “
But if we talk about three simple principles around needs for this relationship that is created between a person joining other people to do things together, what you describe helps the company understand if they’re the right person for them, helps the person understand if the company is the right person for them.
To some degree, you’re going to create a great opportunity for that person to feel as fairly assessed as possible.
A practice like that seems to fit the pattern that I’m describing, that is far more human-friendly.
I’ll give you another example.
Let me preface it by starting, there’s a theory out there in terms of nature, it’s a simplified theory. It’s r/K selection theory, if you’ve ever heard of it.
It’s a model for describing the way that species can reproduce.
An “r” species is essentially high growth rate.
If you think maybe like a Pacific salmon, the all swim upstream, they spawn thousands of eggs, and the parents die. Many of the offspring die as well. Some don’t. And then the survivors are left to figure it out on their own.
The high growth rate, the high volume of things, helps keep that species alive through their threats and such.
So that’s an “r” species.
A “K” species, an obvious example would be a human. You have much longer gestation period, much fewer offspring, a very high demand on parents to parent and to care for. There’s far more effort, it’s harder.
But the “K” species tend to have longer lifespans, tend to be more capable in terms of what they contribute to and within the ecosystem.
I don’t think we’re going to question whether or not humans are; different podcast, right?
But generally, this is this pattern.
Maybe we have to ask ourselves, as a company, do we want to invest in being an “r” company or a “K” company, and be willing to go all in with whatever the tradeoffs and consequences are of that decision?
If you say, “We’re a hire and fire type of thing, high growth, people come in and out,” fine.
To be honest, I don’t care.
We can be upfront about it.
We can be open about it.
We can make sure that people understand that that’s what they’re signing up for.
If we’re going to be a K type of company, we may say, “It would be hard today, to be able to bring people in on that contract or that temporary basis. We don’t really quite have the structures for it today. But we’re gonna figure out how to do it, because that would be a better way for us to maintain and build our organization and create the culture that we want. We’re willing to do it the hard way.”
A good example of this, and Michael, you’ve had this guest on your show, a woman named Melissa Boggs.
When Melissa was CEO at an organization, we were talking about her transformation and about how she needed to bring in new people and to grow the organization and change culture.
Of course, hiring and onboarding was one of those conversations.
We had this exact conversation.
I shared with her these principles, and she started thinking about, “How could I meet and how could I do this?”
It was interesting, because what she determined is, “What we’re going to do is we’re going to bring people on site, we’re going to go through a resume conversation thing and use calls and soliciting for information. We’re going to find who we want to invite. And we’re going to be very upfront with people that this is going to be a one-day-interview type of thing. But it will be many hours. It will be on site. So it’s tough for people who are working, who have families, and we understand that.”
So, she talked about how she could figure out how best to provide advance notice and let people schedule to make it happen.
It’s hard, but she brought people on site, and then went through the actual act of conversation and dialogue and interaction. Went through a series of Lean Coffee conversation-type of things to get a feel and warm people up.
Then this idea of giving people, if you’ve heard of a thing called the empathy toy, it’s this weird set of blocks and things that come together in weird ways. And the concept is that people go back-to-back, are blindfolded or something, and the person who’s blindfolded has to be told by the other person how to put the shape together.
So it’s like, “Okay, the thing that feels round…” It’s all kinds of different feels and shapes. So it’s extremely difficult.
But it’s an incredible test of getting to see how people respond to adversity, how they collaborate with one another, the words they use, the communications, when they’re frustrated how do they show it?
It’s a lot of work.
And it was hard.
But what she found is that, even post working at this company, a lot of the people that she brought in are still there and are considered some of the best people.
So, practices like you advocate for, I would love that.
Imagine getting to come into an organization under the agreement one another say, “This is, we’re gonna have a probation period.”
I know that doesn’t sound good, but I don’t know what better word off the top of my head right away.
A probationary period where we can start to get a feel for what this job is. There’s some sort of guaranteed amount of time that we’re going to work together.
So even if I’m starting to realize this maybe isn’t the job for me, I can be interviewing on the side, I can continue talking.
But, hey, I’m not unemployed anymore.
Or maybe I really feel it’s great.
But I’m wondering, so I have chances to provide feedback.
This sounds like a really human-friendly way of onboarding and getting comfortable with the job.
It’s a mentor-type of approach to starting work, almost like an apprenticeship.
It feels kind of strange to call it an apprenticeship as well.
Maybe it’s not for everybody.
A practice like that would be for me.
I would like that.
But that’s the great thing: if we can communicate what we do at an organization, how we do the and how we’re intentional about our values, by bringing people into the system, those that want that sort of interaction can choose to do so.
It goes back the idea of, what if it’s our greatest recruiting tool?
The typical interview process works really well for some people. It doesn’t work at all for others, as we’ve been discussing.
If everyone made that an explicit part of their recruiting process, “This is how we interview. These are the kinds of people that we’re selecting for. This is why we interview in this way,” so that we’re conscious about why we’re using the process we do rather than using the process that everyone seems to use, then we’re going to weed out just automatically a whole bunch of people we’ll never have to deal with, a whole bunch of people applying who aren’t going to be a fit, and the people who are a fit are going to come flocking.
It lets both people be much more focused in their approach.
The practice of hiring is very skills-focused. What people can do and the high performer….
Again, I’m not saying that this individual performance is important. It is.
We all have individual capabilities, and some folks are better at things than others and that can be an advantage. It’s okay.
I interviewed a company called Vervoe and one of the founders named Omer Molad.
I was talking with him and getting some input around hiring, because his company is focused on using technology to improve the hiring process.
He said, “Why do people leave companies? Why do people leave? Because they can’t do the job? Because they don’t have the skill? No. They leave for other reasons. It’s for personal reasons or due to managers. The management at the organization.”
So why do we focus so much on skill?
What if we saw skill as the commodity item and communicated upfront: This is how we hire. This is the structure.
If you know when you apply or if there’s a means of being brought into, “This is what you can expect,” then it’s not “What’s the next step? What’s the next step?”
Here’s how we evaluate each step so that you understand what we’re looking for, how we make our decisions, so that we’re trying to minimize that feeling unfair.
What if we waited to the end, when having all the skills and stuff?
Then again, I don’t want to create the idea of we should be bringing echo chamber people, we should just have everyone who looks just like the set. We all think the same, act the same, talk the same. That’s not what I’m advocating for.
There’s a fit in terms of value and culture, that somebody may have many different preferences and all kinds of different variety and wonderfulness about their individuality, but can share some of the common bindings around culture and interactions and ways of working.
So then it just comes down to the understanding of how we’re going to assess skill at the end to make that decision.
Companies treat it that way.
They sort of devalue the people side to it, and let their bias run wild with their perception of how they answer a question or some sort of way that maybe they answered a question or did a problem the way that I would have done it too. So I like that person.
This isn’t very human-friendly to me.
Ultimately, if I’m gonna, we’ll go macro from hiring, so thinking about people as people, there’s a woman by the name of Jardena London, and she spoke at a conference a few years ago that I assisted with organizing in New York City, it was the Business Agility conference, I think it was 2020 when this happened; gosh, I can’t remember.
Jardena shared a variety of different, very people-focused and human-focused principles for the workplace.
One of the things that she had was what she called her “Souls at Work Bill of Rights.”
This bill of rights included things like the right to be happy and fulfilled at work.
I should have that right.
I’ve taken her work, and I’ve adopted some of my own Bill of Rights that I like to use in organizations and teams that I work with and work for.
Things like, again, the right to reject dehumanizing language, like, for example, being called a resource. That’s dehumanizing.
If a company establishes a Bill of Rights, and we take a systems thinking approach, and again, I’m not talking about these companies that put on their website things like “We value trust, we value inclusion, we see people and hear people,” because that’s cheap. Anybody can say anything on a website. I’ve worked with numerous leaders that have said, “These are our values,” and then just completely neglect them in their own actions.
An organization that establishes a Bill of Rights that might state some of the principles like we’ve been discussing here, and hold them at the top of the organization, so that whether we’re talking about hiring, whether we’re talking about onboarding, performance review feedback, the way that we measure the way that we build an interaction, we give feedback, whatever it is, that the organization is governed by these Bill of Rights.
If we establish them, and our leadership can have the mental strength and the conviction to uphold them, even though that sometimes will mean looking in the mirror, even though sometimes that will mean having hard conversations, sometimes that will mean being at risk, and not abdicating that accountability to the organization but actually saying “I’ll be self-accountable to that,” then a lot of seeing people as people will come out in what we do, how we do it, and maybe even some of the practices that we discussed in this session thus far.
Maybe they won’t just be isolated to a specific practice, like hiring.
It could be an organizational capability.
What a competitive advantage in today’s world.
What a competitive advantage to have an organization where people are themselves, that they feel truly human and—Michael, we spend so much time at work. Wouldn’t it be great that it wasn’t so much that it’s my job and I have to do it to pay bills, but this is something that actually contributes to my life in a positive way, I learn and grow, I love it.
I know there’s people out there listening to feel that way today and you’re lucky because there’s a lot of people who don’t.
Even at the most macro level, setting some of these rights that focus on the rights that people have as humans to work in an organization because they’re bound by this convention that they need to make money most likely to pay for social pressures and things and bills and families.
We can do a lot better for both the success of the company, the business value that our customers receive, and society as a whole.
At least in the Western world, in America, we could use the healthy dose of improving our societal culture.
Framing this in terms of rights, versus values and principles and whatever, explicitly states, “These are what we expect everyone to have. If you don’t, you have an explicit right and even obligation to speak up and let us know. Because we aren’t intentionally trampling your rights, or we wouldn’t say that you have this right. We’re not going to say you have a right that you have as much great Kool-Aid as you want.” Or maybe we do. Either way that defines the company in a different way that says, “We value drinks of choice.”
Referencing Jardena London again, one of the adaptations that I’ve used from her work in my own is a right, the statement, and again, whether it’s an organization as a whole or team it doesn’t matter. It’s the freedom to speak up when we don’t agree with what’s happening. And to be heard when doing so.
It’s that last part that’s really important.
Back to the idea of r/K selection.
The “r” approach, the easier approach might be, “Yeah, we accept feedback, we’ve got an all voices survey thing you can put in anonymous feedback and you can speak up when you don’t agree with something.”
The “K” approach would be that last bit, “and to be heard when doing so.”
I remember once working an organization where they were doing something I had a lot of expertise.
I wasn’t directly involved. But I had a lot of expertise.
They’d had a lot of time from the senior leaders to do things the way that they wanted to.
I was in a meeting and they said, “Zack, you know a lot about this. So what’s your feedback?”
I’m like, “Well, to be as polite and as open as I can, I really disagree with what you’re doing, and here’s why. I don’t want you to think that I’m against or anti, but I do want you to know that what we’re doing can have some problems here, where we could avoid it by doing this instead, so I would encourage us to try that.”
The rapid feedback afterwards was an escalation to various management channels that I’m negative and that what would be helpful is, as in management, is that if we would just support each other more.
I think the quote was, “Smile more.” Because if one smiles all smile.
So, to be heard.
It’s the hard way to give people the right to be able to disagree with you, to dissent.
Dissent and debate is actually really important for understanding our beliefs and agreeing together.
So, allowing people to dissent and understand why and caring about it.
It’s a lot of work that way.
It’s going to require people to challenge you, and they’re not going to be 100% on board.
It might even slow things down, sometimes.
But I don’t know if that’s a reason to take the “r” approach and just throw it all away.
That’s one of the pinnacles of seeing people as people and a workforce that is truly human-friendly, is, not that I can just speak up anywhere and interrupt and everyone should, the CEO should take my opinion all the time. That’s not what I’m saying.
But to be intentional about hearing people and allowing them to be heard and confirming to them that you at least understand and that they have been heard.
Sometimes that’s all it takes.
“I hear you. I understand. Let me tell you what I think I heard you say. Was it? I hear you. In our context right now, though, we’re not going to be able to because …”
Just being able to confirm that you actually took the time to care and that you really did understand what the person was saying, you weren’t just blowing them off, can go a long way.
As an organization where you have that right; I haven’t personally worked in organization that really seem to uphold that right.
I have tried to in organizations and groups that I’ve worked with and have led.
Maybe am I just naive?
Is this not a competitive advantage?
It’s a huge competitive advantage.
But it is the hard way to do things, for sure.
My experience has been, the more everyone on the team feels able to bring all of who they are into that work environment and work in a way that works for them, knowing that that necessarily includes helping that work for people where it isn’t just an automatic, “Yes, that works for me,” those are the teams who are the most effective, efficient, productive, financially successful, whatever metrics you care about, they’re all going to go through the roof, because those are the teams where everyone is not just willing but excited and passionate, and it’s easy to do all the things that the team has to do to make the company to meet the goals of the company, whatever they are.
Well said. I agree.
This has been a great conversation today, Zach. You and I agree on everything, which is great.
We make a great choir. We should go make some songs together.
There’s probably lots of places where we disagree. What else should I ask you today?
A good question you could ask me, I’ll let you even ask me, is, what is the biggest, what is the most important organizational capability or skill that our companies are lacking today that are holding them back and holding people back from being their best. You can ask me that question. I have an answer.
That sounds great. What is the biggest obstacle holding companies back from enabling and helping people to bring their whole selves into the workplace and doing that in a way that works for everyone involved?
I have a very big macro answer to this.
It starts at the most systemic place that we can create congruence between what the organization is set out to do or says it’s set out to do, and then the actual structures and processes by which it does that and people work in.
There’s a bridge between the strategy of the company and the way it runs and the development and organization development, and that really is organization design.
This bridge, the OD community, is full of incredible scholarly research from organizational systems scientists and people testing and running their hypotheses and detecting patterns about the way people organize and what happens when they do that.
The reason this is so important for people to be in an organizational workforce and be able to be their whole self is that any sort of organization that is incongruent between its stated goals and then the system, the actual goal-seeking behavior, that company is going to experience entropy.
As randomness and disorder pervade a company, the ability for people to understand and make sense of what’s going on and why and how and to be together to get is going to deteriorate.
That’s going to lead to a less human experience.
So a very, very macro answer for me is, I remember years ago, right at the mid-2000s, when Agile transformation became a really big thing. This was around the time I was getting started, earlier in my career and learning about organizational change and transformation.
None of that was, in my opinion, was ever going to be successful.
Not because of four values and twelve principles of a software development manifesto, but because it’s just a small part of what an organization system is.
Our focus was never on the whole system.
Especially, our management has never had the upbringing, the mentoring, the support, and the training and the organization development to develop these capabilities.
They’ve effectively learned how to be really good at A, and said, “You’re so good at A we’re going to make you do B,” and then give them B and then just stop there.
So the people in B go, “I’m just gonna use my skills from A to do B,” and they continue to grow this way.
This is the Scaling Via Dysfunction pattern that I refer to.
Where, rather than actually solve problems, we create management to manage problems.
This tends to be the pattern of, “You were so good at A it will make you a manager now of B.”
You don’t know how to do B and you’ve never been trained that way.
So, back to the organization design concept, understanding truly what an organization strategy, is designing a strategy statement, and analyzing it and developing the actual design criteria which inform your organizational capabilities that create a competitive advantage leads to a framework of thinking how to design structures, lateral processes, people practices, leadership, mindsets, incentive systems.
They all inform each other and they work together to create a system that intentionally pursues the real goals.
In the absence of this as a management capability, as an organizational management capability, true continuous organization design competence.
Not just moving people around an org chart.
That’s not organization design.
That’s just reporting lines.
By doing this, you create an environment where the goal-seeking behavior of the company truly is the interaction towards that stated goal.
As opposed to, in the absence of this capability, the goal-seeking behavior tends to be, the goal of the company, is actually just to benefit those that are already privileged.
They reconfigured their organizations to have more control and power, bigger and bigger bowls of rice, if you will, as a mentor once said to me.
Any person working in an organization where the true goal-seeking behavior of the system is just a benefit, those in power are never going to experience a human-friendly, people-centric experience.
The most systemic thing that I can think of is to create human-friendly organizations by design.
That starts with real organization design know-how.
There’s a wealth of science out there.
There’s so much knowledge on it.
Managers, go read this stuff, learn about it, build it as a capability in your organization, because it has such a greater good proposition not just for yourself, having a more successful organization, but for your customers and the people that work for you and work with you.
For people who would like to learn more about sensible organizational design and all the other people-focused approaches we talked about today, what’s the best way for them to connect with you?
So, my personal blog is called, after my title, it is called The Benevolent Troublemaker. It’s for those who desire more human-friendly organizations. That’s where I write about topics like organization design, people, software managers, management, organizational behavior, and I even invite guest authors to come on and contribute their articles too, so that it can really try to be a source of collective knowledge, not just mine.
That’s The Benevolent Troublemaker, it’s a WordPress site, and check that out.
Happy to connect with me on LinkedIn. I do use that.
I don’t do the Zuck or the Musk things. I’m not into that. I’m not into those individuals.
I’ll currently use LinkedIn as a means to connect, so you can connect with me there and we can interact.
Or my personal email. Feel free to email me and we can chat about anything that you might wish.
Sounds great. I’ll have those links in the show notes.
What would you like to leave our audience with today, Zach?
The most simple takeaway that a listener, you, both of us, that we can have from this conversation, social systems like companies are open systems.
They take input in from their environment and they respond to it.
They’re full of people.
They’re not full of parts and inanimate objects.
Your organization is not a machine.
It’s a living, adaptive thing.
It’s not going to be easy to manage.
As much as we may value order and control, that’s going to be a faster mechanism to create more of a closed system-like behavior, which amplifies entropy.
Creating the pursuit of this order may create more disorder, more dysfunction.
Knowing that you have people taking a people-first approach to your organizational management, your culture, your practices, the bill of rights that we discussed, might be the hard way.
It might require tough conversations.
It might require things to change in your organization.
But in a time when the business world and customer preferences, when things are so dynamic, volatile and uncertain today; if not a sustainable, adaptive organization, how else can you expect to succeed?
The only way that you’re going to create that is by taking a people-focused approach.
And truly, whether it be hiring, onboarding, giving a performance review, or just sitting down and giving feedback to somebody, treating people like people and seeing people as people truly is a choice.
So, what do you choose?
Thank you for that.
Audience, let us know: what do you choose? How have we affected your system today, and how are you feeling about that? Zach and I want to know.
Thank you, and have a great day.
Thanks for joining us on Uncommon Leadership today.
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