Category Archives: Psychology

Employee Engagement – The magic potion?

thumb-422558_1280I am sure by now most people understand that there is strong correlation between employee satisfaction and business results. If you need more convincing have a read of these two articles: ForbesResearch Paper

So how do you best go about measuring it?

On my current project I have decided to go with the following 4 questions:

  • I would recommend this account and my project as a good place to work
  • I have the tools and resources to do my role well
  • I rarely think about rolling off this account or project
  • My role makes good use of my skills and abilities

For those of you who have read Jez Humble’s “Lean Enterprise”, these questions will look familiar. I have adopted them to the project setting that I work within. We have just set out on a cultural transformation to become truly Agile and adopt DevOps in a large complex legacy environment. To me measuring the above will give me the best indicator that we are doing the right thing. Of course there will be other measures who determine the quality of the outcomes and the levels of automation among others, but changing the culture of an organisation is critical if your Agile and DevOps adoption is to be successful. I will report back throughout that journey to tell you what my experiences is with the above questions.

IT delivery is complex and it is not always clear what the right solution is. I found in the past that it is near impossible to create processes and tools that work by itself, you need to have the right mindset that people use the processes and tools with the right intent. It’s very frustrating when you implement great automation only to see a few months later that the solution has degraded. It is with hindsight that I understand that the solution is to not just implement process and tools but to instill the right culture and mindset for progression,
a culture where we blamelessly identify a way to avoid the same mistake again rather than looking for the person in fault,
a culture where we strive for automation and lean processes and are not concerned about the size of our teams or budgets,
a culture where you don’t have to protect your fiefdom and where you are happy to collaborate with others to solve problems no matter where the root cause lies.

I think we all in IT need to understand this dynamic between employee satisfaction and outcomes better, I for sure believe that I have come across a magic potion that I aim to bring to all my future projects.

The Abilene Paradox – Can Agreement be dangerous?

Those of you, who have shared a meal, German beer or single malt with me, know that I am passionate about psychology (especially social psychology and cognitive bias). Given how often this relates to my work and the topics in this blog, I think it is time to do my first post about psychology. It’s about the Abilene Paradox (a shout out is required here to the social psychology coursera course from Scott Plous – where I learned about it).

What is the Abilene Paradox?
The Abilene Paradox is when a group reaches consensus to do something that nobody in the group actually wants to do. Everyone ends up doing something they think everyone else wanted, but nobody did. Let me explain this with an example from my personal life  and you can read the original name-giving example here.  So let’s see whether you can relate to this:
wrong wayYou had a pretty busy week and on your way home on friday you think: “This week I hadn’t had much time for my wife, so I will make an effort and we go out together even though I rather stay at home on the couch and watch TV together”. You walk in the door and say: “Honey, what do you wanna do tonight”. She responds: “You must be tired, so perhaps we stay in. It’s OK you know” and internally she thinks: “I had a rough week as well, so we should stay home and have some quiet time”. You then respond to her: “We could go out for dinner?” and to be nice she responds “Ok, that sounds good”. You both head out for dinner and sit in the restaurant and after an average meal on the way home she says to you: “Honey, i wish we would have just stayed home.” You look at her and even though you both agreed on what to do, you ended up doing what neither of you wanted to do in the first place. Now does this sound familiar to any of you?

Example from work
How does this relate to work you might ask. Quite often when looking for solutions people don’t put forward the solution they think is best but rather a solution they either think others expect or (and I have been guilty of this as well) an idea they think is “out-there” just to find out what the reaction is. Now imagine everyone else in the room thinks the same way or just doesn’t want to disagree…all of a sudden you are on your way to Abilene.
It gets worse when you are in an environment where there is a bit of distrust. Imagine you think your boss wants you to run a certain project that you think is doomed. You provide status that is not a lie, but in the grey area to make it look okay and sound upbeat about it because you think your boss wants it. Now he might encourage you to continue working on it even though he has his doubts. Neither of you call it out and you spend days, weeks, months on something neither of you think can be successful.

What to do about it
First of all speak up. It is really hard to get out of this kind of group dynamic if there is no-one who has the courage to speak up. I have heard the expression: “Going to the balcony” in this context and it always reminds of the old Waldorf and Statler from the Muppets. It means look at the situation mentally from a few feet away. More than once in my life have I said: “Guys, let’s take a step back. Is this really what we want to do? Who here really thinks this is the best option?” In the past I always wondered what happened to us, now I know we were on our way to Abilene…
There are many ways to try to avoid this, and a lot will depend on the context. You can try a secret vote to find out the real deal, you can ask someone to actively propose an opposing view or you can use fist to five  and look out for 3s (if the majority has a 3, you might want to dig a bit deeper).

I hope you enjoyed this first trip into psychology on my blog, there will be more to come. Stay tuned until next week.

Picture: Why doesn’t anyone read the signs? by Neil R
taken from
under Creative Commons license