Confessions of a Company Without Managers (1 year later)

One year ago our company made a bold move. We eliminated all “management” responsibilities within the team.

No more bosses. No more top down decisions. No more pointing fingers.

Each person became responsible for their own impact and value on the team. Each person is now responsible for any problem or opportunity they see. Each person is accountable for the company’s overall success.

Although this approach is gaining traction, thanks to the excellent book Reinventing Organizations, and the adoption of self-management practices by well-known companies like Whole Foods, Zappos, Buffer, Medium, and Patagonia, most people think it’s cuckoo crazy. Or at least that it couldn’t possibly work at a typical company.

But that’s not what we have found. Fitzii No Mgrs Cake SquareAfter six months of self-management we published an article detailing the unfiltered Good, Bad & Amazing comments from our people. Overall there was a lot more good and amazing than bad (or crazy), and we were happy that others found value in hearing about our first hand experiences with self-management.

The other day we celebrated our first year of being manager-free with some delicious cake, a heart-warming exercise, and some fun games.

We also asked the team to answer some of the most common questions that we get from those curious about what really happens when a company gets rid of management. Here’s the skinny.

 

What has been the business value of self-management?

This is the most common question we get from those who are skeptical about whether a self-managing company can produce results like a tightly managed business can.

It’s tough to answer because we went all in with self-management, and didn’t have any part of our business that remained “managed”. There’s no A/B test that can prove the difference in results, and we can’t look at results before and after our transition because we’re a young company on a growth trajectory regardless of org structure.

The only way to answer this question is to point to the things that are clearly different, new, or improved since self-management started. With this in mind, the biggest difference-maker in our business results has been the quality of our decision making.

James, from our Hiring Success Team, put it well when he said that these days, instead of ideas being hatched in a vacuum, or worse, coming down in isolation from above, “the best ideas have a chance to surface organically and be thoughtfully considered. With less fear, politics, egos, and bureaucratic boundaries, everyone is free to contribute to decisions in the best way they can.”

For Fitzii, this means our big decisions have been more widely informed and nuanced, resulting in fewer biased, bad calls and more balanced, well-reasoned decisions. Plus, it used to be that someone with a title could drive through a decision that others weren’t on board with, and now those bad ideas die on the vine.

It’s important to note that this inclusiveness in decision making hasn’t meant that we’ve been slowed down by bureaucracy, or that each decision goes through a democratic process. Instead, important projects and decisions are driven along publicly within the team’s communication vehicles. This means that people who have opinions and want to help will pitch in, and others opt out. The right amount of energy and input flows to the decision, and its speed becomes a function of people’s priorities. There is an elegant efficiency to the decision making “advice process” that would make Darwin proud – it’s like the natural selection of ideas.

And for inconsequential calls, we have fun using our “Executive Decision Maker”, which Greg from Product Development made as Fitzii’s version of the Magic 8-Ball.

Fitzii EDM2We’ve also found that self-management has been like a turbo-boost for the continuous improvement of our people and our offerings. James has pointed out that “accountability to a team instead of an individual means everyone gets more regular feedback from a wider variety of sources. And more feedback has meant we grow and improve our skills faster, and provide better service to our clients.”

Another clear business benefit has been our increased ability to attract and engage top talent. Although Fitzii’s own offering is a hiring platform that helps small businesses hire better, we’ve probably found the biggest improvement to our own hiring has been the attraction of the self-management structure.

Greg found that when looking for in-demand developers, self-management, “was a real plus,” that differentiated and attracted coders to Fitzii. And Andy, one of those star developers that we recently hired, couldn’t agree more. “When I first learned that Fitzii didn’t have managers I thought – this is the type of environment I want to be a part of. Being given the freedom to make an impact is one of the most important things I was looking for in a company.”

Luz, from our Hiring Success Team, pointed out that, “we have been able to attract incredibly intelligent and talented people because we offer something greater than a big paycheque or fancy title. We provide meaningful work on a great team, and we work in a way that is uplifting and exciting, where each person sees the difference they make.”

And Ron, a Hiring Advisor who also recently joined the team, felt the same way:

As a job-seeker, I was looking for an opportunity to leverage my skills and experience right away. More than salary or position title, I really just wanted to contribute and have an impact. The structure at Fitzii has allowed me to do that in an immediate and meaningful way. While many of my friends are struggling with entry-level tedium and stifling bureaucracy, I come to work knowing I can make a difference.

And finally, a measurable business value we have seen is in our team’s employee engagement scores. Every year we participate in the Great Place to Work survey, which asks each person to rate their satisfaction in 58 areas. This year we found that our overall engagement results improved to a nearly perfect score.

Greg felt like self-management was the biggest difference maker. “It’s great for employee engagement, and the resulting productivity, positive feelings and sense of working toward a common purpose.” This makes sense. Gallup has reported that as much as 70% of the variance in employee engagement can be traced back to the manager’s influence. When you remove managers, each person is made responsible for their own role design and engagement, and for addressing any issues that arise – the result is that they end up really happy at work (and at play).

 

How have you most grown or benefited from self-management?

Self-management is like a leadership development program on steroids. It replaces classroom leadership learning with continuous real-life development – you literally can’t get much done unless you can genuinely work to lead and influence. I’ve personally gotten more direct and indirect feedback about my leadership style in the last year than I had in the previous five years as a manager.

For James, and many others on the team, our focus on, “bringing your whole self to work,” has been a major benefit of the move. “I don’t need to pretend to be one thing at work and wait to get home to be real,” he said. The concept of “wholeness” is a big part of the Teal movement, and Fitzii consciously created wholeness practices that helps everyone feel comfortable to be themselves at work.

It turns out that it’s really draining to be different at work. When you make genuine connections with your colleagues, and come to know that they appreciate you for being you, the quality of your relationships skyrockets. Ian, from our Product Development team, feels like “I’m now on a team that has an incredibly high level of openness, authenticity and trust. Working in this environment is truly awesome.”

The other major benefit we’ve seen stems from self-created role design. Deciding who does what is a big part of traditional management’s role, and it’s an area that is often done poorly – at least from the perspective of the employees who want to maximize their enjoyment of assigned tasks.

According to a well-reasoned book on work motivation called Primed to Perform, the level to which an employee enjoys their work tasks is statistically the most powerful driver of motivation and performance. In the self-management structure, it is each person’s responsibility to look at what has to be done in the business, and match their role with what they’d most like to do, and would be best at doing.

James has found that, “the fluid nature of roles has given me many opportunities to take on new challenges that I wouldn’t get at another company.” And Jonna, from our Sales & Marketing group, said, “I’ve grown the most by having to stretch my creative side. Here I’ve taken on initiatives that would have traditionally been handled by management, and that’s been super motivating.”

 

What has been the hardest thing about self-management?

Probably the most common difficulty with self-management is all the responsibility that comes with it. James summed this up well:

There’s no place to hide and no space to complain. If you see something that could be better, or that you want to change, the onus is on you to bring it up. With all the freedom, there is also ultimate responsibility.

Carla, from our Hiring Success team, felt that the hardest thing was not in coming up with new self-managing practices, but rather implementing them when the rubber hit the road:

It’s not a “set-it and forget-it” scenario. In a few cases we found holes and misinterpretations. When you implement a new self-management practice, it will likely go through multiple phases. The creation of it, followed by a probationary period to see how it’s working, and then more dialogue and revisions to improve the practice.

For Jonna, the hardest thing was creating new lines of communication between departments. She feels like, “everyone is working hard but we’ve needed to more thoroughly communicate what we are doing and make sure we are all working towards the same goals.”

And finally, Ian had a nice analogy to share about what he found hard about self-management:

I play squash and occasionally get a lesson. The pattern is always the same – my coach suggests I change something fundamental about my game. I incorporate the change into how I play and… I start losing more. Over time, if I stick with it, my game improves and ends up at a higher level than before making the adjustment. It’s the same here. All of us have had to relearn how we work and I found it a challenge to deal with the short term negative impact on performance. There were definite examples of where the transition impacted our ability to achieve our goals. Now though, I’m glad we stuck with it as we’re unquestionably “playing” at a much higher level.

 

What was the biggest mistake we made?

A few people, like Carla, felt like we, “didn’t make any BIG mistakes,” when rolling out self-management. For anyone hoping to hear stories of massive self-set salary increases, nefarious leadership uprisings, or frivolous rogue spending, we’re sorry to disappoint you.

There were some smaller mistakes and certainly lots of bumps on the road though.

Greg felt like, “a couple times we missed appointing a single decision-maker on a key project, which meant that not enough got done. We learned that it’s important that someone be accountable for any decision that’s worth making.”

I personally made the mistake of initially interpreting self-management to mean that I should take my foot off the gas in driving strategic change across the business, because this was now everyone’s responsibility.

After some time, I realized that this kind of work was simply a task that needed to be done. The only difference was that playing a role which involved organizational-wide change no longer meant I could force-feed new initiatives or tell others what to do. Push vs Pull LeadershipInstead, it has become a leadership responsibility to shepherd a process where the evolution of strategy arises through engaging interested clients, partners and colleagues, spurring creative discussion, and facilitating decisions.

This is the way I should have been leading in the first place, because pulling out the right strategy along is much more effective than pushing it.

And finally, about halfway through the year we realized that with no clear leadership roles responsible for the entire business, we had fallen off in our communications with our parent company, who had been used to having regular dialogue with the former managers. Like everything else, this is simply a task that needs to be done, so we created a monthly meeting with assigned roles, and public visibility of the notes from the meeting.

 

What are things we still need to change or start doing?

When we made the call to implement self-management, we also decided to take it slow. Managers had a lot of responsibilities, and there are many key processes that hinged on their roles. We thought it would be too chaotic to change everything at once, so instead we identified certain elements, like compensation setting, performance reviews, hiring/firing, and vacations, which we would tackle as practices to overhaul as the year went on.

This ended up working well. In each case one person took the lead, like Greg blogged about with performance reviews, and used the advice process to come up with a new structure. But we’re not totally done with the transition. There are a few areas we still need to work on.

Ian feels like we have more work to do in encouraging performance feedback and difficult conversations:

I sense that we’re doing a great job of the positive reinforcement, but aren’t quite there yet in giving constructive feedback that will help others grow and develop. I think we’ve perhaps been “over-careful” and avoided feedback that could be construed as coming from a place of authority, i.e. a vestige of our previous hierarchical structure.

This has been a major aha for many of us. A self-management structure means there is a radical responsibility for everyone to own each problem they see, whether it’s with a process or a person. In a traditional management structure, if you identify a problem, you typically bring it to the manager in charge of that area. At Fitzii, you have to figure out how to address it directly with the people involved.

Having constructive and courageous conversations is a skill that needs to be practiced and developed, and we could certainly benefit from some training and attention in this area in the next year.

Greg also pointed out that although we did make the big jump to self-setting compensation, we weren’t able to get as consistent as we would have liked, because, “some on the team have contracts that would be difficult to rework at this point. The plan is to revisit this next year, and come up with a more unified compensation structure that applies to everyone on the team.”

 

What advice would you give to other organizations?

First off, Jonna points out something we’d all agree on, which is that any organization implementing self-management should not just “flip a switch” and should, “expect this to be a transition that takes many months to work through.”

Greg felt that we had an advantage starting as a small organization (10 people) that already functioned with a fair bit of self-management. This led to a smoother transition during which we were able to figure out our policies as we went, and the bumps along the way had minimal impact. On the other hand, “a larger or more hierarchal organization, would do well to have these new policies mapped out and planned before starting the transition.”

Luz would emphasize how important it is to, “focus on having clearly articulated strategies, plans, and roles that engender clarity, purposeful work and decision-making. And it’s critical to also build a framework and expectation for feedback.”

And finally, Carla talked about how important it is that, “your team is really into it.” This can’t be something that only the existing leadership wants:

Going on this journey with a group of people who are so devoted to the mission makes all the difference. When there is conflict or disagreement on our team it’s always about interpreting and deciding which path is the truest and most fitting form of self-management for our team. It’s rarely, if ever, about doubting the path we’re on. It’s critical that the team is moving forward towards a common goal – having naysayers around would be detrimental.

 

Going forward

All in all, it’s been an exciting and growth-filled transition into self-management. We’re going to keep writing about our experiences, so if you’d like to follow along, you can sign up for the blog (in the footer or top right of this post).

R.O. BookIf you are interested in increasing empowerment and engagement at your organization, we’d also recommend that you check out Reinventing Organizations, as well as some of the other 25 powerful books that shaped our company. These books are sure to inspire you to build a better business.

We hope answering these questions about our journey was helpful. If you have any more you’d like us to answer, or if you have your own comments to make, we’d love to hear from you below.

 

 

25 Powerful Books That Shaped Our Company

Just over a year ago a book called Reinventing Organizations inspired a radical shift at our company, as Fitzii eliminated traditional management roles in favor of a self-managing “Teal” structure.

Books are still the most powerful way to convey influential ideas. So, for those people always on the lookout for inspiring new concepts, we created a list of the books that have most impacted our company, and most impacted the individuals on our team.

Here are…

The Books That Most Impacted Fitzii 

 

Reinventing OrganizationsReinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux

Reinventing Organizations describes a new type of organizational structure called Evolutionary-Teal. The book describes how this approach compares to traditional organizational models that have evolved throughout history, and then details the unique benefits Teal can provide. It draws on in-depth research into twelve Teal companies and reveals three defining characteristics: Self-management, Wholeness and Evolutionary Purpose. We have enjoyed many benefits of being a self-managing Teal company, and Frederic Laloux has turned into a wonderful supporter of our work. If there’s just one book that you check out from our list, we hope it’s this one!

 

 

The Decision Maker by Dennis Bakkedecision maker

The author of this book is the former CEO of one of the twelve self-managing companies that Reinventing Organizations profiled. It’s a business fable that illustrates how increased empowerment can work. When leaders learn to put real control in the hands of their people and teach them to use the “advice process,” they tap into incalculable potential. Bakke shows us that “decision making is the best way to develop people; and that should not stop at business school.” Fitzii has incorporated the advice process in our standard practices, and this book was a great help in showing how to do it. It’s also a great book for those teams who don’t want to go full self-management right away, but rather first start practicing increased empowerment.

 

 

 

Start with Why by Simon Sinekstart with why

Start With Why is all about purpose, and how we can use it to inspire others and attract those who believe what we believe. Once you read it your communications will never fail to “start with why.” Our “why” at Fitzii has always been to make hiring better so that more people get into jobs they are a fit for. But we also look at “why” on an individual level, so that when we’re hiring new people on our team, we start by making sure that they are as inspired by our purpose as we are, and then we evaluate whether “how” they do their best work fits with our environment and culture, and whether their “what” (skills and experience) will get the job done. 

 

 

 

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek41PIURhA30L._SL300_

This next book from Sinek looks at what truly inspires people to love, and be dedicated to, their work. Sinek concludes that the way most businesses are run these days are limiting their own potential with a short-sight to the bottom line, and not nearly enough care for the people they employ. Most of the team at Fitzii read, and were inspired by, the amazing examples of empowerment and engagement in this book before we found Reinventing Organizations and decided to go all-in on self-management – it definitely greased the wheels of change.

 

 

The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Don Richard Riso & Russ HudsonEnneagram

There are lots of personality typologies and systems out there. In our experience, Enneagram of Personality is the only one that gives you practical guidance on becoming a healthier, more integrated human being. It has been our favourite starting point for understanding what makes each of us unique, what motivates us, and how to integrate towards our greatest potential. Nothing short of a cult classic with the Fitzii crew, and also our friends at CauseLabs, another B Corp who are experimenting with self-management.

 

 

 

Feedback That Works: How To Build and Deliver Your Message by Sloan R. Weitzelfeedback

Giving feedback is a super-important, fundamental skill in a self-managed Teal business like Fitzii because if you see a problem, it’s your responsibility to deal with it constructively. When dealing with that problem includes giving feedback, this book is packed with practical advice about how to deliver it in an effective, three-part way:

Situation: Clarify the specific time and place the event happened.

Behaviour: Describe the specific behaviours (body language, tone of voice, choice of words) without interpreting it.

Impact: Acknowledge the emotional effect the person’s behaviour had on you.

 

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pinkdrive

This is an oft-cited classic that sheds light on a major issue in business – that most companies have created structures that actually decrease, instead of increase, employee motivation. Pink reviews all the research and comes to a simple conclusion that the three major things that actually motivate us at work are purpose, mastery and autonomy. Fitzii has built all our people processes around these ideas, and they are a wonderful complement with our internal practices.

 

 

 

To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel Pinkto sell

This other book by Dan Pink points out that the internet has shifted the power from the seller to the buyer, which means that sales is no longer a profession for manipulators – in fact, these days, everyone’s in sales. And that means that the best tactics are all about providing value that PULLS in customers, and avoiding old-school PUSH tactics that make everyone feel icky anyway. Almost the whole team at Fitzii read the book and unanimously cried – Hallelujah!

 

 

 

The B Corp Handbook by Ryan Honeymanb corp

For any who have wondered how to use business as a force for good, how your efforts are comparing to the companies leading the way in sustainability, or why it’s worth considering at all, Ryan’s book provides the answer. He gives a detailed explanation of the B-Corp movement and the B Impact Assessment, explaining why third party verification of your efforts is relevant, and how pursuing this path of the triple bottom line (social, environmental and financial) is the way of the future.

 

 

 

61l0eM+H34L._SL300_

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

This is a compelling and funny memoir about the funk the author got into (and out of) after he achieved success in selling his first book. From a filmmaker he learned about the steps of the Hero’s Journey, and was inspired to start living his life as if he was the protagonist in an epic tale. After writing this book, Miller went on to found StoryBrand, which uses the Hero’s Journey concept to help companies more authentically be “the guide” of the journey their customers (the heroes) are on. Fitzii has built all our messaging and key processes on this model – it’s simple, effective, and it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy about your marketing and service delivery.

 

 

Peak by Chip Conleypeak

In this book Conley creates a Maslow-inspired hierarchy of needs through which to view the relationship a business has with its employees, customers, and shareholders, and through this lens shares incredible business insights and practices. Fitzii has adopted the employee pyramid of needs to explain how we aim to help jobseekers move up from Job to Career to Calling and find increasingly meaningful work. This book will inspire you to make your business better in many different ways.

 

 

 

 

 

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencionidysfuntion

At Fitzii, we embrace Lencioni’s belief that all successful teamwork starts with vulnerability-based trust. It’s a similar concept to Reinventing Organizations’ idea of wholeness. And we have sought, relentlessly, to build that trust – in our meetings, our interactions, even our performance feedback.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioninaked

This other classic Lencioni book discusses fears in business, and the limitations they place on allowing you to create long term relationships with clients. Showing vulnerability, admitting when you don’t know something, and asking dumb questions are all fears we experience when communicating with clients. What this book has taught our team is that pride and ignorance get in the way of our ability to do our job well. By showing vulnerability our clients can see that we are committed to serving them.

 

 

 

The Innovator’s Solution by Clayton M. Christensen & Michael E. Raynorinnovators

In a previous work, The Innovator’s Dilemma, Christensen examines why so many companies fail to remain competitive when facing disruption, which doubles as a playbook for the disruptors themselves. The Innovators Solution provides thorough and practical advice that Fitzii used, together with our parent company the Ian Martin Group, to decide how we would structure and treat Fitzii as an innovative subsidiary within the larger established company.

 

 

 

 

FREE by Chris Andersonfree

The former editor of WIRED, who is even more famous for writing The Long Tail, blew minds with this book, about the second most powerful four-letter F-word. It’s crazy to think that before this came out, economists and marketers completely missed spotting the revolution – and it’s inevitable conclusion – that the price of software is always in a race to free. Since then, companies like Google, Evernote, SurveyMonkey, MailChimp and thousands more have proven the counter-intuitive insight that you’ll make more money when you give a lot away – exactly why at Fitzii we’re providing our applicant tracking software totally free.

 

 

 

 

 

Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross and Marylou Tylerpredicatable

This book details the outbound sales strategy that propelled Salesforce.com’s success into the enterprise space (without making any cold calls!). The authors argue that key tweaks to the sales process can have the biggest pay offs, especially things you can eliminate, automate, outsource, or delegate. The book is packed with practical recommendations that have brought about many positive changes in the Fitzii sales process, from separating prospecting & closing activities, to spotting time waster prospects, better managing customer’s “how-to” needs, and improving our outbound email campaigns.

 

Books That Impacted Individuals at Fitzii

Here’s some more books that impacted specific people at Fitzii…

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweckmindset

This is one of those books I want to read every year. It removed my excuses for not growing, and freed me from believing that who I am today is who I will always be. Dweck outlines how we can live out of a fixed mindset that believes talent is innate, or out of a growth mindset that believes talent comes from study, application and practice. Believing you can grow is essential to producing that result. -James

 

 

 

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Franklmeaning

Frankl was a psychiatrist who spent years imprisoned in a Nazi camp and found that the people who survived were those who found meaning in their suffering. After being freed, he developed an approach to psychotherapy out of the position that our primary drive is our search for meaning. Half of this book is a retelling of his experiences, and the other is an explanation of his psychological belief system. Both parts will stick with you forever. For me in particular, it was the powerful and empowering idea that we each decide (and have complete control over) how we view any and every situation, including those at work.  -Edwin

 

 

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan CainQuiet-Final-Jacket

While I’m not a true introvert (maybe introvert-light), this book spoke to me on a couple of levels. Having always preferred to spend hours buried in a book, and in thinking quietly before speaking, Quiet helped me to understand my personality in a more meaningful way.  Cain also reaffirmed my belief in the downside and danger of society’s near total embrasure of the culture of personality, forced collaboration, and the loud, self-promoting ideal of extroversion.  She passionately demonstrates how introverts are devalued and overlooked by a society enamoured with this ideal, often to its detriment. Strength. Innovation. Conviction. All can present themselves quietly and effectively if we choose to listen. -Ron

 

 

Necessary Dreams by Anna Felsdreams

Long before I heard of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, or leaning in, Anna Fels’s book, Necessary Dreams, gave me courage to be a woman with big ambitions. In a world that doesn’t often affirm women’s ambitions, the evidence and arguments of Dr. Fels’ book emboldened me to pursue to my desires and potential. I have to think that’s at least in part why I choose to work as a leader in a start-up; taking risks; building something; goin’ for it. Lean In was a similarly helpful, empowering book, but for me, it’s Necessary Dreams that has been talisman of my own ambition.  -Luz

 

 

The Adventures of Johnny Bunko by Daniel H. Pinkjohnny-bunko

Somewhat out of place among all these heavyweights, is The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, the only manga-illustrated business book I’ve ever read. It packs a lot of wisdom into a 20-minute read and six (work)life lessons, including “There is no plan”, “Make excellent mistakes” and “Leave an imprint.” I happened to hear Dan Pink speak about this book just around the time I was contemplating the scary notion of quitting my full-time job to start a company. The book, and Dan’s talk, combined to create one of those “aha” moments that gave me the courage to go for it (and that company became Fitzii). If you know a high school student, buy them this book.  -Ian

 

 

 

Hackers by Steven Levyhackers

Levy’s noted book on the “heroes of the computer revolution” follows the advent of computing from the 1950s to the early 1980s. You’ll recognize most of the names here, like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Steve Wozniak, but they only account for half the story. The other half is in here as well. A must read for anyone interested in the tech sector.  -Andy

 

 

 

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell41989tFt5PL._SL300_

In a nutshell, how to take perceived disadvantages and turn them into advantages. This book had a tremendous impact on how I looked at my day to day work. It is a personal challenge to call prospects who have no idea who you are, and who have never heard of Fitzii before. This book made me want to have a “David” year. Even though we are a small fish in a big pond, we have an opportunity to do things differently. We can come to battle on our terms, using our own weapons, and not have to play the same game others have for decades. I find change especially hard (as do many others), but this book is giving me the courage to try new approaches to our sales strategy. – Jonna

 

The Art of War by Sun TzuThe-Art-of-War

While I was a shy young guy studying management for the first time, I was given this book by a mentor, and it impressed me a lot. One of the oldest treatises on war, it talks about strategies to use in order to get power, and to keep it. Sun Tzu’s suggestions are quite violent, but can be used as a metaphor for business conflict. What’s most interesting to me, is that for Sun Tzu the best strategy to get power is to avoid war, and instead use information and intelligence.  The most important thing, in war and business, is to have the best knowledge of a situation.  -Jaoued

 

 

The Pragmatic Programmer by Andrew Hunt & David Thomasprogrammer

There aren’t a lot of technical books on this list, but for the coder, The Pragmatic Programmer is a fantastic guide to common-sense programming practices.  It does an amazing job of taking a broad perspective while delivering very concrete advice on practical programming, with applicability to virtually any language. It’s great book to pick up once in a while as a refresher, and to give new insights and techniques for solving whatever problems you’re currently working on.  -Greg

 

Whaddya think of the list? If you have any comments about any of these books, we’d love to hear them!

 

Creating Performance Reviews People Love

(Some of the team just before we reviewed our reviews)


 

“This was the best feedback ever. It was thoughtful, inspiring, helpful and full of love.”

– Fitzii’s BD Whiz after her review.

It would be fair to say that most company performance reviews fail to generate this kind of enthusiasm.

Yet I heard many comments just like this after we finished our first ever performance review process at Fitzii.

How come?

Since Fitzii declared ourselves free of managers in early 2015, we decided to replace the typical manager-to-employee performance review with a peer-review process.

We tried to come up with an approach to feedback that:

  • addresses some of the problems with traditional performance reviews
  • is both honest and governed by mutual respect
  • generates constructive, actionable feedback
  • aligns with our transition to “Teal” self-management

Getting Started

At Fitzii, whenever we have a task that doesn’t fall within a particular person’s responsibilities, someone volunteers to lead the charge for the team using an advice process.

When the question came up of how we’ll do performance reviews in our new self-management structure, I raised my hand to be the decision-maker and solicit input about how to create the best possible approach. That actually didn’t end up being very difficult because, unlike some of the other processes we’ve changed at the company, everyone had opinions on how we should do employee reviews.

What Doesn’t Work

My starting point was to look at some of the reasons why traditional performance reviews don’t work well – a topic of much discussion online. We ended up creating a process designed to avoid the most common problems plaguing traditional performance reviews:

They’re too one-directional, with the manager having all the power and the subordinate having little input. We chose a 360° peer format to address this.

They focus too much on the negative, or the flipside where people are afraid to bring up any negative issues. We structured ours to give some balance, with ground rules to keep the criticism constructive and judgement free.

They’re too structured, with a million questions on 5-point scales. We decided on a format that was loose enough that reviewers could emphasize the most important points while still mentioning other things.

Co-worker benchmarking creates competition, which can lead to distrust, demotivation and a lack of collaboration. 360° feedback and having no scoring helps mitigate this.

Reviews affecting salary creates anxiety, and encourages people to not be vulnerable and openly dig into weaknesses. There was definitely some anxiety leading up to our first-ever reviews, but there will be less next time, now that everyone had such a good experience.

How We Did Our Reviews

We chose to do a 360 peer review using the Small Improvements tool, where each person first completes a self-assessment of their past year’s work and then their peer reviewers read that and answer two basic questions: (i) what’s gone well and (ii) what might be improved.

Here’s the question we used for our self-assessments:

Assess your past year in terms of your accomplishments, important learning, and even mistakes that led to growth. Then tell us what areas of your performance you would particularly like to get feedback about.

Our objective with the reviewer questions was to give some direction and structure to the reviewer while still leaving it open for the writer to cover any topic.  There were two questions for the reviewer:

  1. What did this person do well? Be sure to include the one thing you most value about working with them.
  1. Considering how you have been affected by this person, and what areas they’re interested in hearing about, what is the feedback you would like to give that could best help them grow or improve?

The final touch was an initial set of instructions and examples of how to give constructive feedback that will be well-received by the reviewee:

When reviewing, please be considerate and mindful of how the reviewee will receive your criticism.  Remember to speak in “I” language to share how you have been inspired, touched, hurt or frustrated (for example) as a result of what the other person has done – and not believing your impressions are objective truths about the person.  Some examples for inspiration:

Brenda, you are so good at making customers feel great. I remember the time you helped ABC company implement a new solution and they were so glad. It also helped our numbers that quarter. Way to go!

Brenda, you are really good at finding ways to save money. You might be able to do that more, maybe take on some of our budgeting or expense approval work.  

Brenda, we haven’t made as much progress as we hoped with our new referral programs and it would be great if you could bring your attention to that next year. 

Brenda, when you don’t finish your part of the report, I feel embarrassed submitting an incomplete report or I feel overwhelmed if I try to make up your part. How can we get our report submitted complete and on time?

Self-management Stuff

We’re on a small enough team that it wasn’t too cumbersome to have each person give feedback to each of their coworkers.  As we’re growing, it won’t be practical for everyone to review everyone else, so we might look at more frequent reviews involving fewer reviewers, or limiting feedback to those who work closely together.

It’s also important to point out that a key idea in the self-management way of working is the need to give peer feedback continuously as it arises. While that’s good in any organization, it’s particularly important for us because there are no longer managers with accountability for their teams. It’s critical that everyone take responsibility for speaking up when they have concerns about how things are going or suggestions on how we could be doing things better – and not hold on to these things until formal review time.

The Outcome

We decided in advance that we would keep the reviews private so that people could be as honest and forthcoming as possible when writing them. We also decided we would do some sharing at our team offsite, which took place a few days after we received our feedback.

In the review of the reviews, each of us spent a few minutes summarizing what we heard, and what we’re going to do, followed by an opportunity for anyone in the group to add their thoughts. It felt totally open, honest, and constructive, and I would say it did more for team-building than go-karting or laser tag could ever do.

So we were pretty happy with our first attempt at doing performance reviews, and no doubt we’ll make some improvements in the next go round. If you’ve had good or bad experiences with performance reviews, we’d love to learn from you. Please share them with us in the comments below, or if you have questions or comments, don’t be shy to review our reviews.

How our Team Meetings Went from Average to Awesome

team meeting illustration

The Fitzii team works mainly out of two offices in the greater Toronto area and there is also a fair amount of remote and flexible working happening. Early on we held monthly all-hands meetings with the intention of getting everyone together, keeping up-to-date, discussing team-wide topics, and helping build stronger relationships. The first few meetings were great – we shared updates, progress and challenges and it helped build understanding of what everyone was working on.

After some months the meetings were becoming less and less valuable and energizing. The updates weren’t relevant to everyone anymore and getting the right level of detail for the various team members was impossible. Then we had a revelation. We were wasting our valuable face-to-face time by focusing on the wrong things! It was time to rethink our monthly meetings and the things we changed have turned them from average to awesome.

Updates

There were some issues with doing general updates in our monthly meetings. We had people in the room who had heard the update before, others for whom the updates weren’t relevant, and times where an update led to a conversation that took the meeting off-track. The end result was low meeting engagement and efficiency. We also tended to focus more on the previous week as it was hard to select (or recall) the relevant things to update on from four weeks before.

We realized updates weren’t something which required our precious face-to-face time. So one of the major changes we made was to remove this section from the meetings entirely. Instead, we’ve moved to individual weekly updates that each person posts to our team social media feed (we use Yammer).

One person kicks off with a “what’s happened this week” post and everyone else replies with their own. We’ve been doing this for nine months now and it works extremely well. It saves time, allows for more detail, and the discussion it leads to adds a ton of value.

Team Building

Another revelation we had was that because we’re not all in the same office, using our face-to-face time together to build stronger relationships would be of much more value than just sharing information.

To help us get to know each other better, and encourage people to bring their “whole selves” to work, we’ve tried a few fun activities:

Team Balderdash

Based on the Balderdash board game, we prepared a list of questions like: “What is your favorite movie?”, “What were winters like when you were young?” and “You’re on death row. What’s your last meal request?”. One person is the facilitator and asks a few of the questions while the others secretly write down their answers. The facilitator then reads out the answers for each question and everyone has to guess which answer belongs to which team member, and the person with the most answers correct wins. This was a lot of fun, and definitely helped us get to know each other. But why people were so shocked that my favorite movie is Cleopatra, I don’t know.

Ask Me Anything (AMA)

For the Fitzii version of an AMA, one team member is selected to go on the hot seat each meeting. The rest of the team then takes turns asking them anything. Questions have included:

What’s a secret you’ve never told anyone?

If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

What would constitute a perfect day for you?

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

Which six people living or dead would you invite for dinner?

What one thing would you change about working here?

This activity has been an amazing way to build relationships and help everyone bring their whole selves to work. If you’re looking for question ideas, these 36 that were in the press earlier this year are a good starting point.

Agenda and Format

One deceptively simple but effective change we made was to move away from one person controlling the agenda (a source of some power in traditional organizations). Instead we have the grandiosely named, but ridiculously simple “Fancy Agenda Tracker”. This is an Excel sheet containing the date, time and length of the upcoming monthly meetings that is open for anyone to edit. The only fixed items are a quick financial review (10 minutes) and lunch (we take turns to organize). The rest of the agenda is populated by the team based on what’s on their minds or what they have to share. It’s then circulated the week before the meeting and the team gives input on what should be prioritized if there are too many topics for the 2 hours. Here’s a recent example:

Fitzii Team Meeting Agenda

Another neat tool we use is the Executive Decision Maker, which is a homemade device built by our lead developer that works like a magic 8-ball. We use this to make lightly contentious decisions and prevent those painful “who wants to go next? … I don’t mind, you go…. No after you, really…” situations.

Fitzii EDM2

Attention and Focus

We use tingshas to indicate the start and end of the meeting.  These are meant to signal that our focus is on the team and we’re checking self-interest at the door. We read in Reinventing Organizations that some Teal organizations use the tingshas as a mechanism for reflection during a meeting if a participant feels the ground rules are not being respected – they ring the cymbals and everyone pauses to reflect on their contribution to the topic under discussion. We haven’t been following this process, because we haven’t really needed to yet, but it would be interesting to try.

Team members will also often suggest activities to help with mindfulness and meeting engagement. These have included gratitude exercises, quick meditations and activity breaks.

From Average to Awesome

All in all, we’ve found these changes have increased the effectiveness and engagement of our meetings incredibly. Alongside our individual weekly updates, the monthly get-togethers now achieve our goals of having open and vulnerable communication while fostering closer ties between the various individual and functional groups at Fitzii.

Are your team meetings due for a makeover? Here’s hoping that you raise the bar from “average” to “awesome”, and experiment with new ways to maximize your team’s face-to-face time. And if you have some uniquely engaging team meeting practices we’d love to hear about them in the comments!

The 75 Best Quotes About Meaningful Work

Our meaningful work at Fitzii is connect more people with meaningful work. Accordingly, we’re quite obsessed with the subject, which also happens to be a topic that most of the world’s influential thinkers have had something to say about. Read more

How much baggage is too much?

Imagine you need to hire for a key opening in an established team. The team is led by a strong manager and has been performing well for a while, but recently lost a key team member to a competitor. You have two short-listed candidates and have been asked to recommend one. To make your decision easier, you’ve been given videos and reports detailing aspects of each candidate’s performance at their previous employers.

Candidate 1 – A very talented employee (top 20%). He has had 2 previous employers during the past 8 years and has consistently performed well. Candidate 1 has worked well with his previous team mates and has had no significant disciplinary issues. Candidate 1 has a salary expectation of around $50,000.

Candidate 2 – An exceptionally skilled employee (top 1%). He has had 5 previous employers during the past 8 years, including two where his departure was acrimonious (one of which was after just 3 months). Candidate 2 has faced disciplinary action on several occasions and there are also signs of friction between him and current team members. Candidate 2 has a salary expectation of around $75,000.

Which candidate would you recommend? Why?

This scenario is loosely based on a recent personnel decision taken by a football (the round ball kind – excuse me, I’m originally from England) team in Europe – They chose candidate number 2. (The jury is still out on whether it was a good decision. The player in question is delivering goals, but has already faced disciplinary action and caused friction within the team).

Variations of the situation described above are often seen in the sporting world, where a player’s previous performance and behaviour are more public, and it got me thinking: How do we make the trade-off between talent and behaviour? If, say, in the scenario above, the 1st candidate was as talented as the 2nd – he’d be the obvious choice as he is both less expensive and comes with a better behavioural track record. What about then if he was just slightly less talented – say in the top 2%, 5% or 10%? – When does the benefit of more talent outweigh the “baggage” of behavioural issues?

There is obviously no “right” answer to this question, however, from personal experience and observation I would offer just two pieces of advice:

  • Make sure your hiring process does not focus solely on the skills and experience of the candidates. Use tools such as personality testing, behavioural interviewing and effective reference checking (with prior managers, peers and subordinates) to assess the candidate’s suitability.
  • For candidates, or employees for that matter, where the talent required comes with negative behaviours, the most important success factor is a strong team leader that is able to manage the individual’s performance while minimizing the impact of the behaviour (and hopefully, over time, addressing it).

In summary, while we all want to hire “A Players”, “Rock Stars” and “Ninjas”, it is vital to keep in mind the overall performance of the team when hiring any new employee and not be blinded by talent.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and personal experiences on this, as well as the English Premier League, below.