Insights

Self-Awareness. What It Is. How To Get It.

We know it when we see it. We say “she’s highly self-aware”, and we mean it as a compliment. We mean that person is able to take criticism,correct her mistakes and learn as she goes. We can work with that person, tell her what we think and expect a reasonable response.

Being self-aware is a strength. It’s a foundation for authenticity, for communication, for decision and for leadership. It’s also something that can be simply defined, learned and practiced.

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Sometimes “Why?” Is the Wrong Question

Don’t Always Ask “Why?”

This is a trick, but it works: don’t ask “why?”. I know – we love to ask “why?”. It’s the most fundamental of questions, the one that gets us to the bottom of things, the root. If we don’t know “why”, then we don’t know what we’re doing.

So when we want to understand the reasons behind the behavior of a person, or team at work, we naturally ask: “why did that happen?”, “why is the report late?”, “why is the release buggy?”, “why is your team leaving early?”.

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“HR Debt” Is The Cost of Putting Off Hard Conversations. Radical Candor is a Solution.

Last week I came across this rather terrific post by Jessica Rose.  It kind of off-handedly introduced a notion we might call “HR Debt” – the organizational analogue of technical debt.

Coincidentally, a day later, I then walked into a client session where the issue was, in fact, fixing up a team that had been badly structured and poorly lead: we spent an hour sorting out the pain, cost and general difficulty of getting things set to rights.   The notion of “HR Debt” was immediately helpful.  Good!

We can describe technical debt as the literal cost (time, attention, real money) of avoiding doing things the right way.  In the short term, the company saves money by, for example, not fixing a legacy architectural issue, by “hard-wiring” a piece of code, or just not fixing known bugs (feel free to provide your own list).

Our new term, HR Debt, is exactly analogous: by putting off dealing with a problem employee, or dysfunctional team, the organization saves disruption in the short term, but pays, every day, in the time and attention the team is putting in to make things work.  As Jes puts it:

“Having your team build informal processes to work around bad actors creates an environment where additional time and energy costs are included in all team activities”

Not only that, but when the time comes to fix it,  just like technical debt, the cost is far higher than it would have been originally: people need to be moved, or fired, teams rearranged, salaries re-worked, relationships repaired.

So what to do?  Well, Radical Candor is a toolkit for saying hard things so that they are heard.  If we boil Radical Candor down to its essence, it is a model for confronting and dealing with difficult conversations well.  It encourages us not to drift into “Ruinous Empathy”, where our HR Debt will continue to accumulate as we avoid fixing people problems.  It asks us to “just say it”, whilst respecting the humanity of the person on the receiving end.

The concept of “HR Debt” gives us a way of estimating the cost of staying in “Ruinous Empathy”:  how many management hours will be dribbled away by patching over poor behavior?   how much money will be spent on a team which we’re pretty sure will have to be reworked?  how much would we save over time if we took on the hard conversations now?

So we can look at Radical Candor as a toolkit for reducing HR Debt – not just doing the right thing, but saving money, time and the precious attention of the organization.

Useful models that fit together!    Have to love that 🙂

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Curiosity: A Super Power That Gets Us Unstuck

We get stuck. Somebody won’t listen – they just won’t. We’ve tried explaining what we want, why we think they’re wrong, what they should be doing better, and nothing happens, nothing changes. The decisions keep being delayed, the advice ignored, the obvious (to us) reality avoided.

Or there’s a problem, a big one: we’re about to be out of money, we’re definitely going to miss the deadline, our very best, world-class, go-to engineering lead is quitting. We’re going over a cliff. Tomorrow. And it feels inevitable, immovable – we can’t see another path.

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How to Work With Somebody You Don’t Trust

I once worked for about eighteen months with a peer I couldn’t trust. It was awful. I wasted time, effort and attention on parsing his emails, protecting my team and laboriously documenting “agreements” that “clarified the situation” to my boss (which would be run over an hour after we had met to “ratify” them).

And I felt bad. All the time. There’s just something nasty about not knowing: not knowing what will happen in the next meeting; not knowing if an agreement will be kept; not knowing when another email will come in from your boss, from your team, from a peer, with another set of bruises and breakages and emotional upset. And there’s something more than that: having to be around somebody who you don’t fundamentally trust is spooky, uncomfortable, unpleasant.

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Intensity Is Not the Same As Anxiety, Fear and Anger (A Note On Table Banging, and How to Stop It)

I recently highlighted this rather terrific post by Jessica Rose.  It kind of off-handedly introduced a notion we might call “HR Debt” – the organizational analogue of technical debt.

Coincidentally, a day later, I then walked into a client session where the issue was, in fact, fixing up a team that had been badly structured and poorly lead: we spent an hour sorting out the pain, cost and general difficulty of getting things set to rights.   The notion of “HR Debt” was immediately helpful.  Good!

We might describe technical debt as the literal cost (time, attention, real money) of avoiding doing things the right way.  In the short term, the company saves money by, for example, not fixing a legacy architectural issue, by “hard-wiring” a piece of code, or just not fixing known bugs (feel free to provide your own list).

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Use Radical Candor to Reduce “HR Debt”

I recently highlighted this rather terrific post by Jessica Rose.  It kind of off-handedly introduced a notion we might call “HR Debt” – the organizational analogue of technical debt.

Coincidentally, a day later, I then walked into a client session where the issue was, in fact, fixing up a team that had been badly structured and poorly lead: we spent an hour sorting out the pain, cost and general difficulty of getting things set to rights.   The notion of “HR Debt” was immediately helpful.  Good!

We might describe technical debt as the literal cost (time, attention, real money) of avoiding doing things the right way.  In the short term, the company saves money by, for example, not fixing a legacy architectural issue, by “hard-wiring” a piece of code, or just not fixing known bugs (feel free to provide your own list).

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“Code Wins Arguments”. Why This Is True. And Why You Should Be A Little Less Blunt About It.

The issue that came up in the coaching session was: when to stop meeting and write some code?   My client, a senior software engineer, knew in his bones that more meetings wouldn’t move the project forward, but a week of him coding a prototype would.  But how to communicate that without appearing to just arrogantly blow off the team?

“Code Wins Arguments” has been around for a while.  This is from the Facebook S1 filing:

“Instead of debating for days whether a new idea is possible or what the best way to build something is, hackers would rather just prototype something and see what works”.

Classic!  “Hackers would rather…”.  Of course they would!  No more stupid meetings, we’re just going to build it and you guys can sort it out later!   Cool!   The implied context is an argument and the outcome is a win – which means a defeat for somebody. 
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The EQ of Meetings Whilst Checking Your Laptop/Phone/iPad. Yes, We Can See You

So I’ve had a few clients who check their laptops and phones in meetings, to the extent that it comes up in a 360 review.

I’ve even had a couple of clients who apparently do it in one on ones.

When you pull out your phone in a meeting, or open the laptop and start typing away, you are not invisible:  humans are exquisitely constructed to connect with other humans.  We notice every detail in face, body posture, vocal tone, and attention.  How do you feel when somebody pays close attention to you?  Intense, right?  Can be great, can be uncomfortable, but there’s a lot happening there.   How do you feel when somebody completely ignores you, despite the fact that you’re right there?   Less good, right?
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Why You Are Still Overwhelmed

This happens: you look at your calendar and see, once again, that your entire week is entirely blocked out, and you’re going to be completely overwhelmed.  Again.

We all know how to manage time, right?  Prioritize the tasks that are urgent and important, delegate, use a todo list.  Simple!   So why do we spend year after year not getting it right?

How we live our days is how we live our lives (misquoting Anne Dillard).  And how we live our lives is driven by unconscious patterns of behavior that we developed very, very early, and which feel “right” – even if they cause us stress and difficulty.   We gravitate to living in our patterns, however uncomfortable and stressed they make us feel.  Tinkering with a todo list doesn’t move us out of our default behavior – it’s like trying to put out a fire with a water pistol – it’s the wrong tool.
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