Thursday, June 14, 2012

Speak Up, Part 2

I read a lot of management books.  Management books and self help books.  How to get ahead.  How to be more effective.  These books help me see things from the perspective of management.  These books help me to remember to first change myself when I want to see change.  I look to these books for advice on how to effect change effectively.  Some people seem to just know these things, but I love to learn from other people's mistakes.

The most recent book I'm into is Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, Second Edition. This book was recommended to me by a dear friend of mine that is employed in the field of organizational development.  From what I understand, this field  is basically organizational engineering, focused on improving the effectiveness of a corporate structure.  It's at the core of some of the things I enjoy.

One of the tenets of the book is that to have a difficult conversation, a crucial conversation, the kind of conversation that changes the direction of a company or a life, it's important to get everything on the table. All the information has to be available to make the best decision.  Hidden information tends to lead to suboptimal decisions.

So that brings up a really good point.  How many times have you been in a situation where you're talking with a colleague about a new plan, program, or project from upper management, and they list off the reasons why it's not going to work.  These same people, when put on the project however, do what they're told, work on the project as much as they can, and then when things go south, they shrug it off.  They say that they predicted this eons ago.  I've known people like this in every organization I've been in, not just work situations.

Why not say something?  Speak up!

I've written about speaking up before.  That context was about getting involved, especially to learn efficiently.  Here, the context is a little different.  Speak up so that others learn more efficiently, too.  That project might have gone better if those folks brought up their concerns in a positive way.  Get the issues out there.  What obstacles do you see?  What problems have you seen repeat whose sources haven't changed?  Problems that no one hears about rarely get solved.

If you have material insider information, speak up!

Why doesn't everyone speak up?  The answer inevitably seems to be fear.  Fear of reprisal?  Maybe.  Fear of being fired?  Sometimes.  Fear of being told you're wrong?  Sure.  But having hidden information means that whatever organization you're part of means that you believe they're making the wrong decision.  And you're okay with that?  Where's the integrity?  You're willing to spend your time working on something you don't really believe has a chance?

Speak up and let that information flow!

Another book I finished recently was OOPS! 13 Management Practices that Waste Time & Money (and what to do instead).  (Seriously, I'm not pimping these books.  I'm just trying to share what I've read and if any bit of it helps guide anyone else, I'm happy.  I'm not in any way affiliated with these authors, though I wish I were).  One of the mistakes that this book asserts that management makes at some point is that management underestimates just how much impact the enthusiasm of the front line workers have on their initiatives.

We are not cogs.  How we work matters.  Our enthusiasm matters.  Flog us, and some of us will let our morale shrivel up.  Like Office Space taught us, we may work just hard enough not to get fired.  That's sad.  It's not good for the employe, and it's not good for the company.  No one wins.  Those employees sit and wait until the job market picks up and bonuses are paid and then leap to a new company.

Better: if you hear people speaking up, listen!

If you are in management, you need to make sure that everyone has a voice.  That everyone can chime in during a Crucial Conversation and not be shot down.  That you take individual concerns seriously and not just push them aside.  That there is nothing to fear for bringing up concerns, even if they are un- or ill-informed and their concerns have been mitigated.  If your front line workers still care enough and take the time to tell you despite having some fear about speaking up (and many of them do), know that they're really trying to help the company.

Most of all, recognize that fear is poison in the office, and that trust is the lubricant that oils the gears of your business.  Not enough trust and too much fear can grind the mightiest businesses to a halt.

Better still, ask for their feedback.  Get in there and talk to the leaf nodes of your organization.  Find people willing to stand up and say what's on their mind.  Have an honest dialogue with them.  Let the information flow freely - org chart be damned.  Get them to buy in to the programs.  People don't buy in because they're involved.  That's not enough.  People buy in when they understand.  And they need your help to get there.

Bruce Eckel, author of Thinking in Java gave a talk at Codemash 2012 that really hit home for me.  He is currently working on a project about how to make businesses better.  He spends his time thinking about how businesses can be made better.  His blog at is full of interesting reads.  His presentation showed me that he really gets it, too.  He talked about companies that breed trust and excitement in their employees, citing Zappos as the canonical example.

I want to work in a company like that.  And I want to be part of what makes that culture happen.

The only way I know how to do that is to Speak Up.

And just one more plug. While I'm not speaking there myself, many of my fellow developers are speaking up at That Conference.  I'm really excited for this event.  it's August 13-15 at the Kalahari resort/water park in the Wisconsin Dells.  If you are thinking about getting out there and becoming more involved in the community, please consider joining me.  Tickets for the three-day conference are only $349, and there are over 150 talks to choose from over web, mobile, and cloud.  All development languages and platforms welcome.  Send me a message and find me to chat, pair up on some code, or to tell me you think I'm totally wrong.  Just come out and speak up.