Cultivating a cause worth believing in for software teams…

“By design they care gravely about where they plow their trade and by virtue of their idealistic natures they are looking for something that they can believe in.”

The lonely road of vision of leadership

“In order to land the best talent in industry, you need a purpose or an idea that people can rally behind. More importantly it has to be real and speak to the hearts and minds of people on whatever path they may be on.”

Anybody that has tried to build a software development competency will tell you that it is really hard to hire well. The reason for this is due to the fact that one is searching for a very unique type of individual. Individuals that are extremely idealistic in nature,  can think critically and are pragmatic when needed. Yet the same individuals have to have a healthy dose of creativity and artistry allowing for abstract thought and non linear thinking.

Of course there are certain organizations, individuals and teams that don’t care about culture. For them its easy to hire since it essentially just becomes a numbers game. A rough checkbox marking exercise where you just find people that kinda look right and throw money at them. But I am not referring to these toxic cultures.

I am rather talking about those organizations that don’t view delivery as mere ‘resources’. Those organization that realize that the culture one builds is the thing that actually creates whatever outcome you are looking for.

“If they wanted just another ‘job’ they could have it a few days of interviewing.”

In healthy organization such as this, to find the aforementioned individuals can be excruciatingly hard and time consuming. They regularly get approached by recruiters with offers and they have a veritable pick of a wide range of opportunities. If they wanted just another ‘job’ they could have it a few days of interviewing. But for these individuals it not just about another ‘job’. By design they care gravely about where they plow their trade and by virtue of their idealistic natures they are looking for something that they can believe in.

The right individuals don’t see their careers as just a ‘job’, but rather a calling. They are passionate about the craft that they have spent years honing and want to use it to build great things. They want to be trusted and empowered to use their craft and certainly don’t want others to dictate to them how they should be using their craft.

Understand that these people are not stupid. They are hyper intelligent, well educated and ruthlessly clinical in their thinking. This means that they can smell bulls@#$ a mile away.

“Lots of corporations think that they can attract a lure talent by talking a big game, manufacturing unauthentic ideals/values/visions and engaging in imitation innovation to show ‘coolness’.”

Lots of corporations think that they can attract a lure talent by talking a big game, manufacturing unauthentic ideals/values/visions and engaging in imitation innovation to show ‘coolness’. This type of behavior will only fool people for so long if it is not truly part of the organization’s DNA.

In order to really land the best talent in the industry, you need a purpose or an idea that people can rally behind. And more importantly it has to be real and speak to the hearts and minds of people. This vision that you share with people has to have integrity or it will simply fail.

Secondly, behind this vision should sit a leader that is not just a salesman but who cares (and regularly shows) a responsibility for the careers (and by extension the lives) of the people that choose to follow the vision.

Now the natural reaction for people outside of technology is to view such views with a healthy dose of resistance. Statements around technology not being unique or that everyone should be treated the same way would be common. And they are right, everyone should be treated the same. But that treatment should be more in-line with the way technology wants to be treated.

The corporate cargo cultures frequently miss this point. What technologists are after is an environment that has moved on from the traditional command-and-dictate structures of the industrial era. A flat networked styled organization in-line with the modern knowledge economy. And since most white collar workers are also participants in the knowledge economy, they likely seek the same goals of autonomy, mastery and purpose that the geeks wane about all the time.

Whether we want to admit it or not, software has and continues to drive the modern industrial revolution. It is therefore at the forefront of shaping what modern organizations culture should and could be. So instead of taking a defensive position and mounting the delicate snowflake attack, realize that your delivery team culture is a testing ground for your organization’s future culture. The really interesting thing is that if you pass the test with hyper-critical geeks, it means that your cultural values will undoubtedly work well in all areas of your organization.

“Having a cause that you believe in as a leader is not enough. In order to galvanize and motivate others you have to translate that belief into something tangible and meaningful to them.”

But how to make it real? Having a cause that you believe in as a leader is not enough. In order to galvanize and motivate others you have to translate that belief into something tangible and meaningful to them. Everybody works for their own selfish reasons and unless people can clearly see what it is that is in it for them, they will not care. If you are honest and sincere, and can successfully translate your vision in a tangible way to others then you have the makings of a movement.

And there are warning signs. For example if your top technologists and leaders are continually in debates about how to achieve something instead of focusing on what. This is a tell tale sign that the cultural foundations are weak and are at risk of failure.

Daniel H. Pink is a renowned author on this subject matter and certainly his book Drive should be read by every ‘leader’ in business. But to end this somewhat long article I think it is appropriate to borrow some of his swag with a quote.

“While complying can be an effective strategy for physical survival, it’s a lousy one for personal fulfillment. Living a satisfying life requires more than simply meeting the demands of those in control. Yet in our offices and our classrooms we have way too much compliance and way too little engagement. The former might get you through the day, but only the latter will get you through the night.”

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The silent devastation of ideas-people

“The reality is that there is nothing quite as useless in this world as an ‘ideas person’. Not only is it excruciating to deal with their egos and misplaced protectionism around their precious ideas, but the reality is simply that anyone can dream and do what they do.”

In the software industry you often come across so called ‘ideas-people’

Behold the unicorn ideas-person. Full of ideas and low on execution.

In the software industry you often come across so called ‘ideas-people’. You usually spot them talking loftily about some idea that they are ‘working’ on. They might even verbally insinuate how big their idea is, and how it is going to change everything. Typically they can flip lyrically between the hundreds (if not thousands) of ideas that they have had. When someone else in industry has had a success that vaguely resembles one of their previous ideas they will publicly lament the fact of how they had that idea years ago, blaming circumstance for not pursuing it. They can go for years carefully nurturing their previous big idea, waiting for life to align just right for them to finally nab that sucker.

The worst part is that their fanaticism around their ideas frequently gets mistaken for passion. Sometimes if the person has the gift of the gab some might be fooled into thinking that such a person is a visionary of sorts. They might get dumb investor money thrown at them. When they fail – which is most of the time – they typically blame external factors for it. The market may not have been ready for their product or the investor funds dried up just before the big breakthrough was made. If they are not technical their darn developers were either too slow, too expensive or too inexperienced. It is very rare that they will blame themselves or their godlike ideas for the (not their) failure. Admitting failure would erode the one thing they hold most dear, their ego.

The reality is that there is nothing quite as useless in this world as an ‘ideas person’. Not only is it excruciating to deal with their egos and misplaced protectionism around their precious ideas, but the reality is simply that anyone can dream and do what they do. Coming up with ideas is not some mystical perch that is reserved for an elite category of human beings that have had some rare grace bestowed upon them giving them raven like vision into the future. In fact if you disseminate most of the things ideas-people come up with you will soon realize that it is nothing more than imitated innovation with concepts simply being copied from other successes they so diligently study and follow.

True visionaries are dreamers but more importantly they are doers. Make no mistake dreaming is a big part of the package of a true visionary but you also have to be able to follow through and actually make it happen. Ideas without execution is absolutely meaningless and wastes everyone’s time. Execution is king.

The devastation that ideas-people wreak is especially magnified in the corporate environment where ideas-people can plow their trade with minimal risk to their livelihood and reputations. If half-baked ideas fail in corporate environments it is virtually impossible to attribute causation since there are simply too many moving parts that may have contributed to that failure. As such a non-execution ideas guru can almost always abscond their precious idea from being the true reason for failure.

In contrast – even though it is not perfect – the startup world does do a fairly good job of weeding out the doers from just the ideas people. Unlike the corporate environment execution is everything in startups. With all the fat taken out of the process there is simply no place to hide. If you cannot build something that is useful to humanity and that people want to use your dead. It is a brutal game that rewards the true visionaries that can actually follow through on their ideas and destroys the pretenders that actually just like the sound of their own voice.

The really tricky bit is that you actually want to encourage innovation and experimentation in corporate environments since this is the only way to evolve and grow. But the people typically tasked with coming up with these strategies and product ideas are usually a little bit light in credentials for following through on those ideas on their own accord.