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Agile2016 Opening Keynote: Managing for Happiness

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Jurgen Appelo gave the opening keynote talk at the Agile 2016 conference in Atlanta, GA, USA last week.  His talk was titled Managing for Happiness and is a synopsis of his latest book, of the same title. 

He started the talk saying that most managers don't understand how to manage and motivate people, rather they try to manage people like machines.  He then identified seven "silver bullets" needed to encourage and motivate people at work.  These are:

  1. Build for meaning
  2. Innovate management
  3. Accelerate learning
  4. Run experiments
  5. Embrace playfulness
  6. Nurture happiness
  7. Manage the system

He gave examples of each one and explained why they are helpful in the work environment.

He went on to identify specific practices from his latest book which can help teams become more engaged and effective. 

  • Personal maps to improve communication and understanding.  A personal map is a mindmap drawn by a team member about themselves and they then answer questions from other team members, often with insightful results.
  • Delegation boards and delegation poker to empower workers with clear boundaries.  There are seven levels of delegation and he encourages managers to identify the types of decisions that need to be made and the level of decision making autority allowed by people, ideally in a visible information radiator so everyone is clear on the delegation rules.  The levels are:
  1. Tell - the manager makes the decision with no input from others.  No discussion is desired or assumed.
  2. Sell - the manager makes the decision and then explains the decision making proces to convince others that it is the right decision.
  3. Consult - the manager asks for input which is taken into consideration in the decision making process, the decision respects people's opinions. 
  4. Agree - the decision making process is based on a discussion with everyone involved and a group consensus is used to make the decision.
  5. Advise - the manager offers their opinion but the decision is made by the team not the manager.
  6. Inquire - the manager leaves the decision to others to make and asks for an explanation to convince you of the wisdom of their decision
  7. Delegate - the decision is made by others and the manager has no input to the decision making process.

A Delegation Board

He then pointed out '12 Steps to Happiness" backed by scientific research that can and do make people happier at work, which in turn results in more motivated people:

  1. Thank someone and be appreciative of your colleagues every single day
  2. Give something to another peosn or make it possible for others to offer gifts
  3. Help someone who is in need of assistance or enable colleagues to help each other
  4. Eat well, and make good, healthy food available for everyone
  5. Exercise and work out regularly and make it easy for people to take care of their bodies
  6. Rest well, sleep sufficiently and enable colleagues to refresh their minds
  7. Experience new things, try stuff out, and let people run all kinds of experiments
  8. Hike outdoors, enjoy nature, and allow people to escape from the office and the city
  9. Meditate and get people to learn and adopt mindfulness practices 
  10. Socialize, relate to other people, and make it easy for colleaues to develop connections
  11. Aim for a goal and get people to understand and realize ther own purpose
  12. Smile whenever you can, appreciate humor and get colleagues to engage in fun activities

After paying tribute to the late Jean Tabaka, he went on to describe two more tools:

  • Value stories and culture books - define the culture by sharing stories.  He gave examples of organisations where the stated values were clearly aligned with the actual values, as well as some where the values as stated differ from those exhibited in reality.  He explained that celebrating the stories of people living the values is far more powerful in creating alignment than writing down a list of value statements.
  • Merit money - pay people according to their merits.  This is an alternate to the typical bonus system found in most organisations.  Rather than having the decisions about who gets how much made by the manager, team members give each other "merit tokens" which represent a proportion of the bonus pool.  This peer recognition results in more engagement and better teamwork.  He also reccomends that when bonuses are paid out is not predictible (in the Happy Melly team they throw a dice once a month and if it lands on six then the bonus pool is paid out)

He ended with a discussion of mistakes, experiments and good practice, and the value in learning from mistakes made, experiments run and from things that worked.  The key is to leverage the learning and apply that to future actions.

Jurgen was recently interviewed on InfoQ and gave a talk at TEDx Lille.  

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