Social Norms at Work

I recently gave a talk in Michigan on the topic of servant-leadership.  Unfortunately, servant-leadership is something that is painfully absent in so many organizations.  Just a few years ago, it (servant-leadership) was not something I had even heard of.  Going back and reviewing the PMBOK made me realize two glaring omissions.  There is a lack of content on stakeholder or team engagement and there is a lack of content on leadership.  Fortunately, in the last few years, I have enjoyed books by authors like Clay Shirky, Seth Godin, Dan Pink, and Dan Ariely.  I've also met and interacted with some amazing people in the Agile community.  I now interact differently with my peers, as a result of these experiences.  I now apply my social norms at work.  What are social norms?  They are patterns of behavior in a particular group, community, or culture, accepted as normal and to which an individual is accepted to conform. We all go to work and we all get paid to do it.  Too many times, we take things for granted.  We don't question the things we do or the things that happen to us.  I'm pretty sure this is based on conditioning over a long period of time.  Perhaps we need to start treating those we work with more like those we socialize with.  Next time you interact with a fellow employee, ask yourself if your behavior is socially acceptable.

Social Norms

Within an organization, where we are working with other people, things can get twisted.  Some exhibit bad behavior and believe it's somehow forgivable because we're all getting paid.  Well, I don't think that's acceptable.  It's very interesting to see the same people behave differently, when not in the office environment.  Why is it some people forget basic manners or common courtesy, when in an office environment?

Case in point, I hold the door open for people, regardless if I know them or not.  I see this as socially expected behavior.  Socially, I expect a thank you.  To say I expect it is a slight embellishment.  Outside of the office, I still expect a thank you.  Unfortunately, at the office, I've started to accept not getting any reciprocation.  There are a few people in my building that I don't personally know but I still hold the door for them.  They won't make eye contact with me and they won't say thank you.  When the situation is reversed, these same people do not hold the door for anyone.  But, I refuse to accept their behavior.

We all need to strive to understand and empathize with others. People need to be accepted and recognized for their special and unique qualities.  Assume the good intentions of your coworkers and don't reject them as people, even while refusing to accept their behavior or performance.

Drawing:  Pictofigo

HT: Business Dictionary

Gingerbread Crime Scene

After a horrific crime scene at school nearly left our son traumatized for life, I think a better stakeholder management strategy could have been used. About a month or so ago, our son and his classmates all made little paper gingerbread men (and women).  They were all so proud of their creative achievements.  All was well in the world, until they returned to their classroom one day to discover the little gingerbread people were gone.  Nothing was left but some glitter (gingerbread blood) on the floor.

The story they were told was a leprechaun and fox had broken into the school and captured all of the gingerbread people.  I can't remember at this point where the story came from.  One of our son's friends went so far as to say he saw the leprechaun chasing the little guys and gals.  Don't you just love the imagination of the 5-year-old?

Unfortunately, this left some of the kids very distressed.  They didn't know the big picture.  We, as the parents, did.  What actually happened was the gingerbread folk were mailed all over the country to friends and family.

Photos were taken and, about a week ago, there was a return of the the Gingerbreads.  Our little man went to visit a family friend in California.  Mr. Gingerbread made some friends, took in the sites, did a little lounging, and even wrote our son a letter.

Hello Jacob!

WOW, what a fun week I’ve had here in California!

Upon landing at the airport, I rented this really cool car and went for a nice drive around the Orange County area. This area has so many nice beaches, parks and shopping centers! The city I stayed in is called IRVINE.

I did not know that the weather could be SO nice and warm during the Fall/Winter season! I was happy to be able to enjoy some sun and get a nice tan by the pool!

The day I arrived it was 80 degrees here!

The traffic in California is very heavy, but I got to learn the roads and freeways pretty quickly!

I also got a chance to visit a city called San Juan Capistrano and toured the historical MISSIONS.

Now it’s time to go back home and see you and all my friends again!

Gingerbread Man

So what is the Project Management hook?  When you're busy planning project activities, put yourself in the shoes of the stakeholder or Product Owner.  Are they going to react positively or negatively to your plan? You should have individual Stakeholder Management Strategies identified.  Though our son was near tears by the idea of a leprechaun and fox breaking into his classroom and killing off Mr. Gingerbread, we were there to be supportive and convinced him the outcome wasn't so dire.

Did you see the leprechaun killing Mr. Gingerbread and his friends?

Did you know that gingerbread people are known to be very fast...faster than foxes and leprechauns?

Though it all worked out in the end, I wouldn't recommend trying this on a Kindergarten class.  The gingerbreads could have easily left notes saying they were all going on vacations and avoided all of the drama an carnage.

(Zombie) Customer Service

I'm currently enjoying Delivering Happiness, the book by Tony Hsieh of Zappos.  In the book, his approach to customer service reminds me a lot of what Seth Godin wrote about in his book, Linchpin.  For those looking to map this to an activity in the PMBOK, I see this falling under Manage Stakeholder Expectations (Executing and Communications).

In any case, I can relate to my intent to communicate directly to people as people, not as mere customers, vendors, or colleagues.  Every day, I see people act as though they have no free will to make a decision.  They ignore what is right or wrong.  They act like they need permission to be honest and humble. They act like...wait for it...zombies!  Yes, zombies!

I recently sat in a meeting and heard how the vendor screwed up.  I'm talking completely-their-fault nobody-else-to-blame screwed up.  When confronted by the customer, their reaction was "I'm sorry you feel that way about [this].  I respect how you feel."

My reaction?  [expletive] YOU, man! I don't care if you respect how I feel or not.  And don't try to feed me that Dr. Phil line about me owning my own feelings!  What I want to hear you say is "I'm sorry we screwed up.  I will do whatever I can to make this right."

Another scenario that comes to mind was my wife contacting a credit card company about something.  The customer service rep was painfully unprepared to talk to a human being.  They could not deviate from a script one word without needed to talk to a supervisor.

Thank you for calling.  We appreciate your business.  Can we interest you in buying our credit protection plan? [my wife complaining] Oh, I'm sorry, can I put you on hold while I discuss this with my supervisor? [5 minutes]

People, you want to provide great customer service?  Empower your customer service representatives.  Vendors, you want to provide great customer service? Empower your teams to admit when they screwed up and offer to fix it, not just cover it up.

I've always seen the best performance from my teams, when they knew what we needed to do but were not being told how they needed to do it.  I believed they would make the right choices for us all to reach our goals.  Those of you in the Agile community get this already.  Empower the team and communicate with everyone as much as possible.  Don't just communicate.  Talk to them.

So, as I step down off my rant soapbox, I want you to take a look at the Zappos core values (listed below). They actually remind me of the 4 values, 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto or Agile community as a whole.

Zappos core values

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

If you had 10 core values for your project or team, how would you refine this list?

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Why Ask Why

checklistBefore you spend the next week, redesigning the TPS report, you need to stop and ask yourself a simple question.


Why are you doing it?   If you can not map the task back to a stakeholder or customer objective/requirement (goal) you better stop now.  Some people call this gold-plating.  Additionally if you can not map the task back to one of your personal goals, you better stop now.  I call that flushing time down a toilet.

Do you sometimes feel like you're rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic?  Are you spending all of your time doing stuff that is not getting you any closer the real goal?  Well, stop for a minute and pretend you are a 5-year-old.

Whenever you ask a 5-year-old to do something, they never seem to do it without first asking why.

Go sit down Why?

Because it's dinner time. Why?

Because you need to eat your dinner. Why?

Because I don't want child protective services saying we don't feed you. Why?

Because we're trying to get you to adulthood without scarring you too much.

What's our main personal goal as it relates to our son?

Goal 1: Get him to adulthood without scarring him too much

Now, as project managers and leaders, what are your primary goals? Is it keep the project on schedule? Is it keep the project from going over budget? Or, is it one of the 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto?  Whatever your answer(s), when asked to do something, keep asking why until you reach your main goal(s).

We want to add this change to the next deployed version Why?

Because it is now a priority Why?

Because it will either save time, money, or both

What's one of our documented goals related to our project?

Goal 1: Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

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Lacking Empathy

empathyAs a project manager, I personally believe empathy is one of the most important virtues.  I think it's one of those attributes that makes us most human.  You can't expect to take care of your team, or even customers, if you are unable to be empathetic.  Regardless if you can help someone, ask anyway.  Regardless if you can understand what they are thinking or feeling, try anyway. I recently participated as a juror in a criminal trial.  Though I knew it would be a personal inconvenience, I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do.  It was my obligation as a citizen, to do my part in ensuring justice was served.  Some would argue if it truly was, but I digress.  So, what's the point of this blog post?

About a month ago, I informed the necessary (corporate) parties who pay me that I had been selected to be part of a jury pool.  Upon sending them the necessary information, I was told I would be paid for a full 8 hour day, minus $20. (The amount Frederick County pays a juror for one day of service).  Considering the cost to short my paycheck was probably more than $20, I wasn't going to argue.  If that's what they wanted to do, it was a wash for me, with the exception of the work I had to delay for my customer.

Upon submitting my hours on the second day, I received a (billing) submission error.  Because it was an ambiguous error message, I send an email to accounting.  I said, upon completing my second day of jury duty and billing my time, I received the error.  Within a few minutes, I received a very short email response. It informed me I would only be paid for 1 day of jury duty, that "it's in the handbook" and I would have to bill my time to my Paid Time Off (PTO).  I was surprised I didn't get a "I'm sorry if there was a misunderstanding..." or "I regret to bring this to your attention..." email.  Seconds later I got another email.  It was one line.  "You can also take Leave Without Pay".

Let's take a moment to reflect.

Both of these emails came from the Human Resources department, not from my direct chain of command.  I did get a telephone call from my Director within a few minutes.  He apologized if I had misunderstood the corporate policy to only pay employees for one day of jury duty but added he would work with me if I had already made plans that would result in a PTO deficit.  I want to commend him on having empathy.  He showed true leadership in picking up the telephone and calling me.  He showed true leadership in listening to me vent for several minutes.  It didn't change anything but he certainly scored a few points in my book.

We're all human beings.  We all like to be treated like human beings. When in doubt, pick up the phone or go talk to someone directly. Most importantly, don't ever send a one line email that basically says "RTFM"

Like the image?  Find it at Pictofigo