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Randy Shoup on Creating High-Performance Cultures

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In this podcast recorded at QCon London 2019, Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods, spoke to Randy Shoup, VP of Engineering at WeWork about what is needed to create a high-performance culture.

Key Takeaways

  • Theory X leaders believe that people are inherently lazy and need extrinsic motivation which results in micromanagement and disempowerment
  • Theory Y says that people are intrinsically motivated and want to perform well, the role of management is to remove impediments and enable people to do their best
  • Organisations with generative cultures based on trust and learning consistently perform better than bureaucratic cultures based on rules and standards
  • The worst performers are characterised by pathological cultures based on fear and threat
  • With a piece of software, it doesn’t matter how much effort we’ve put in to producing it, if we haven’t shipped it there is no value

 

Show Notes

  • 00:43 Introductions
  • 02:05 What makes a high-performance culture?
  • 02:10 Factors that make a difference – trust and teamwork, autonomy and accountability, pragmatism and progress
  • 02:41 Trust and teamwork – if you treat people well they do well 
  • 03:01 Theory X & Theory Y -  leader’s perspectives on what motivates people
  • 03:14 Theory X leaders believe that people are inherently lazy and need extrinsic motivation which results in micromanagement and disempowerment
  • 03:44 Theory Y says that people are intrinsically motivated and want to perform well, the role of management is to remove impediments and enable people to do their best
  • 04:11 The difference between Theory X and Theory Y behaviour is not a conscious choice, it comes from inherent beliefs about others.  It is changeable but it is hard to change
  • 04:49 Referencing the book Accelerate which explores why some organisations perform well, and how the culture of empowerment is key
  • 05:10 Organisations with generative cultures based on trust and learning consistently perform better than bureaucratic cultures based on rules and standards
  • 05:55 The worst performers are characterised by pathological cultures based on fear and threat
  • 06:21 Some people think that threatening people results in them doing a great job – the opposite is actually true
  • 06:31 The reality of pathological cultures is under-promising and under-achieving
  • 07:02 Generative cultures perform well in important engineering metrics and are 2.5 times more likely to produce better business outcomes
  • 07:25 It doesn’t take many steps to get from a really good culture to great business results
  • 08:07 Randy’s own experience working in a Theory X environment and attempting to change the thinking
  • 09:10 You can’t have autonomy without accountability
  • 09:18 High performing organisations have small teams with well-defined areas of work that they can directly connect to business value 
  • 09:37 The importance of giving teams autonomy in meeting their goals
  • 09:52 The example of Randy’s team’s goal at WeWork – moving member satisfaction in a positive direction
  • 10:04 Ways how this plays out in experiments at WeWork
  • 10:27 In addition to autonomy you need to hold people accountable for achieving the outcomes
  • 10:40 The need to ensure that people feel a sense of ownership around the outcomes they are working towards
  • 10:54 Autonomy without accountability is like a small child
  • 11:13 Contrasting accountability without autonomy
  • 11:43 Netflix talks about freedom and responsibility
  • 12:12 The boundaries that constrain autonomy
  • 12:38 Too much constraint restricts people’s ability to solve the problems in the best way
  • 12:57 Total anarchy without any constraints results in chaos and is not sustainable
  • 13:08 High performing organisations sit between the two extremes
  • 13:12 Explaining the Netfix “paved path” approach
  • 13:47 If you choose the paved path, things are easier; if you chose the other path you still need to integrate with the rest of the organisation, but you are free to do so and must recognise that it will be harder
  • 15:52 Discussing pragmatism and progress
  • 15:53 We need to know what problem we are trying to solve, which should be obvious but is often missed
  • 16:26 Fewer things – more done; reduce WIP; smaller batch sizes
  • 17:00 Avoid jargon and communicate clearly
  • 17:08 Explaining what fewer things – more done means in the work context
  • 17:59 If we can ship incremental pieces of value frequently, we will learn more
  • 18:23 This is well known, and these ideas have been around for a long time but we are still not consistently doing them in practice
  • 18:47 Questioning why we don’t apply the well understood practices, some of which are counter-intuitive
  • 19:15 With a piece of software, it doesn’t matter how much effort we’ve put in to producing it, if we haven’t shipped it there is no value 
  • 19:33 An example of the problem in action
  • 20:41 Recapping the Accelerate book – the first half is all the stuff you should do; the second half of the book is all the science about why it works
  • 21:10 Another reason why these ideas have not been applied is the belief that “we’re different” 
  • 21:12 Examples of how organisations exhibit this exceptionalist view plays out in some organisations
  • 22:28 The reality, as shown in the science reported in the Accelerate book, is that the factors for success are consistent irrespective of the technology, industry or other differences
  • 23:14 There is now enough empirical evidence of why the success factors work

 

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About QCon

QCon is a practitioner-driven conference designed for technical team leads, architects, and project managers who influence software innovation in their teams. QCon takes place 8 times per year in London, New York, Munich, San Francisco, Sao Paolo, Beijing, Guangzhou & Shanghai. QCon London is at its 14th Edition and will take place Mar 2-5, 2020. 140+ expert practitioner speakers, 1600+ attendees and 18 tracks will cover topics driving the evolution of software development today. Visit qconlondon.com to get more details.

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