Planning remote work effectively is the leitmotif of the modern-day world. For some organizations, it has always been normal – think of the large multinational companies with their headquarters in Chicago and their operations team in Rome – but, with the gradual increase in smartworking and consequent questioning of two fundamental pillars of the company structure, working hours and the work place, it is becoming more and more important to elaborate lines of conduct and strategies capable of safeguarding the psychological contract between individuals and their organization, thus keeping results in line constantly and reducing the risk of isolation.
From this point of view, Continuous Feedback is proving to be one of the most useful “relational policies” in the system of managerial skills of our time.
Taking for granted that a dedicated technological environment is indispensable to implement the principle – the headquarters will continue to be in Chicago and the operations team in Rome – it is interesting to take a closer look at the conceptual implications of a truly historic transition: from the annual assessment of performance to the constant orientative interaction between collaborators.
But are companies really ready to become agile?
We asked Michael Forni (Agile coach in the FinTech field and Mentor at the TechItalia:Lab accelerator based in London, United Kingdom), who has been working for years with the Agile approach in which he strongly believes, giving value first of all to people – and their interactions – rather than the processes or long-term plans.
- How would you define this dramatic change in relations between people and their organizations?
I believe that most people, both at home and at work, are more interested in what they do than how they perform their daily tasks.
In the past, even recent, the military-style hierarchical structure was taken for granted in working environments, starting from manufacturing companies.
The concept of boss (today simply renamed Manager) was not only accepted but considered indispensable, because it was acceptable to reprimand a single blue/white collar worker with the sadly well-known phrase “we don’t pay you to think”.
Nowadays, also due to the geographically delocalized work environments, the tasks of the quite disrespectfully called “workforce” increasingly require the ability to respond to sudden changes and to go beyond the boundaries of the standard job descriptions.
This inevitably risks upsetting the hierarchical structure and the managers that control their companies can no longer allow themselves the privilege of simply ignoring the new situation.
For years now, the so-called Agile organizations simply have no hierarchical structure any more.
- The phrase “the continuous feedback policy is particularly effective” is heard increasingly often: if this is true, how come it is so difficult to implement it at companies
As always, there’s a big difference between theory and practice, between one country and another, especially if they have different mentalities.
Far be it from me to make any judgements, but it is a widely-held opinion that the potentially enormous value inherent in feedback policies imposes an indispensable prerequisite: a “secure” environment!
Irrespective of their role, seniority, experience and character, every collaborator must feel free to express an opinion or present ideas and proposals, even contrary not only to common sense but also to “what has always been done”, without fearing “revenge” or repercussions on their working or even personal lives.
It’s easy to say in words but considering that even Google Inc. fired one of its talented programmers for the opinions he expressed, it is clear that there is still a long way to go.
One of the most difficult tasks for an Agile coach is to facilitate the creation of open, dynamic working environments in which opinions expressed as constructive and, why not, even creative feedback, are respected.
- What do you think is the best way to stimulate a manager, at any level, to apply the logic of continuous feedback
As mentioned earlier, the real personal and professional challenge for a modern-day manager is to change from being a “process controller” to a “facilitator of relations between processes and people”.
If the top management fails to grasp the importance of the continual opportunities for improvement offered by constructive feedback from customers, suppliers but above all its collaborators, the company could lose not only a great chance to gain an advantage over its competitors today but also what could be a key to survival on the tomorrow’s market.
Managers must be ready to “get off their high horse” and collaborate more closely with people in general, more than with their employees in the narrowest sense: to become trainers on the pitch rather than directors in the stand.
- If you could draw a virtual habitat capable of favouring this process, how would you picture it
Fortunately, what you ask me is a quite easy exercise, as Agile environments has been working – good – for some years now.
The first change that the Agile approach (but not only this) made to favour continuous feedback was to abolish meetings and transform them into opportunities for discussion.
Traditional meetings (one person talking to many others, who can only listen) are loathed by many people because they are considered a “waste of time”.
I see these meetings as an unfruitful investment: forcing 3, 5 or 10 sentient and talented people to remain seated, in silence, listening to one another talk in turn for interminable minutes, with few opportunities for interaction, is simply ineffective.
Using the same amount of time (or even less) to favour a frank, open and constructive discussion of clear and easily comprehensible elements, inevitably produces not only better operating results but also permits an exchange of ideas, views and opinions between team members, which would not otherwise take place.
It is no coincidence that, having changed the structure of meetings to favour relations and feedback, giving them the new name “Ceremonies”, has marked one of the most revolutionary and effective elements of Scrum, one of the most widespread Agile frameworks (>70%) in the Software industry.
And it is certainly no coincidence that one of these new meetings – which focus on how the team has worked rather than what it has achieved- is called Retrospective.
- In addition to training and technology, what do you think are the elements capable of facilitating and fluidifying the organizational processes through Web 2.0 collaboration
Alongside the actions and changes in approach indicated above, I believe that – irrespective of the market, product, service, knowledge and skills of the collaborators – not only to adopt “Web 2.0 collaboration” (which more prosaically means greater interaction with customers and more efficient relations with collaborators including those working from a remote location) but, above all, to guarantee survival in the long term, the following are required: reduction of bureaucracy, fluidification of organizational structures, elimination of job descriptions, extension of know-how and skills through continuing training and the mass introduction of “loop processes”.
This will all be in vain if the Organizations (private or public) fail to accept the fundamental importance of the unavoidable involvement of the Customer – not only in the Customer assistance and Customer care process in general – but above all in the joint creation of the products/services that will be purchased/used.
*ToysRus, Nokia feature phones, Yahoo, Blackberry and HTC smartphones are just a few of the industrial “giants” that haven’t been able to succeed in responding effectively to the change.