WANTED: Environmentalists

Description:  The Corporate Environmentalist will work tirelessly to ensure the organizations environment is one that allows a new culture to emerge.  Additionally, this person will strive to make is safe for teams and individuals to realize their maximum potential through learning, disagreeing, experimenting and communicating openly and honestly both inside and outside their teams.  The environmentalist will create an environment which:

  • Encourages simplicity
  • Is intolerant of waste – all kinds of waste (time, tools, process)
  • Models the behaviors they would like to see in their environment
  • Challenges the status quo – banishes the phrase “It is what it is”
  • Rewards improvements – individually and organizationally
  • Respects every person and part of the environment as they all help maintain the balance of the ecosystem
  • Inspires others 
  • Enables everything in the environment to be as awesome as possible

I believe an environment is separate from culture but neither can exist nor be healthy without the other.  Perhaps it’s a bit chicken and egg but, there it is.  Culture emerges as a result of an environment.  If an environment isn’t one that encourages, fosters and expects open and honest communication the resultant culture will likely be “CYA”.  A real world example is a large project has been running along for well over a year.  All possible resources are working on it and it’s mission-critical for the business.  For months, the project has been reporting “Green” and everything is on track for delivery.  All of the sudden, one month from launch. WHAM! It’s RED with no hope of delivering.  Why wasn’t this known beforehand?  The environment.  It’s not OK for projects to be yellow or red.  Everything must appear to be in hand – even when it isn’t.  If you do have a problem, it’s not OK to signal it without corresponding solutions and options for stakeholder consideration.  Also, please make sure the problems don’t point at all to systemic issues of an organization like, too many projects in progress, people over-allocated across too many efforts or technical development constraints that don’t  support what it is you’re trying to do.  No…..rather, it should be due to missed dependencies, departments like business and/or IT not doing what they said they were going to do or ineffective project management.

Sound familiar?  Again, I find myself writing about issues organizations actually have whether or not Agile is something they’re trying to adopt.  In order to avoid situations like the one I describe above, the environment is the key.  I hear people say it’s the culture but the culture of an organization is a direct reflection of the environment people work in.  Again, Agile or no, the leaders of an organization are the ones who create the environment.  Why?  Because they’re the ones who associates look to set expectations, model behaviors and support (or not) the people operating IN the environment.  

If the environment isn’t supporting the ability to deliver value, faster, cheaper and higher quality today it will not support it later either.  So, before demanding, mandating or expecting different results, an honest assessment of the environment is in order.

  1. What makes it difficult for people to get work done today?  Too many meetings, too many projects, too few people, too much documentation? WHY are we doing those things today?  How, if at all, do any of those things add value?  How do those components enable or not your efficacy with regards to getting work done? How can you simplify? What needs to be true of the environment to support simplification?
  2. What behaviors would you LIKE to see in your environment?  How does your current environment support – OR NOT – those behaviors?  What needs to be true of the environment to support and encourage the desired behaviors and allow what’s already good to expand?
  3. What role are you willing to play in the environment?  If the answer is “none” or “whatever my manager says I need to” you’re not an environmentalist yet and probably, won’t do much in the way of creating one other than mucking it up more.  What needs to be true of the corporate environmentalist?

Funnily enough, it’s pretty straight-forward and comes directly from the “High Performance Tree” developed by Lyssa Adkins.  A corporate environmentalist needs to be:

  • Committed – To constantly improving the environment.  This means hearing the good, bad and ugly and not getting defensive or dismissive.
  • Open – To hearing things objectively and trying things that didn’t originate with you.
  • Courageous – Going boldly where others have been afraid to go and walking the walk so others can too.
  • Focus – Not on the day to day but, the bigger picture.  Warning!  You must first have an understanding of the day to day.
  • Respect – For the people and parts that make up the environment today.  Bulldozers and rain forests don’t go together.  Your ecosystem will be fragile for a bit…

If you’re a leader, and happen to be reading this, conduct a self-assessment first using the dimensions of the high-performance tree.  If you find yourself lacking, do some soul searching as to why that might be and seek to learn how to improve and change.  Start with you, then move beyond into the environment.  It’s not something that will happen overnight and none of it will be easy but, I’m telling you, it will be totally worth it.

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