Givers, Takers and Creating the Mindset for Change

By | AgileBusiness, Culture, Teams | No Comments

In Building the Agile Business we describe the importance of supporting the right organisational and individual mindset that can enable you to move fast. This is important since internal politics can act as a powerful brake on agility. The kind of culture that is not infused with the attributes that enable trust but instead is characterised by self-interest counter-acts the ability to empower staff and support the kind of autonomy that can enable you to move fast. One of my favourite analogies for this comes from Guy Kawasaki:

“There are two kinds of people and organizations in the world: eaters and bakers. Eaters want a bigger slice of an existing pie; bakers want to make a bigger pie. Eaters think that if they win, you lose, and if you win, they lose. Bakers think that everyone can win with a bigger pie.”

In Give and Take (which I’ve been re-reading recently) organisational psychologist Adam Grant demonstrates (based on extensive research) that there are three basic kinds of people in the workplace, ‘Givers’, ‘Takers’ and ‘Matchers’, and that the difference between these approaches can be fundamental to our success (or lack of success). Conventional wisdom, he says, has us believe that success is down to a combination of motivation, ability and opportunity, but there is a fourth (critical but often neglected) ingredient – how we choose to interact with other people:

‘Every time we interact with another person at work, we have a choice to make: do we try to claim as much value as we can, or contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return?’

According to Grant’s research, ‘Takers’ are cautious, self-protective, see the world as a competitive place and so like to get more than they give. These are pie-eaters. ‘Givers’, on the other hand, are pie-bakers – generous, sharing, helping others without being as concerned about reward or personal cost:

‘They tilt reciprocity in the other direction, preferring to give more than they get. Whereas takers tend to be self-focused, evaluating what other people can offer them, givers are other-focused, paying more attention to what other people need from them.’

In the workplace many of us are not pure ‘Givers’ and ‘Takers’, but instead what Grant calls ‘Matchers’, who operate on a principle of fairness, and strive to preserve an equal balance of giving and getting. We may adopt different styles according to different situations but typically each of us will develop a dominate style for social interaction and behaviour.

When Grant looked at the degree of success that people with the different styles had achieved he found something interesting. ‘Givers’ tended to be at the bottom of the pile, but they were also right at the top of the ladder as the most successful people in the study. ‘Takers’ and ‘Matchers’ fell in the middle:

‘Givers dominate the bottom and the top of the success ladder. Across occupations, if you examine the link between reciprocity styles and success, the givers are more likely to become champs — not only chumps.’

So if ‘Givers’ were both the worst and the best performers, what made the difference? It turned out that successful ‘Givers’ were absolutely as ambitious as ‘Takers’ or ‘Matchers’, but they made smart choices in their interactions with others. Put simply, the ‘Givers’ who excel are those that are willing to ask for help when they need it.

Moreover, when ‘Givers’ do succeed, it has a cascading effect. When ‘Takers’ win, there may well be someone else who loses, but when ‘Givers’ win there is far more likely to be widespread support for them, creating a kind of ripple effect that enhances the success of people around them. People are envious of successful ‘Takers’. People root for successful ‘Givers’. Giver success, says Grant, creates value instead of just claiming it.

Organisational culture has a critical influence over the dominant patterns of behaviour within a business. Cultures that recognise and support ‘Givers’ create their own cascades of success that builds the foundation for exceptional performance. This is precisely why, in transforming business to become more agile, we ignore organisational culture and behavioural and communication norms at our peril.

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Why it’s important to be transparent about vision and strategy

By | AgileBusiness, Culture, Customer Exprience, Digital Disruption, Digital Economy, HR, Leadership, Organisational Structure, Strategy | No Comments

Transparency of vision and strategy


Now more than ever it’s important to be transparent about vision and strategy.

Elon Musk famously posted Tesla’s long term strategy in 2006. It’s last line said “don’t tell anyone.” and it’s led to other start-ups and entrepreneurs to follow suit and be transparent about why they exist and how they’ll go about becoming a ‘stay-up’ not just a start-up.

It’s not uncommon to come across a company where the vision is so depleted that no-one in the company can articulate what it is, or was.
Mostly this happens in large corporations but I have seen it in smaller companies too and start-ups which are past the initial investment stages, it’s almost as though leadership assume everyone knows where they’re headed and why.
The Mission, Vision might be exposed at a company meeting a few times but then ends up on the corporate website or intranet or worse in a drawer and isn’t driven home frequently enough.

The same goes for strategy. There might be one that starts as a strategy but then ends up as a number of tactics that different departments have taken the initiative with which they call strategies because they don’t really understand the difference between Vision, Strategy, Plan and Tactics, or worse there’s an assumption that what they are doing fits with the vision and over-arching strategy.
If you want to read more about digital strategy and agility you can read it here:

Some companies are great at physically putting the vision or strategy in parts of the building where they will be seen frequently and in ways that semi articulate the kind of culture they have, e.g. as wall art.

Maybe what’s most important about being transparent about vision and strategy is that it has so many benefits outside of declaring what the company is doing and why it exists.

I’m not going to write in great detail here about each one, but there’s probably a post in each, in the meantime i’ve provided a few links against each to previous posts that have some linkage.

Here’s a few of the benefits of being transparent with Vision and Strategy;

Culture – A culture eats strategy for breakfast…well not in all cases, but a companies culture is often driven by the founding members and then driven by subsequent hires. It changes very slowly, so the communication of Vision and Strategy are paramount to building or maintaining a culture (behaviour).
Read: Mapping organisational culture

Employee Advocacy – makes it easier for employees to write or promote with authority about who they work (obviously within a framework and utilising tools that allow them to do so).

Vision – Focus and Clarity – when things are transparent it’s easier for people to align their own sense of purpose, goals and achievements with the rest of the business.
Read: Digital Transformation and the big opportunity

Employee Engagement – Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose as Dan Pink describes it in his book Drive. These are far easier to align to a vision and strategy that’s known.

Strategy – It’s about Jobs to be done which can apply to a segment just as much as to every user
Read: Segments and Empathy

Resourcing – With the potential rise of the majority of the workforce being employed in an agile capacity, either as contractors, consultants, temporary or freelance, they’ll need to understand the Vision and Strategy of the organisation they’re temporarily working with.
Read: HR and Agile Organisation

Processes – It’s important not to operate by a one-size-fits-all decision-making process.
Read: High velocity decision making

Customers – Customers or Consumers have all the power now, they have ever increasing channels in which to engage, disrupt or complain about an organisation. Your customers need to know what you stand for too.


In the book we talk about all these things.

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Mapping Agile Organisational Culture

By | AgileBusiness, Culture, Leadership | No Comments

One of the crucial (yet often under-acknowledged) aspects of digital transformation is nurturing and enabling the organisational culture that can support greater agility.  Teams working in agile ways but surrounded  by the wrong kind of culture will encounter the kind of friction that can be potentially disastrous to progress.

One of the best ways of thinking about organisational culture comes from Edgar Schein (author of Organizational Culture and Leadership and a former professor at MIT Sloan School of Management). Company culture might be defined in terms of the pattern of beliefs and behaviours that grows up around how the business has overcome challenges and prospered. Schein describes it as:

“a pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.”

And he defines three key ways in which culture manifests within organisations: observable artifacts, espoused values, and basic underlying assumptions.

Artifacts and behaviours: visible behaviours and elements in an organisation that might reveal what the company demonstrates as important, but might also be recognised by people who are not part of the culture. This might include physical surroundings and technologies but also language, jargon, stories, myths and practices. This might be thought of as the surface elements.

Espoused values: qualities and rules of behaviour that are advocated by a company’s leadership and management, and show how the organisation might represent itself. This might include published things such as a code of conduct, public statements or specific events and material.

Basic assumptions: less tangible, but powerful, underlying determinants of an organization’s attitudes, thought processes, and actions. These might include ingrained values and assumptions that are unquestioned, taken for granted, largely invisible and therefore hard to recognise from within.

A matrix like the Competing Values Framework enables us to map organisational culture on a 2 x 2 with axes expressing values that are widely different: the vertical axis pits flexibility and discretion against stability and control; the horizontal axis has internal focus and integration set against external focus and differentiation. In the book we discuss the kinds of cultures that enable greater agility as being rooted in people focused attributes such as autonomy, empowerment, collaboration – all qualities that sit more comfortably in the upper half of this matrix, and the opposite of those cultures that are more rooted in control, consistency, uniformity and competition. That’s not to say that agile teams can’t operate in more rigid and controlling cultures, but there is likely to be conflict that we need to be aware of and protect against.

Given the importance of the people side of digital transformation, and of employee experience as well as customer experience as a driver for change, then culture becomes critical. If the desire is to promote a culture that is more suited to agile attributes and working, then we need to think about this in three dimensions not one. Culture is far more than the visible signals (posters, words on walls, colourful cushions and ping pong tables) that some seem to think it is. Whilst artifacts and behaviours might be thought of as more obvious, surface elements, it is the basic assumptions that are deeply embedded, often poorly recognised, and which are therefore powerful drivers of behaviour.

Recognising what these are is an important first step in addressing behaviour change (there’s value here in an outside-in perspective, for example from new employees). Then we need to focus how to unlearn existing behaviours in order to relearn new ones, something we describe in the book in terms of understanding, breaking and creating organisational habits. Because that what they are – customs, practices, routines that are automatic, unquestioned. Habits support assumptions and behaviours. Assumptions and behaviours can either block change from happening at all, or they can be powerful enablers for transformation.

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Blockchain and the Agile Organisation

By | AgileBusiness, Disruptive Innovation, Organisational Structure | One Comment


When I wrote about trust relationships in business the super-smart Gerrie Smits left a comment on the post about the potential impact that Blockchain might have on this relationship. Rather intrigued by this idea I got in touch with Gerrie (who’s writing a book on it) and asked if he’d be willing to answer a few questions on the subject. I’m far from being an expert on Blockchain but, as Gerrie’s answers demonstrate, there are some fascinating and not insignificant implications for many of the themes that we talk about in the agile business book. Over to Gerrie:

NP: Blockchain has become something of a hot topic over the past couple of years – how would you define it?

GS: It’s a digital ledger, a decentralised database that creates and stores the common truth about the history of transactions in a certain network. Apart from the technical uniqueness and smart code and cryptography, there’s a few conceptual aspects that make it different.

One, it’s decentralised, which makes it more robust as a network and makes the history immutable. Plus, there’s less or no central authority, deciding the rules.
Two, the newer blockchains like Ethereum are programmable, so you can run decentralised applications and create conditions through what they call ‘Smart Contracts’. It’s like ‘If This Then (Absolutely) That.’. The app will run exactly as programmed, without any chance of fraud, downtime, 3rd party interference,…
Three, there’s an aspect of common incentive. You see that in the way that the consensus algorithms are set up. Plugging a computer onto the network to help creating a blockchain costs energy, so these miners get rewarded with bitcoin or ether or the cryptocurrency of that specific blockchain. Result: people running the software have the motivation to keep running it. If they’d try to break the system, the value of their coins would go down. There’s a carrot-system baked in.
More so, on Ethereum, you can create your own crypto-token, your own value system. So if you’d run a Dapp (decentralised app), and people can pay for services with this token, the whole mini-economy benefits from a quality service. The more the token gets used, the more valuable it will become and be traded on exchanges. Again, common incentive.
So blockchain has the potential to allow transactions or exchanges of value, of any kind, between humans, software, hardware without the need for 3rd party verified trust. That’s why some people also call it ‘The Trust Machine’.

NP: We talk a lot about the importance of transparency and autonomy in the book. What’s the role that Blockchain can play in enabling these key attributes of organisational agility?

Transparency (in different degrees) is a part of the blockchain tech. Blockchains equal compliance upfront. Things don’t need to get double-checked, audited, etc. That could free up time and capacity within an organisation.
Also, a client of mine, the CEO of an SME, is creating an open organisation, sharing his financial accounts, salaries etc with clients. He’s now looking at blockchain that make sure those conditions are set in stone, so the company will never take a U-turn on that. That could possibly lead to transparency being a real USP towards clients, partners,…
Tokens can also represent voting power. Say, you earn 100 reputation tokens from your colleagues. At the end of the year, that could give you a relative say in certain decisions. Whatever that is: from where your next team day is going be to something more substantial like spending of profit.
Autonomy is a different beast. If you look at the ‘true’ decentralised organisations, they’re not even organisations any more. They’re a cause, they’re a vision.
A really interesting project in that respect is Swarm City. In short, their aim is to make P2P-transactions like Uber effectively P2P, without a central middle-man being in control. They don’t run a company, they’re creating an app which will enable a bunch of people to create a P2P economy. Rather than organisational structure, they use Swarmwise methodologies from the book by Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge, to design autonomous behaviour. And that’s again supported by this common incentive model of a niche-token. This drives people to autonomously make decisions for the individual as well as the greater good.
NP: Do you think that Blockchain can enable different approaches to organisational structures (for example greater decentralisation)?
That’s exactly what people are experimenting with right now. People are looking at different governance models. You’ve got the bottom-up approach of SwarmCity. You’ve got projects like Colony, who want to change the way people collaborate. It’s like a project management tool on blockchain for the gig-economy. You combine reputation with tasks, immediate payments systems and a way to align incentives so people get paid for the value that they add. They call it Direct Meritocracy.
You’ve also got a really intriguing start-up called Aragon, where you can set up and create a blockchain-based organisation, with the rules written into immutable smart contracts. Their ambition is to become a digital jurisdiction.
It’s obviously early days and this whole community is trying things out. But basically, companies that are embedded in blockchain can be whatever they want. And whatever they decide to be is open, transparent and it’s part of the vision. And then it’s up to clients to use their services/products and up to people to work for these ‘companies’.
NP: Can Blockchain support greater trust within the organisation? Are there any other ways in which it can support greater agility?
Blockchain takes away the need for trust, or at least in 3rd parties. I can trust that a certain app or a certain contract will always behave in the way it set out to do. It’s not susceptible to censorship, fraud, shareholder interests,… So in theory it should support greater trust.
If you take the graph of Charles Green you referred to in your post. Elements that increase business-trust are reliability, credibility, intimacy. Reliability and credibility are out of that equation in blockchain-land. Credibility or reputation is the sum of previous transactions. And reliability is baked into the immutability of smart contracts.
The one element that decreases trust is the perception of ‘What’s in it for you’? The element of common incentive in a decentralised organisation could potentially alter that.
But then again, there’s human nature. One of the aspects that I’m curious about is how people will react and start behaving when you take out the need for trust, which is a crucial glue for communities. And also, if everything becomes a ‘transaction’, then how will we deal we that?
My thanks to Gerrie for such insightful answers on this fascinating subject.
For more like this, order your copy of Building the Agile Business Through Digital Transformation, or you can join our community to access exclusive content related to the book.
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