Agile2018 – Day 6 Recap

Friday is here – that means it’s the last day of the conference. Talking with folks, it sounds like the party was a lot of fun last night. Because I need to travel next week too, I decided to rest up instead of going. The painted surfboard turned out gorgeous!

Learning about how to help with Agile2019 – Christina Hartikainen

For the last two years, I’ve loved being a Track Reviewer, and I attend this session to learn how I could do even more. I’m especially interested in becoming a Track Chair for Agile2019.

I was pleasantly surprised at the number of folks who attended the session, and Christina led a good discussion about what it was like to play all of the roles and helped created excitement for Agile2019.

If folks are interested in signing up, you can use this Google form.

Radical Candor – Kim Scott

The last keynote was Kim Scott and her philosophy of Radical Candor. I’ve read the book and am familiar with the practice, and it was great to hear from Kim herself and get a little context with her funny and enlightening stories.

I especially liked the deeper story regarding the presentation situation that caused Sheryl Sanberg to give her that critical feedback in a caring way. Apparently, when Sheryl was giving the feedback that Kim says “um” too much in presentations, Kim would move her arm in a dismissive way. This caused Sheryl to say, “I see I need to be more direct with you,” and that generated the feedback that “say ‘um’ made Kim sound insecure and stupid.  A recap of the story can be found here.

The reason it was so effective is that Kim knew that Sheryl cared for her in a personal way and that Sheryl’s concern for short-term feelings didn’t stand in the way of longer-term gains that could happen from the feedback.

Kim then digs into why this can be a barrier, and it’s usually because of a couple of reasons:

  • When we’re in our earlier careers (18-20), we usually get some feedback like “act professionally,” which gets interpreted as “leave your emotions at the door” and/or “be a robot. This leads us to move down the “give a damn” axis for how much we care personally about each other. For example, when a team worked closely together, and then there’s a physical separation (some moved to another floor), the folks on the “other floor” are more stupid and less moral, unless we continue to care personally about them.

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  • When it comes to Challenging Directly, most of us are raised with the advice, “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Today, it’s a moral imperative that we say something, and in some cases, it’s even our jobs.

She then covers the quadrant and emphasizes that the goal isn’t to put names in the boxes, but to use it to drive conversations.

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  • Manipulative Insincerity – this is where backstabbing, gossiping, passive aggression and generally not a fun work environment.
  • Radical Candor – a common misconception is that it takes a lot of time, and to answer that Kim shared a great story of when her Golden Retriever was a puppy. She praised and dotted on the puppy, and when out for a walk one day, the puppy pulled on the leash and almost ran out into traffic. Her heart racing, a man next to her said, “I see you really love that dog,” which was all that was needed to know that he cared about her personally and that she was seen. Then the man said, “but you’re going to kill that dog if you don’t teach it to sit.” He then demonstrated how to command the dog to sit.
  • Obnoxious Aggression – we all behave like a jerk sometimes For this she told the story of one day at Google, she fired off a challenging email to her boss and about thirty other folks. We’ve heard the expression “kiss up and kick down,” and this example was that the opposite doesn’t work either. We don’t need to treat bosses as tyrants, peers as enemy combatants and employees as pawns.
    • This story then went to Manipulative Insincerity because the next time she saw her boss, she said, “I apologize for my email, and you were right,” which was a lie. This backfired because her boss has a great lie (BS) detector and knew she wasn’t telling the truth. Someone overheard the exchange and tapped her on the shoulder afterward and said, “you know, he likes it better when you disagree.”
  • Ruinous Empathy
    • For this, Kim shared the “Bob” story. For this, I highly recommend reading the article, but the gist of it is that she allowed for underperformance to continue for a long period of time because she was trying to be nice and not hurt feelings, and it resulted in having to let someone go or lose the rest of the team. In the termination session, the employee exclaimed, “why didn’t someone tell me?” That allowed Kim to learn that the firing was her fault for not giving more timely feedback and having those conversations; also the importance of creating feedback-rich environments.

Tips for Increasing Radical Candor

  • Silence – when soliciting feedback, ask a question and then wait. Six seconds of silence is excruciating, whoever is there will start to talk to get the feedback flowing.
  • Questions to draw out responses include: “Tell me what you’re thinking…” and “I don’t know if you agree…”
  • Kim believes that by practicing Radical Candor, it creates the conditions for psychological safety. Withholding feedback does not create psychological safety.
  • A sign that there is Radical Candor is if people feel uncomfortable “not saying something,” that they’re withholding.
  • Like technical debt, there is also feedback debt in organizations.
  • We need to be careful that if we start to see something, focusing on it becomes all that we see. This can work both positively and negatively. She shared the story of a newlywed whose partner would clink the spoon against their teeth when they ate cereal, and it drove them crazy. Eventually, that’s all that they continued to see and it escalated into arguments over time. It looms so large that you can’t see the positive.
  • Amplifying the positive can help – she shared the mantra that a friend of hers uses that “there is only love,” when her friend was working for a difficult boss. She focused on the positive and didn’t speak negatively about the boss to anyone, and they had a relationship of open feedback.
  • Start by soliciting Radical Candor – if you can’t take it, you can’t dish it out.
  • Ask questions to draw out that feedback – what am I missing, am I completely wrong, what can I do or stop doing?
  • When getting feedback that you don’t agree with, try to find any percent of overlap and focus on that in the immediate conversation, and then ask if you can have a day to introspect on the other pieces of feedback, and really do that. Come back to the person afterward and close the loop on that feedback. People don’t mind disagreement – it’s the ignoring them that hurts.
  • Praise – praise is important because it shows what success looks like; we need to spend as much time composing our praise feedback as our critical feedback. If whatever you’re about to say is what you’d say to a dog, e.g. “atta boy!,” that’s not helpful.
  • Be humble – you might be wrong; be willing to change your thinking.
  • Feedback is best in-person – you can see if there are any gestures like the arm wave that Kim did to Sheryl.
  • You need to gauge the conversation and update your vector – you probably won’t get it right with your first sentence.
  • Eliminate the saying “don’t take this personally” from your vocabulary, and be careful not to go into Ruinous Empathy by saying “this isn’t a big deal,” which just confuses people – is it a big deal or not?
  • For those who respond with Anger, move up the “Care Personally” axis. “I can see I made you angry, that was not my intention…” “My intention is to help you succeed…”
  • For those who respond with Earmuffs (not hearing), move up the Challenge Directly axis (similar to what Sheryl did in the story). It might even feel like you’re hitting them over the head with a 2×4, but sometimes it’s needed for you to do your job so that they hear.
  • Clean Escalation – I liked the approach of “clean escalation:”

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  • She encouraged folks to share their stories because one’s story is more impactful and important. Share those stories where someone really cared and didn’t say something and/or where one received helpful, caring feedback.

Then the conference wrapped up with appreciations and the announcement for Agile2019, which will be in Washington, D.C. and Christina Hartik will be the Conference Chair. Leaving San Diego with lots of learning, excitement and information to share with folks back home! Thank you!

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