Friday, July 3, 2009

Back to Basics: Scheming Virtuously

When I was in Edmonton last week I had the opportunity to present Scheming Virtuously (SV) twice. To be honest, at first I was a little apprehensive because the venue was a little different than I am used to: a small group (15-20 participants), no standing, no mic, and no podium. In short there was neither pomp nor circumstance.

Yet, in retrospect (and I could sense this at the time) this was probably the most genuine delivery of SV to date. I hit that flow early, I barely glanced at my notes, and most of all I really enjoyed delivering it.

Those who know me well will probably attribute my enjoyment to what they might call my innate desire to be in the spotlight. While that may be partially true, I think the real reason I enjoyed it was because of the proximity to the audience and their level of involvement.

The smaller group meant more eye contact; it meant we could more easily work through ideas and problems while generating new insights. This last point, about generating new insights is one of the first things I say during my presentation. More specifically: the real value of the session comes not from having me come to speak but in looking across the table at your peers, see them nodding in quiet agreement (or maybe not?) and then coalescing around the issues after the session. SV is as much about building community as it is about empowering people.

Generating New Insights: Example From Edmonton

I think the most interesting thing that came out of the sessions was a discussion I led around critical mass and performance learning agreements. During my presentation, I made the point that teams or communities should work on their Performance and Learning Agreement (PLA) together. While there could be any number of reasons why this could be important, I want to focus on two interrelated problems: the “outlier” problem and the “we don't have any money to train you” problem.

Outlier Problem

First, you don't want to be the outlier. By this I mean that if you are the only one in your group that has a PLA with some teeth then you are likely to appear needy or demanding (or worse). I am not trying to begrudge managers here at all, but when demand is low, managers do not necessarily feel they need to deliver, especially if the standard is employees who ask for very little training or rarely hold their managers to account.

However, I really do think that this is understandable, and in most cases inadvertent. That being said, if you step back for a moment and think strategically, you will notice an opportunity to take advantage of that inadvertent behaviour because it cuts both ways.

For example, if everyone in a team or functional community has carefully crafted compelling PLAs, then there is significantly more pressure on managers to deliver because the demand is high. The interesting thing is that they may not even see it as pressure, because that higher standard quickly becomes the norm. Yes, managers naturally have expectations of employees, but we often forget that most managers react to the expectations of their employees; and low expectations tend to yield poor results.

We Don't Have Any Money to Train You Problem

When I introduced these problems I said they were interrelated, here is why. That critical mass of expectation (upwards, sideways, downwards, what have you) can create real pressures and real results.

One of the self-identified problems facing the functional community involved in the presentation was that there was never any money for training, or at least that was the excuse being cited. I suggested that perhaps the community should work together (in a space like GCPEDIA) and start to have a conversation around common training or learning opportunities that the entire community could benefit from. Hash it out in conversation, then agree to two or three points to include on everyone's PLA.

I went on to caution them that simply including it in everyone's agreements was probably insufficient in that they should not rely on others (e.g. their managers) to identify the commonalities on their own, nor should they expect to ask others in their cadre if they were dealing with similar circumstances in their own teams.

I advised them to craft a simple note they could pass on to all their managers and further up the chain. The note should simply state:

  • The number of people in the community who identified the same learning needs;
  • The cost of sending everyone to attend individually;
  • The cost of bringing in a group to deliver the training to everyone at once;
  • Three to four people who have been selected by the community to complete the train-the-trainer equivalent to move the community to greater self-sufficiency;
  • a list of people the note went to; and
  • a key contact in the community who has volunteered to respond to management's inquiries.

Could you imagine if a functional community of 100 people or more self-organized, identified common learning needs, conducted a cost-benefit analysis, and presented a singular training plan to management that would allow them to reach 100% completion (and compliance!) of PLAs within that functional group? That would be an opportunity no senior manager could say no to.

Do You Want to Scheme Virtuously?

You may have noticed that we are working on an update to Scheming Virtuously; but we need your help. We want to know what we missed. So please leave us a comment, fire us an email, or drop content or a comment into the GCPEDIA page.

That being said, if you are more of a visual person, I would like to do a live presentation of Scheming Virtuously sometime in the near future. Please let me know if you would be interested in attending so I can make the necessary arrangements. The presentation would help me get more feedback, generate some new ideas, and allow me to streamline my presentation.

We are looking forward to hearing from you.

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