Category Archives: Behavioral Science

May 11 – LeSS Talks: Coordination and Management in Large Scale Scrum

First, we covered basic dynamics of Scrum (roles, artifacts, ceremonies).
Then,  we shifted gears to ‘activities on a typical project’ and the group 20, or so, did a “brain dump” of all possible activities they could think of at the moment.  Then, we removed redundancies, cleaned up the board  ….played “Who Stole my Cheese?” game, by mapping all activities on the board to the main three roles in Scrum (Product Owner, Scrum Master, Team).  We had very few unassigned activities that we labeled as ‘Other’.  Then, we had more discussions about how a team should claim back management responsibilities as it matures, over time.  Then, we talked about management & coordination in LeSS.  Then, we talked about management & coordination in LeSS Huge.  Then we had more system design discussions: great questions and points of view.
Thanks to all participants for making this a live, collaborative event.

Gene is singing baritone 🙂

Mike is adding spice with bass 🙂


…”mass-entry” of project activities on the wall….


…assigning project activities to Scrum roles….


…the wall is getting busy….


… discussing project roles and posting them  through a tablet….


…more tablet entries….stickies go right no the wall….


…mini-group collaboration…entering through tablets…

…another group in action…..



SAFe: Market Share Increase. Rapid Growth. What is the recipe?

References (bottom of page)

Some time ago, there was a webinar recorded by VersionOne: How to use SAFe® to Deliver Value at Enterprise Scale Q&A Discussion with Dean Leffingwell).   If you fast-forward to about 23 min, 20 seconds into the recording, you will hear the following statement: “…We don’t typically mess with your organizational structure because that is a pretty big deal…”

This statement somewhere puzzled me.  While graphic representation of SAFe framework is nowhere short of supporting organizational complexity, I was still under impression that organizational design improvements/simplification are included in SAFe teaching.  To me, an ability to influence first-degree system variables, such as Organizational Structure, is critical.  Without this ability, any attempt to improve organizational agility and system dynamics would be short-term and limited.  Even such important second-degree system variables, as organizational culture, values, norms, behaviors, policies, agile engineering practices usually bring limited results if organizational structure remains unchanged.

…But regardless of my recent new learning I admitted to myself that SAFe still remains a very successful (financially) and popular product that many organizations are willing to buy-unwrap-install….Fast forwarding…


Lately, there has been so much buzz in agile arena about scaled agile frameworks.  I just came back from Scrum Global gathering in Orlando, where I heard a lot of discussions about agility at scale and various existing agile frameworks that companies use.  Following Orlando discussions, I have seen a wave of email exchanges and blogs on the same topic, some of which involved seasoned organizational coaches and trainers.  I have noticed that there has been a lot of focus on SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework): opinions, comments, attempts to compare to other agile frameworks.   There are two things, in particular, that stroked me as odd:

  1. It seemed that some seasoned coaches and trainers don’t explicitly state their views.  When I read indirect statements  or views, I remained wondering how a person really felt about the subject.
  2. Among blogs and other posts that I saw, I was not able to see any discussions that covered aspects of SAFe that were of particular interest to me.

But before I go any further, here is my personal disclaimer:  I am neither SAFe practitioner, nor trainer or coach.  I have not attended a comprehensive SAFe course… However… I have studied/researched SAFe extensively on my own. And I do know some companies that have implemented SAFe (I have talked with some of their employees).  And I do know a significant number of individuals that have been trained on SAFe.  And I do know a handful of respected coaches that recommend SAFe.

Now, let me put “SAFe” topic to the side, for a moment, and shift gears to something else (we will all come back to SAFe in a minute):

I want to bring up the topic that has been a beat to death horse for awhile, for everyone who understands agility: the topic of tooling.

When it comes to discussions of agile tools, more experienced agile coaches have a long arsenal of arguments to use with their clients, prospects to explain why ‘agile tools’ are not most important for being agile.  Here some classic examples:

  • 1st postulate of Agile Manifesto: “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”
  • “A fool with a tool is still a fool”
  • “The best tool in Scrum is a whiteboard (or excel, at most)”
  • “Agile tool is not a right solution for your deep organizational problem“
  • “Never begin your agile education with tools. Always learn principles and concepts first”
  • “Agile tool is a poor substitution for collaboration that you may never have. If you start exchanging information through a tool you will lose the benefit of a live discussion.  If you absolutely just introduce a tool, do it later in a process, when people gain sufficient amount of knowledge and experience”
  • Etc, etc, etc…

We, as coaches, are never shy to express our strong views (sometimes, overly strong) that tools are NOT a good solution to organizational problems and NOT the best method (by far) to transform organizations.   And I am glad we are not shy about that.   This is why we are called Organizational Coaches – we look at organizations holistically.  For us, tooling is just a tiny fraction of a much bigger organization puzzle.


But I still want to confess, with regards to tooling, so here is another personal disclaimer: over the last decade, I have been around and have gained a lot of experience with tools like JIRA, Version One, Rally and others…  I consider this as a personal ‘hobby’ but I know how to decouple it from daily work that I have to do as an organizational coach.  Over the years, I got to know some great software engineers that built the tools mentioned above.  I could probably easily pass for an in-house “agile tool expert” (that is if I decided to change my profession one day) and find a job that says something like this: “Looking for a strong agile tool expert to transform our organization to the next level. PMP certification is a huge plus.”.  Yes, sadly there are many job specs out there that sound just like this 🙁 .

On a brighter side, I could probably also leverage my ‘hobby’, and look at any agile tool, used by a team or a group of teams that claims “to do” agile, and in about 5 minutes find a handful of signs of serious systemic dysfunctions (just in a tool alone!).  So, there is actually some practical use of my ‘hobby’.  In any case, I think I have earned the right to say that I know very well what tools can and CANNOT do for you.  And this is why, I strongly stand with all other coaches that use the arguments I listed above.


 Now I would like to come back to the topic of SAFe and set the stage to my questions, by stating the following:

High Market Penetration of SAFe:

First of all, lets take a look at some relevant data that has been recently published on InfoQ, with the original source being Version One, 10th Annual State of Agile Survey: while still being a relatively new framework, SAFe has acquired a significant share of market place –23% , while demonstrating the highest rate of growth:  “…the largest increase from 19% in 2014 to 27% in 2015…”


My understanding of safety that SAFe brings:

I have heard various opinions about what went into thinking of the acronym “SAFe”: was it an intention to make it sound phonetically “safe” or was it just coincidental that the words Scaled Agile Framework that begin with “S”, “A” and “F”, made up SAFe?  I don’t know.  And I don’t want to speculate.

But let me share my understanding of what makes SAFe – safe:

  • SAFe does not seem to be threatening to first-line management. Thanks to its first two layers (Team/Program & Value Stream) and abundance of processes and roles that are present in both, everyone can find place to work.  Probability of being misplaced or losing a job within SAFe is relatively low.  If we all recall, what happens with implementing basic Scrum, where teams are expected to become self-organized and self-managed, and where the role of Project Manager is not explicitly discussed, we (coaches, trainers) frequently have to answer the following question, usually coming from managers: “what now happens to my role?”  And of course, there are ways to handle this question properly and give good options to those who ask.  My point is that I don’t expect this question to be asked as frequently with introduction of SAFe.  Why?  Because SAFe seems to be a good way to harbor many existing management roles (role security).
  • SAFe looks “homey” to senior management.  SAFe graphic is very rich in colors, objects, lines, layers, icons that represent roles, groups, departments, interactions.  At a glance, SAFe appears as a natural fit and a comfortable habitat for many existing organization constructs.  SAFe does not challenge/simplify existing organizational design; no hints to change/simplify reporting lines or flatten layers (de-scaling).  No need to have unpleasant conversations with employees (!).  Senior managers that are confident that their organizations are well designed and don’t need any major repairs, see SAFe as a safe way to try agility.
  • SAFe does NOT explicitly compete with other agile practices. SAFe uses them all. In fact, a cute yellow smiley-squeeze-toy that many folks picked up in Orlando from SAFe kiosk, explicitly says: “SAFe embraces Scrum“. Indeed, at its multiple layers, SAFe diagram mentions Scrum, Kanban, XP,…and many roles, artifacts and ceremonies and iterations that support all these practices. And this, IMO, makes SAFe really safe, in a very special way: if Company X already uses, perhaps inconsistently, some agile practices, it is relatively safe, and actually convenient, for SAFe consultant to come in and say something like this: “we can help you retain most (if not all) of what you have adopted so far but it will be much better structured under the overarching umbrella of SAFe”.


My understanding of SAFe Partnerships and Strategic Goals:

Here, I am listing only the top few references that I found on-line.  But the list could be much longer if I spent more time searching.  I personally have attended a handful of webinars, where concepts of SAFe were presented, along-side with benefits of tools (by companies that hosted webinars).

Please, finish reading the post first and then come back to the links.

Choices and Partnerships by BIG CONSULTANCIES:


With Rally:

With Jira:

With Version One:

With Version One: Beware of “Trippe Taxation” Problem

Just to be clear for those that may not be as well familiar with these tools as I am (you don’t have to share my hobbies 🙂 ): each one of these tools now has complex “Strategic Layer” that sits at the top of a tools’ “tactical” layer (epics/stories, backlogs, sprints, releases, team views, agile boards, story/task boards, workflow management, etc, etc) – and it is used by a Project, Program and Portfolio Management.  At some companies, where I have consulted, each one of these layers usually has a manager (Project Manager, Program Manager, Portfolio Manager, respectively, etc), someone who is responsible for data collection and status reporting – just like it was without or prior to implementation of SAFe.  Tool complexity is great to offer a nice fit to an existing organizational structure.


What is also not a surprise to anyone is that there are so many large companies that own tens of thousands of licenses for the above mentioned tools.  I consulted to a number of such companies and seen these tools being a “hallmark of organizational agility”.  Please note that very frequently “best practices of use”, even for agile tools, reside within departments like Control & Governance, PMO, and Centers of Excellence, where decisions about “what is best” are made in a vacuum and then are pushed down onto organizational domains that are thousands of miles away.


Here is another safety aspect of SAFe:

SAFe is very safe to client-to-vendor relationships  : it does NOT disrupt existing million-dollar (of course, depends on company size) contracts and license agreements between client companies and tool vendors.  It should be pretty safe, imo, for a SAFe consultant to come in and say something like this: “if you are using JIRA or Rally or Version One or any other tool that has Portfolio Management layer in it, it will be very complimentary to what we can do for you in terms of agile scaling”.   I think that the links that I have provided above suggest exactly that.

SAFe seems to be a great compliment and strategic alliance to some agile tooling companies that have gained a lot of  their own market share.  And it does not matter if JIRA and Version One and Rally or others, could be competitors to each other. They all seem to be great partners of SAFe (I will not speculate on exclusivity of relationships but based on the links above, there is probably none).

Now, after I brought to light some relevant market data, shared some personal views on what I consider as “safety factors of SAFe”  and gave a perspective on some possible strategic alignments that may exist between SAFe and industry leaders in the world of agile tooling, I would like to ask the following two (2) questions:

  • First Question: Do you think that market penetration of SAFe and its adoption success could be attributed to a personal safety of companies’ managers, as I have described above?  Do you feel that ‘role security’ of first-level management in particular is a significant contributor to SAFe adoption rate?  I stress this last point because the role of first-level manager is in super-abundance today at many companies.
  • Second Question: Do you think that market penetration of SAFe and its adoption success could be attributed to (at least in part) to its direct or indirect alignment with industry leaders that build agile tools?  Do you think that “SAFe + XYZ tool” produces a stronger compounded effect on organizations in terms of SAFe adoption, than SAFe applied alone?

Publications about SAFe, by Agile Manifesto Co-signers/others:

Also, as a reference, some experience reports about the Spotify “Model”:

From LeSS Toolbox: Causal Loop Diagrams to visualize System Dynamics


When it comes to scaling, there is a common misconception that “bigger always means better”.  This misconception is also traceable to agile arena, where companies look for ways to expand their agile practices beyond a single organizational domain (e.g. many teams, numerous departments, multiple lines of business, etc.).  Usually, it is an existing (inherited) organizational complexity that becomes the main reason why companies look for complex, multi-tiered scaling solutions.  And of course, if there is a demand, there will be a supply: there is a number of frameworks out there that hand-hold companies to comfortably “embrace” their existing complexity and not feel too uncomfortable about their own internal dysfunctions.

However, not all scaling solutions are as “forgiving”J.  There are some agile frameworks that intentionally expose and boldly challenge organizational deficiencies. One of such frameworks is Large Scale Scrum (LeSS).  In order to set a stage for the rest of this discussion, I would like to summarize a few points about LeSS here.

I also would like to express my appreciation and acknowledgement to Craig Larman (one of co-founders of LeSS) for helping me deepen and broaden my understanding of organizational design and improve my system thinking that I have been developing over years.


Brief Overview of LeSS:

LeSS is a very easy to understand.  I like to speak metaphorically, so in describing LeSS, I sometimes use analogy with a legendary assault rifle AK-47 that has the following, well-known characteristics:

  • it has very few moving parts and, therefore, its internal friction is pretty low; also not too many small pieces that can jam or break
  • it is simple to disassemble, inspect and reassemble (inspection & adoption)
  • it is very reliable and adoptable under tough conditions (rarely fails in action)
  • if necessary, it can be modified and “expanded”, at low cost/low effort

But there is something else about LeSS that makes its analogy to a weapon (probably, not just to AK) appropriate: it assaults organizational dysfunctions.

LeSS also has two important characteristics:

  1. It is very simple in design and fully rests on core principles of basic Scrum (Effectively, LeSS is the same Scrum, as it is described in Scrum Guide, but performed by multiple teams)
  2. LeSS teachings rest on the pillars of:
    1. Lean Thinking: “watching the baton, not the runner”, visual management, cadence, time-boxing, managers being teachers, continuous improvement
    2. System Thinking: Weinberg-Brooks’ Law, Queueing Theory, indirect benefits of managing batch size and cycle time, being customer-centric, explain differences between local and system optimization).

Thanks to these two key characteristics, LeSS is a very powerful mechanism that helps seeing an organization systemically/holistically, while identifying and exposing (analogy, to a high power rifle scope is suitable here) its pain points that need to be addressed.

As a framework, LeSS is lean and transparent. It does not have any “secret pockets” or “special compartments”, where organizational problems can find safe heaven. No dysfunctions escape sharp focus of LeSS: ineffectively applied processes or tools, ill-defined roles and responsibilities, unhealthy elements of organizational culture and other outdated norms – all of this gets vividly exposed, when using LeSS. Interestingly, while LeSS is a scaling framework that allows to scale-up (roll-up) efforts made by multiple scrum teams, it requires organizational de-scaling to be performed first.  The metaphor that I often use at here is: “you can get more with LeSS”.  To put it another way, in order to build-up Scrum effectively, an organization must remove whatever extra/unnecessary “muda” (waste) it has already accumulated that gets in a way of scaling Scrum.  It is almost like this: LeSS prefers thin but very strong foundational layer, over thick and convoluted but unstable foundational layer, with the ladder, usually being a characteristic of an orthodox, archaic organizational design.

Another metaphor that I use to describe LeSS is that it is an organizational design mirror.  By adopting LeSS, an organization sees its own reflection and depending on its strategic goals and appetite for change, decides on necessary improvements. Similarly, to a person who takes his personal fitness training seriously and uses a mirror for “course correction”, an organization may use LeSS to decide if any further re-shaping or “trimming” is required to get to a next maturity level.

LeSS is also a great guide to technical excellence.  I have used LeSS teachings extensively to coach the importance of continuous integration, continuous delivery, clean code, unit testing, architecture & design, test automation as well as some other techniques that make agile development so great.  LeSS stresses that mature engineering practices are paramount for effective adoption of agile across multiple organizational domains, not just IT.



So, how can an organization take advantage of both: simplicity of LeSS construct, on one hand, and its deep systemic views, on the other hand – to improve its organizational agility beyond a single team? How can principles of lean and system thinking – together, and along with understanding ‘beyond-first-order’ system dynamics be leveraged to implement true scrum, without reducing, minimizing or downplaying importance of its core values and principles?

As an organizational and agile coach and someone who has been using LeSS extensively in his daily coaching work, I frequently witness situations when companies have to deal with this serious dilemma.  Here, I want to share the magic “glue” that helps me bring my thoughts together and deliver them to my clients.  This “glue” is one of the most effective tools that I have discovered for myself inside the LeSS toolbox.  It is called Causal Loop Diagrams (CLD).

CLDs – are a great way to graphically illustrate cause & affect relationships between various elements of an organizational ecosystem.  CLDs help me effectively uncover second and third order system dynamics that may not as apparent to a naked eye, as first order dynamics.  CLDs help me brainstorm complex organizational puzzles and conduct deep analysis of system challenges.  Ultimately, I have found that CLDs are a great way to communicate ideas to my customers, particularly, to senior leadership.

Here are some elements of CLDs that I use in my graphics:

  • Goals – high, overarching/strategic goal that needs to be achieved
  • Variables – system elements that have effect/make influence on other system elements (other variables)
  • Causal links – arrows that connect two related variables
  • Opposite effects – “O” annotation near an arrow; suggest that effect of one variable on another variable is opposite to what could be expected
  • Delayed effect – “||” annotation that disrupts a causal link (arrow); it implies that there is a delayed effect of one variable by another variable
  • Extreme effects – one variable has an extreme (beyond normal) effect on another variable; it is represented by a thick arrow
  • Constraints – “C” annotation near arrow; implies that there is a constraint on a variable
  • Quick- Fix reactions – “QF” annotation near an arrow; action that brings about short-term, lower cost effect


At this point, I would like to provide an example of using CLDs, to visually illustrate second and third order dynamics between key system variables that I often see cause harm and unrest to organizational: performance-driven, discretionary monetary incentives.  

I would like to follow through the process of interaction between system variables as they come to play with one another and uncover the impact they have on the overall system.

Every year, a company (hypothetical Company X) has to distribute a large sum of money to many of its employees in the form of discretionary bonuses.  In order to make a decision-making process less subjective, a company ties it to employees’ individual performance: reviews and appraisals.  People that have demonstrated better performance, get more money, people that have demonstrated poorer performance – get less (or nothing).  This requires that every employee gets evaluated by her line manager, usually, twice every year, at which time an employee gets some rough idea about “how much she is worth as resource”.  This serves as a guide to how much discretionary money an employee might be expecting to get, as a bonus.  While at its surface, the process of performance evaluations and appraisals may seem to be more objective, than a line manager just simply deciding on his own, it is still very subjective as an employee’s opinion is disregarded, when making decisions.  Furthermore, the process is harmful and causes deterioration of individuals’ morale and relationships, on multiple fronts.  Undesirable effects and short-/long-term damage of performance evaluations and appraisals have been studied for years; lots of research and statistical data is available today.   If a reader is not well familiar with this topic or requires additional background information to deepen his understanding, he may refer to the following resources, prior to proceeding with reading:


Moving along with this discussion, I would like to highlight the following three downstream “system variables” that are directly (first order dynamics) impacted by individual performance reviews.  This type of system variables integration is mainly observed among technology groups.  Once we understand a first order dynamics, we shall proceed to some other downstream (“beyond first order”) variables.


Employee Happiness Factor

Many research studies have proved that employees don’t like to be appraised.  An appraisal is equivocal to slapping a price tag on someone and is hardly an objective process, as the only opinion that really matters is that of a line manager.  Yet, an official version at almost any company is that an appraisal helps an employee grow and mature professionally and offers a way to improve her individual performance towards some arbitrarily set target.  Truth to be told: was the intent of appraisals to help employees grow and continuously improve, the process would not be implemented once or twice a year, but rather, more frequently, in ways that would allow an employee to make a necessary course correction more iteratively.  After all, why wait for 6 months to tell a worker that she needs to improve?

At the time of appraisal, a manager delivers to an employee her final and practically undisputed decision.  An employee has practically no effective way to challenge or dispute such decision.  Frequently, even a line manager does not have control of the process (although, this is rarely admitted): he or she is presented with a fixed “bag of cash”, coming from management above, and this bag, somehow, has to be distributed among lower-ranking workers.   And just to be fair to line managers that are not delusional about the dysfunction they have to entertain, most of them also dislike the process as it makes them annihilated and resented by their own employees.


So, as time goes by, employees become less and less pleased with evaluations and appraisals.  The impact may not be observed immediately due to the fact that it usually takes time for an employee to mentally mature to the point, where she becomes conscious and begins comprehend the unfairness and lawfulness of the process.  (Of course, exceptions exist among people that have longer experience of dealing with this process and understand its ineffectiveness and harm.)


While leveraging, CLDs in my discussions with senior management, I use the following graphic representation and annotation to convey the concept:

This graphic suggests that annual appraisals have delayed and opposite effect on employees’ happiness.


Peer to Peer Support

Peer-to-peer support, willingness to share knowledge with colleagues, collective ownership of assignments and shared responsibility for deliverables – these are the hallmarks not only of feature teams’ dynamics but of any agile environment.  In order for employees to be mutually supportive, they must operate in non-compete environment, where they don’t view each other as competitors or rivals.  This is practically impossible to achieve when every employee perceives another employee (at least within the salary ranking tier) as a competing bonus collector.  And this is exactly what is observed in environments, where bonuses are distributed, based on individual performance: employees compete for the same, limited pool of cash.  But everyone cannot be a winner: even if a group of brightest individuals, working together, someone within that group would have to be ranked higher and someone – lower (and btw, people are frequently explained this upfront).  How could we expect people to be supportive of each other if, effectively, underperformance of one employee and her inability to collect extra money increases chances of another employee to bring home more cash?  Performance appraisals and discretionary moneys drive employees apart, not together.

Again, the adverse results of appraisals may not be immediate: pain points become more obvious after bonuses are actually paid (end-of-year/early-next-year) – this is when employees start developing resentment and jealousy towards each other over paid bonuses.


While leveraging, CLDs in my discussions with senior management, I use the following graphic representation and annotation to convey the concept:

This graphic suggests that annual appraisals have delayed and opposite effect on peer to peer support.


Both variables above, directly (first order) define employees’ Intrinsic Motivation to work and their willingness to stay with a company.  After all, can we expect that an unhappy employee, while being in constant competition with his peers and being deprived of an opportunity to safely experiment, would want to dedicate himself to a company for a long time?  Probably not, and as a result, Employee Retention should not be expected to be high, and as it has been seen in many cases: good employees that always leave first.


While leveraging, CLDs in my discussions with senior management, I use the following graphic representation and annotation to convey the concept:

This graphic suggests that both, employees’ happiness and their willingness to support each other, are directly related to their intrinsic motivation to work and willingness to stay with a company, and as a downstream effect – this increases employees’ retention.  The opposite would be true as well: lowering values of upstream (left-side) variables will lower values of downstream (right-side) variables.



“Environmental Safety” and Desire to Experiment

Innovation and experimentation are paramount for success in software development. This is what drives feature teams towards improvement.  Scrum, for example, requires continuous inspection and adoption.  It is expected that, while experimenting, feature/scrum teams may run into roadblocks or have short-term failures, at which point they will learn and improve.  But in order to be willing to experiment and take chances, teams need to be sure that they are safe to do so.  Another words, they need to be sure that they will not be judged and scrutinized for their interim failures.  Such “environmental safety” will be always jeopardized by individual performance appraisals. Why? Because individual success (high individual performance) of an employee is defined by her ability to precisely meet individual goals, set in stone early-on in a year.  The need to follow a “script” precisely kills any desire of an employee to experiment.  After-all, why would a person want to take any chances if her failures will be perceived by line management as underperformance?

Since appraisals make working environments unsafe and kill individuals’ desire to experiment, as soon as an employee is presented with her annual goals, she reacts self-protectively, by starting to “work to the script”, while trying to document every personal achievement “for the record” (a.k.a. “CYA”)


While leveraging, CLDs in my discussions with senior management, I use the following graphic representation and annotation to convey the concept:

This graphic suggests that when employees are safe and are not feared to experiment, innovation and experiments take place in a workplace.  Inversely, lack of safety in a work place and absence of desire for experimenting reduces chances of innovation and improvement.

In the sections below, I would like to take a closer look system dynamics that are beyond the first order of interaction, by tracing some additional downstream system variables:


Team synergy & stability:

In scrum, we would like our teams to be stable and long-lived.  We would like to see team members enjoy being a part of the same team, and do so as happy volunteers, not as prisoners, constantly looking for opportunities to escape.  In fact, best feature teams known, have been created as a result of voluntary self-organization, not as a result of a managerial mandate.

Why do we want our scrum/feature teams remain stable?  Here are some good reasons:

  • Collaborative environment and desire to work together
  • Shared domain expertize and cross-pollination with technical knowledge
  • Predictable team Velocity and ability to plan/forecast more accurately


So, how does team synergy and stability get impacted by performance evaluations and appraisals? Here is how this happens, indirectly:

Via low Employee Retention – as employees leave a company, feature teams disintegrate.  This brings together new team members that have never worked together and require time before they can ‘form, norm and storm’.  As feature teams get dis- and re-assembled, velocities drop/become less reliable and system variability increases (estimation becomes less accurate).  The effect is usually immediate.  In my personal experience, I have seen many feature teams breaking lose and falling apart shortly, after companies have announced annual bonuses.

While leveraging CLDs in my discussions with senior management, I use the following graphic representation to convey the concept:

This graphic suggests that high employee retention will lead to elevated team synergy and stability.  Inversely, low employee retention in a work place lowers teams’ synergy and stability.


Via high Internal Competition and Rivalry – once employees realize that they have to compete with their own teammates for discretionary dollars, collaboration deteriorates dramatically.  Individuals stop supporting each other in pursuit of common goals. Instead, everyone strives to be a super hero and solitary performer, while trying to demonstrate her own efficiency and hyper-productivity to a manager.  Everyone wants to look better than other peers and teammates.  Race to demonstrate best individual performance has a high cost: it happens at expense of overall team performance.   Since collaboration, swarming and shared ownership of work are critical for healthy scrum, the obvious downstream effect of performance evaluations and appraisals not becomes clearer: lowered team synergy and instability.

While leveraging, CLDs in my discussions with senior management, I use the following graphic representation and annotation to convey the concept:


This graphic suggests that internal competition and rivalry will have an extreme and opposite effect on team synergy and stability.


Healthy Scrum Dynamics:

There are many known system variables that interact with one another and define effectiveness of basic Scrum.  Assuming that most readers of this post are familiar with Scrum and in order to keep my focus on other important downstream system variables, I am going to leave detailed discussions of basic Scrum dynamics out. It would suffice to mention that the following classic Scrum-specific variables have to be always considered: feature velocity, # of defects, $ rate at which developers are hired (low vs. common), # low skilled developers, cash supply, ability to guide and improve the system, etc.  If the reader is interested in exploring this in-depth, “Seeing System Dynamics: Causal Loop Diagrams” section of site greatly describes these system dynamics, with the use of CLDs.

However, when leveraging CLDs in my discussions with senior management, I still use the following generalizing graphic representation and annotation to convey this common-sense, overarching concept:

This graphic suggests that team synergy and stability lead to healthy Scrum dynamics and a feedback loop is positive (value increase on left leads to value increase on right).  In my experience, the effect is sometimes delayed.  A time lag is usually due to previously gained momentum.

So far we have used CLDs to explore system dynamics that primarily impact technology teams.  At this point, would like to shift my focus on business side of the house and explore the part of system dynamics that involves customers.  In particular, I would like to provide some examples of how CLDs can expose the adverse impact of individual performance appraisals and discretionary monetary incentives on Product Ownership in Scrum.


Identification of GREAT Product Owner:

Finding a good candidate for the role of Product Owner has been one of the most challenging tasks in Scrum. Why?

The role of Product Owner combines certain characteristics that are not easily found within the same individual, and it is organizations of high organizational complexity and Tylorian culture, where this challenge is seen most. On one hand, Product Owner is expected to have enough seniority and empowerment to make key strategic business decisions.  On the other hand, Product Owner is expected to get intimately involved in day-to-day, and sometimes, hour-by-hour interaction with technology groups.  When these two sets of characteristics come together in the same person, we hit a jackpot: we get a great Product Owner – a person who is both Empowered and Engaged.  But truth to be told that it is often challenging to identify a person that possesses both “Es”.  In most Orange organizations (the predominant color of most modern corporations, as per Laloux Culture Model), definition of every job includes a fixed set of responsibilities that individuals are obligated to fulfill.  If we look at most job descriptions, as they are defined by HR departments of Orange companies, we will hardly ever see a job spec that has ”slack time” for an person to take on responsibilities of Product Owner, in addition to his primary job, let alone a job spec that in fully dedicated to the role of PO.  For most organizations, Product Owner is still not a well-defined role and as such, it is not perceived by employees as a step towards career advancement.  Today, many organizations that use scrum have to experiment with the role of PO, by looking for right individuals, internally.  Individuals that step up for the role if Product Owner have to make a conscious decision, with full acknowledgement that they will be taking a very wide spectrum of new responsibilities.  For most people, this is risky, because, effectively, it means that attention and focus on primary activities (as per job specs) will be diluted by secondary activities – fulfilling the role of PO.  Of course, this problem could be easily mitigated with full backing and support, from senior leadership and HR, by redefining job specs and explicitly recognizing criticality of Product Owner role.  But it hardly ever happens (and mostly, at product development companies).

It is hard to argue that people have to be recognized for the work that they do.  I doubt that anyone would object to the following statement: nobody should be working two jobs for the same pay check.  People have to “feel safe” about stepping into a new territory, learning new activities and developing work dynamics that they have not experienced before.  This brings us to the same concept that we discussed earlier, when we looked at technology groups: individuals need to feel safe, in order to be willing to experiment with a new role. It would be unreasonable to expect an employee to take on more work that would not be “counted in” when a person gets evaluated for his contribution to an organization.

So again, while leveraging CLDs in my discussions with senior management, I use the following graphic representation and annotation to convey the concept:

As the graphic suggests when employees are safe and are not feared to experiment, it will be less difficult to identify a good Product Owner. Inversely, the opposite is true as well: lack of safety and inability to experiment makes the process of Product Owner selection much more challenging.

At this point, it is worth mentioning one very common Quick Fix that organizations frequently make to compensate for shortcomings in finding a good Product Owner:

Empowerment usually implies that a person occupies a senior organizational position.  As such, a business person’s career has progressed beyond a certain point; she no longer has enough bandwidth (nor desire!) to deal directly with technology. Once reaching a certain level of seniority, a person gets a “bigger fish to fry” and collaborating with individual technology (feature) teams is no longer her priority. So, while still retaining one of the “Es” (Empowered), a person is not able to demonstrate another “E” (Engaged).  In order, to compensate for the missing “E”, another person needs to be “inserted” into the system, to fill in the gap between a real Product Owner and technology teams.  This, poorly-defined (undefined) role is sometimes labeled “PO-proxy” – a surrogate person tries to act as PO but does not have the power. This role is usually occupied by someone from a lower organizational layer: a business analyst, system analyst or another person – someone who is more accustomed to work directly with technology and for whom the activity itself is not perceived as “below pay grid’.  This creates a serious dysfunction in scrum operating model, as communication between a true customer (empowered Product Owner) and technology is now hindered: a surrogate role of PO-proxy usually lacks strategic/holistic product vision and power to make important business decisions within short timeframes, as it is required by Scrum.

It is worth noting that functional expertize of a business analyst or systems analyst are both welcomed in Scrum and usually reside within teams (although single-specialty individuals are viewed as less valuable than multi-skilled, a.k.a., T-shaped individuals).

The reason why delegation of responsibilities described above is problematic is because it artificially creates unnecessary communicational layers between end customers and technology. This type organizational design causes a variety of additional dysfunctions (miscommunication, hindrance to information flow, confusion of priorities, etc.), and therefore strongly not recommended.


While leveraging CLDs in my discussions with senior management, I use the following graphic representation and annotation to convey the concept:

As the graphic suggests, difficulty to identify a good candidate for the role of Product Owner creates the need to look for quicker and cheaper solutions; introduction a powerless surrogate role of PO-proxy is commonly seen, undesirable ‘Plan B’.

The reason why this fix is “quick” – because it usually does not take too long for a real Product Owner to realize that he/she is not able (or willing) to handle additional responsibilities of the role.  In my practice, risks of losing a real Product Owner and getting a proxy instead, did not take too long to materialize: usually a few weeks after Scrum was introduced.


Effectiveness of Product Backlog management:

Effective Product Backlog management is paramount in agile product development.  This is the fundamental concept that has been introduced in simple Scrum and it remains as valid in scaled Scrum.  In fact, when an organization scales its Scrum, by involving multiple technology teams, Product Owners and lines of business, effective product backlog management becomes even more critical: work coordination, resource management, impediment removal, alignment of business priorities etc.

As we can guess, effective product backlog management, including work prioritization, story decomposition etc. can be done most effectively with participation of a real Product Owner.  And oppositely, if an organization is missing the critical figure of Product Owner, product backlog management will become ineffective.

While leveraging CLDs in my discussions with senior management, I use the following two graphic representations and annotations to convey these two related concepts:


As the graphic suggests, product backlog management suffers from both: lack of true Product Ownership and presence of ineffective surrogate roles.  In my personal experience, the effect is usually extreme.


Healthy Scrum dynamics (overall):

At this point, I usually provide senior managers with a partial summary of LCD, by showing how ‘healthy scrum dynamics’, while sitting much further downstream from individual performance evaluations, appraisals and bonuses are still impacted by the latter group via second order dynamics (through secondary variables). CLDs do a great job of bringing many aspects of system thinking together and presenting them visually.

Below is the combined view of how four upstream system variables that we have discussed earlier relate to ‘healthy scrum dynamics’:

As the graphic suggests, nature of the effect (positive vs. negative), time of onset (immediate vs. delayed) and impact (casual vs. extreme) are could be unique for each variable.


Scaling Scrum and Organizational Agility:

In this section, I want to describe how I, with the use of CLDs, bring my discussions with senior management to culmination, by painting a bigger picture of organizational agility.

For most large organizations, success by a single team is not the end goal.  Organizations look for “bigger” solutions.  And their reasons are obvious: huge IT departments, many lines of business, many customers, multiple competing priorities, multi-year strategy, and many other elements that make organizational needs nothing less of huge.  Luckily, most of organizational leaders that I have met in my practice, understand that the ability to effectively scale basic agile frameworks (e.g. simple Scrum) will ultimately improve organizational agility and ensure that both customers and employees are happy.

Below is the graphic that summarizes this last, ‘common sense’ relationship:


Tying it all back:

What I would like to do at this point, is to make one step back and describe what it takes to scale scrum effectively:

This is where another powerful concept of LeSS comes to rescue: in order to scale Scrum, an organization must be descaled first (please refer to “Less Agile or LeSS Agile?” by Craig Larman).  Other words, to construct a model of Scrum, performed by multiple teams, an organization must remove (deconstruct) its existing organizational complexly first.  As it was stated at the beginning of this post, scaling does not imply making things more complex, but unfortunately, this key concept is not always well understood.  Mistakenly, many people still think that in order to support existing organizational complexity they need to look for multi-tiered, complex agile frameworks that will provide “room and purpose” for every existing organizational element: roles, processes, tools and techniques.

The analogy that I frequently use to deliver the concept of scaling to senior management is that building a sky scraper on a wobbly, porous foundation is dangerous because it will eventually crumble. A surface must be cleaned up first, flattened and hardened, and only then there will be a chance to build something tall and strong.

Below is the graphic that summarizes this concept:


At this point, the most common request I get from senior leaders is to elaborate on what I mean by ‘de-scaling’ – and this is my favorite topic.  This question is natural but I usually resist on answering it immediately, since the topic is inherently large, complex and, at times, inflaming and therefore, I request a dedicated discussion for it.

However, I still produce CLD graphic illustration of the concept, as shown below, but offer a follow-up discussion to explore details:

Ultimately, when such discussion is held, I always tie it back to the present discussion and explain why Goal: distribute discretionary incentives” becomes so trivial with identification and removal of system/organizational waste.  This discussion is usually long and it requires challenging many outdated organizational norms and principles that some senior leaders are not willing to give up easily.


The CLD graphic illustration is a high-level generalization of the concept of the opposite (inverse) relationship between the two system variables:

As mentioned above, the variable in the dotted circle can be decomposed further into many, smaller system variables that have up- and downstream relationship with one another.



The best summaries are short.  Therefore, I would like to summarize this post briefly, with one comprehensive CLD diagram that brings together and variables, relationships and annotations that were discussed so far:

Although it may take hours, or sometimes days of brainstorming to produce CLD, when complete, it becomes a great communication vehicle.   A diagram like this one can be created real-time, in collaboration with others, on a white board.  Alternatively, it could be created ahead of time by a coach or trainer and then be used as a ‘cheat sheet’, when appropriate.  CLDs can be also shared with wide audience ahead of time, to solicit questions and provoke interesting discussions at later point.

Global SCRUM GATHERING® Orlando 2016

It was a great event, with more than 1200 people attending from all over the world.  Tons of great presentations and collaborative sessions.  Below, are some captured moments with my peers and colleagues – the people that made my personal experience at the gathering so rich and memorable.  The coaches and trainers of Scrum Alliance have always been the main driving force behind this and many similar agile events around the globe.

With Coaches and Trainers during Pre-Retreat

Below are some memorable Kodak moments, with people that have helped me develop over years as a coach and trainer:

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Graphics work produced at Gathering

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Please, join Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) Meet-Up group in NYC


Day 1

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Day 2

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Coach’s Experience Report: Putting LeSS Teachings to Work


craig_gene_reducedThe following Coach’s Experience Report describes various teachings of Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) framework in the context of their practical use by Agile Coach. What is below does not represent a single case with a single organization or company. Rather, experiences with multiple organizations, under different conditions are being described. By the same reasoning, not for every organization, whose experience is being drawn upon in this report, all of LeSS teachings that are described below, have been experimented.

Coach’s Discovery: Scrum teams have been struggling to gain autonomy and independence due to close monitoring and constant involvement of line management. Teams’ decisions, made during sprint planning were continuously overruled by management. Mandatory requests coming from management were frequently in conflict with priorities coming from Product Owners. Teams – were unable to conduct sprint retrospectives privately and safely, with management insisting on its presence in ceremonies and/or reviewing retrospectives’ outcome.

LeSS Teaching by Coach: Tylorian Carrots & Sticks used to be effective during American Industrial Revolution, when they were applied towards people that performed mundane, unskilled, manual labor. But in modern work settings of the 21st century (for the most part) don’t work, if applied toward intellectual workers. Command & Control behaviors suppress individuals’ willingness to explore and innovate, discover and experiment; they demotivate and demoralize workers, and therefore lower productivity.

Senior management needs to order fist-level line management to step back and allow teams norm and gain autonomy and independence. Close oversight and supervision will not allow teams to fully explore their potentials and achieve higher productivity.

Overall Result: Positive. Many teams have been liberated from Management Type X and have been treated with Management Type Y, instead.

Coach’s Discovery: Team members were expected to work closely together, share knowledge, help each other grow complimentary expertize. Teams were also asked to deliver together, “as a whole”, at the end of each sprint, and demonstrate shared ownership and swarming during sprints.   Team members were expected to take turns in a driver’s seat during showcases, to equally gain visibility in the eyes of Product Owners and customers.

But at the same time, each team member was being stack-ranked, during an individual performance appraisal, against his/her own team members, as well as against members of other, neighboring teams. Each ranked individual understood that he/she competed with other team mates for discretionary money that would have to come in the form of a bonus at the end of year. As it came closer to mid-year reviews and end-year reviews, teams dynamics worsened and bad behaviors were observed, practically, inside every team: less collaboration, emphasis on private ownership and individual deliverables, selfishness, blame-gaming and finger-pointing. As a result, teams’ velocities dropped, quality went down, and customer satisfaction was lowered.

LeSS Teaching by Coach: “The idea of a merit rating is alluring (as per S. Deming)”. Individual performance appraisals, linked to monetary incentives lead to demotivation, loss of enthusiasm and bad behaviors, such as internal competition, rivalry, selfishness and organizational degradation. Having individual performance appraisals, linked to distribution of discretionary monetary incentives, such as bonuses and salary increases, worsen a situation even further.

Overall Result: Mostly Negative. Line management did not except the fact that merit rating and individual appraisals had such harmful downstream effect on teams’ dynamics and cause organizational degradation. Senior management seemed to understand that the problem existed and was serious, but was still too hesitant to ‘rock the boat’, as many fundamental organizational norms and policies, many of which set by HR, would be challenged. In rare situations, however, management was able to emphasize team performance and collective results as main attributes of individual performance/results.

Coach’s Discovery: Recently trained teams fell under close surveillance and scrutiny by line management. Line management viewed agile/scrum, as a magic wand that would miraculously resolve all their existing problems. Management started paying too much attention to metrics (e.g. Velocity) and set unreasonable expectations for teams’ productivity during initial sprints. When teams initially failed, management blamed agile/scrum for failures, instead of treating it as a “mirror” that just painfully reflected existing broken processes.


LeSS Teaching by Coach: In Scrum, when a team just gets trained and is set sail, Private Sprints with “Fake” Product Owners (if a real one is identified yet) are recommended. Why? A team may want to practice/dry run scrum dynamics (roles, artifacts, ceremonies, feedback loops) but may not necessarily want this information be publicly disseminated across an organization, to avoid premature judgments and “mis-measurements of success”. A team is not obligated to announce to the rest of the world that they are experimenting new ways of working UNTIL everyone who is involved is ready and comfortable.

Overall Result: Positive. Teams no longer viewed the last day of scrum training as a commitment point, at which they had to announce to the rest of the organization that “they were agile now”. Teams became more comfortable to transition into new dynamics, and did it gradually, while “playing it safe”, before publicizing their intentions or results. In cases, when a real Product Owner was not immediately available, teams used another surrogate to play this role (e.g. Senior BA or SME).

Coach’s Discovery: A team was experiencing a lot of distraction, coming from stakeholders and customers. Instead of going to Product Owner with requests, customers went directly to the team. Frequently, competing priorities arose: a solution that addressed one request conflicted with a solution that addressed another request. Product Owner, took advantage of his overly proactive clients, stepped back and did not do his job.

LeSS Teaching by Coach: When it comes to feature (scrum) team communication, there are three main types exist:

  • Requests: From Customers/Users and Product Owner
  • Prioritization: From Product Owner to Team
  • Clarification: Between Customers/Users and Team (also can come from PO)

Effectively, this allows for business requests to flow from various areas/departments of an organization to Product Owner but then to be prioritized and fed to a team/backlog by Product Owner himself, in a controlled fashion. While a team is shielded from Customers’/Users’ ad hoc requests, sometimes competing, it still has a right to go to Customers/Users for clarifications.

Overall Result: Positive. The Team learned how to say ‘NO’ to customers and defer their requests to stakeholders. Product Owner was ‘forced’ to step up to the plate and practicing one of his key responsibilities – being voice of a customer, facing a team.

Coach’s Discovery: An organization had wide geographic distribution, with technology resources present in India, Eastern Europe and South America. The long-standing goal of outsourcing was to find the cheapest resources for a single specialty. For example, front-end Java developers were all sourced from India, Flash and UI experts – from Eastern Europe, architects – from Argentina. This has caused a lot broken communication and unnecessary coordination between feature team members: language barriers, geo- time-zone distribution, etc.  Also, end-customers were from the US, and this further added to complexity. Inefficiency of highly distributed teams, trying to coordinate ceremonies and optimize time overlap, was painfully noticeable.

LeSS Teaching: Given today’s global market place, geographical distribution of skilled workers is practically inevitable, for most companies. However, when it comes to teaming it is critical to avoid geographical distribution within a single team. Companies should support collocation of members of the same cross-functional team (note: even with the latter approach, doing this with componentized teams presents other problems). Also, bringing business (stakeholders, SMEs, Product Owners) closer to teams, is highly desirable.

Overall Result: Partially Positive. The leadership agreed to reconsider the current geographic collocation strategy. Having a group of single specialty experts located in one place, communicating across many time zones, with another group of single specialty experts, became a less preferred option. The leadership started to see more value in collocating individuals, based on their needs to work together, on same features. At first, it became more expensive, to procure certain expertise, where it was not as abundant and its cost was higher (e.g. Flash developer in India), but over time, increased efficiency and higher rate of business value output by each team made changes worthwhile.

Coach’s Discovery: During initial stages of agile transformation, senior leadership came to realization that by restructuring their organization to improve overall organizational performance, some internal “waste management” activities had to be done. Specifically, it became clear that certain processes, artifacts and roles were redundant, unnecessary and costly. As such they had to be reduced or removed from the system, altogether. This raised a particular concern for senior management, as removing certain elements of organizational structure could become too politically inflaming. For example, an excessive amount of business analysts and project managers (PMO) represented two pretty thick organizational layers that were primarily focused on producing heavy documentation and less- than-reliable reporting, respectively. Reducing these two layers would effectively mean downsizing certain individuals – something that could loudly resonate across the rest of the organization.

LeSS Teaching: Organizational Leadership needs to understand the difference between Local Optimization (e.g. improving performance of a single organizational layer, functional silo, reporting structure) and System Optimization (e.g. improving performance of an entire system). Looking at an organization from a stand point of System Optimization, an organization should care to provide Job Security to its employees, not Role Security. Ultimately, the goal of any organization is to continuously strive towards improving its efficiency, not providing safe haven for roles that make it [organization] less efficient.

Further, from System Optimization perspective, it is wiser to support the idea of not having individuals that are all just Specialists in a particular field or domain; an organization needs to have a good amount of Generalists to avoid workflow management dysfunctions and workflow bottlenecks. Presence of T-shaped individuals are highly desirable.

Overall Result: Positive but WIP. While removing organizational waste, senior leadership tried to strike a happy balance between simplifying organizational structure and removing redundant/unnecessary roles on one end, while trying to provide job security and alternative career paths for some knowledgeable and highly qualified individuals.

Coach’s Discovery: After more than a dozen of sprints, a group of feature teams still could not show any progress in their ability to deliver potentially working software at sprint-end.   At the end of each sprint, teams still produced code that needed additional testing, test automation activities, integration with code of other teams, extensive UAT, and other “Udone” activities. The initially proposed Definition of Done (DoD), at the time when teams got trained, did not change much and before releasing to production, teams still required at least one ‘hardening’ sprint.

LeSS Teaching: As a feature team matures, gradually, it should extend it definition of “Done”, to bring itself closer to a point, where, upon finishing a sprint, it makes its deliverable production-ready.

Overall Result: Partial Success. The teams was encouraged to identify during retrospectives at least one or two elements of DoD that were either missing or needed an improvement. Based on this, the teams were able to gain some momentum and with every subsequent sprint improved production readiness of their code.   However, there were certain organizational impediments that still prevented teams from delivering faster: certain external dependencies on organizational layers that were “outside of agile sphere of influence” – they prevented DoD to become fully inclusive.

Coach’s Discovery: Individuals that have been elected (or appointed) to the role of Product Owner, did not have time to do the job. They were either too senior within an organization “to deal with IT directly” or had already too much on their plate to take on, yet another full time role of Product Owner. This created a serious gap that made scrum extremely ineffective and overall agility low. To fill this gap, Product Owners found other people, other person within their own reporting structure to fulfill this role. They delegated most of PO responsibilities to this new, artificially created role of Product Owner “proxy”.   This brought about a lot of dysfunction and hindrance to the process as “proxy” did not have the same level of empowerment as a real PO.

In some situations, existing terminology that had a completely different purpose and meaning was overloaded. For example, Area Product Owner (LeSS term) was used to describe a role that did not fit the definition of Area PO. Effectively, Area PO term was used to describe the role and behavior of PO “proxy”.

LeSS Teaching: A business person that represents a single area of a complex product is called Area Product Owner. Area PO is in close communication with other Area POs, responsible for other areas of the same product, as well as with Product Owner (main person) that oversees an entire product. Area Product Owner is not to be confused with an ill-defined role of Product Owner Proxy. The latter term is not really defined in Scrum. This term exists in places, where a real PO is not able or not willing to do his job (no time, not enough interest/motivation). PO-proxy, is PO’s surrogate that interfaces with team(s) to mimic PO (minus authority) – it is an unnecessary organizational layer.

Overall Result: Situational Success. In situations, where organizational structure (on business side) was relatively flat, the success of identifying an effective Product Owner and bringing him closer to teams was much higher.   In situations, where business organizational structure was more complex, with multiple reporting layers, the success of identifying Product Owner that would be equally knowledgeable, empowered and engaged were lower. Another consistent observation was that every time Product Owner came from middle organizational tier (e.g. Operations, a.k.a. not true end-customer) chances were higher that the role of “proxy” would emerge.

Coach’s Discovery: This was a large organization, with complex structure, heavy tooling and internal processes that was looking for scaled agile solutions to accommodate its “internet historic complexity”. The organization was looking for agile frameworks that would seamlessly fit its existing dynamics, while not requiring too many changes. The organization was not really trying to improve existing dysfunctions and repair problems. Instead, the organization was trying to look for ways to “improve” its existing condition by overlaying agile norms, terms and principles on the top of its current system. This included introducing more agile roles, ceremonies, processes, organizational layers, handovers and bureaucracy on the top of what existed already. Over time, it worsened the situation even further, not improved it.

LeSS Teaching: In order to improve organizational agility and be able to implement agile at scale (e.g. have more teams being involved in the same large scale Scrum, as opposed to having many unrelated teams attempting to do their own scrum), organizational De-Scaling is required first. This includes: removing organizational waste, lowering bureaucracy, flattening organizational structure, removing non-value adding roles, reassigning responsibilities to key roles, discontinuing norms and behaviors that have been statistically proved as harmful.

Overall Result: Partial Success. The organization understood principles of LeSS, especially, it core Lean Thinking. The organization understood that organization descaling (removing what exists, instead of adding more to it) should come before any attempts to scale agility across broader organizational boundaries. However…the organization was still not fully prepared to deal with all consequences of waste removal. There were concerns with political and legal implications of such bold actions.

To Be Continued:

TBD – more Coach’s Discoveries and respective LeSS Teachings that were used to remedy problems:

  • LeSS Teaching: The following elements and attributes lead to “The Contract Game”: componentized organizational structure, heavy/non-negotiable documentation, bureaucracy, functional silos, lack of cross-functional experts (T-shaped people), merit ratings/performance appraisals/bonuses or other forms of local optimization (e.g. harboring teams of BAs, PMs)
  • LeSS Teaching: Lack of proper understanding of cross-functional, customer-centric feature development, leads to creating fake “products” or “projects” (e.g. server-side work, back-end coding, database, UI). This further leads to creating fake project portfolios and fake project portfolios. This further creates needs for excessive coordination that mandates unnecessary roles of fake portfolio managers and alike.
  • LeSS Teaching: By analyzing system’s Feedback Loops: Velocity, Bugs, # of Developers, Budget Supply – it becomes clear that, for example, the increase in funding (budget) does not necessarily translate into increased velocity or improved product quality. Negative Feedback Loops are just as important to consider as Positive Feedback Loops: more money may help hire more developers that will produce more bugs.

Quotes from “Get Rid of the Performance Review!: How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing–and Focus on What Really Matters” by Culbert, Samuel A. & Laurence Rout


Samuel A. Culbert is an award winning author, researcher and full-time, tenured professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. His laboratory is the world of work where he puts conventional managerial assumptions under a microscope to uncover and replace dysfunctional practices. He holds a B.S. in Systems Engineering and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. Culbert has developed a blunt yet sensitive way of framing situations that allows for all parties to engage in open, non-judgmental discussions. He believes that only by laying bare ALL the forces that drive people’s opinions and actions — including subjective, self-interested and political biases — is it possible to have an explicit, honest, yet matter-of-fact conversation. He has spent a career perfecting the skills and style that illicit such straight-talk.

Widely recognized as a candid speaking expert and theoretician, he is author of the recently published Beyond Bullsh*t a probing inquiry that reveals how bullsh*t became the etiquette of choice in corporate communications, and how to develop the conditions required for straight-talk. SmartMoney Magazine named this book to its 2008 list of ten top reads. Dr. Culbert is winner of a McKinsey Award for an article published in the Harvard Business Review, is a frequent contributor to management journals and has authored numerous chapters in leading management-related books. More about this and some of the other books he has authored is available at the website. In press is a book titled Get Rid of the Performance Review: How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing – and Focus on the Results That Really Matter. This book, written with Larry Rout, builds on his media grabbing Wall Street Journal article of the same name and is awaiting April 2010 publication. His other authored and co-authored books include The Organization Trap, The Invisible War: The Pursuit of Self-Interests at Work, Radical Management, Mind-Set Management and Don’t Kill the Bosses!.

Read more at about the author

This summary (selected book quotes) has been prepared for Managers and Supervisors that are too busy giving performance reviews to their employees and not seeing all the harm and disservice they cause to their employees and organizations.

The original book is highly recommended to:

  • First-Level Line Managers – that cause harm to their employees and organizations
  • Employees – that are being harmed but struggle with framing their sentiments
  • Senior Organizational Leaders – that have the power to put a stop to dysfunctions

“…This corporate sham is one of the most insidious, most damaging, and yet most ubiquitous of corporate activities. Everybody does it, and almost everyone who’s evaluated hates it. It’s a pretentious, bogus practice that produces absolutely nothing that any thinking executive should call a corporate plus….”

“…In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s immoral to maintain the façade that annual pay and performance reviews lead to corporate improvement. Instead of energizing individuals, they leave workers depressed and cynical. Instead of stimulating corporate productivity and innovation, they lead to cover-your-ass behavior that reduces the amount of time that could be put to productive use.

“…Just think about what it does on a corporate level, the enormous amount of time and energy it wastes, and the way it prevents companies from tapping the innovative, outside-the-box thinking that so many employees are capable of.

“…Getting rid of the performance review is a big step forward in allowing a boss and the boss’s direct reports to communicate candidly about what’s needed for better results on the job. If you’re a boss, and your subordinate isn’t succeeding, something is broken here. …”

“…But take away the performance review and you might actually have straight talk. There’s still spin, but it’s a different kind of spin. With performance reviews, the subordinate’s agenda is ignored….”

“……the performance review is, at its core, a desperately flawed concept, and that it’s time to put the onus on management for the problems they create with performance reviews. If teamwork, esprit de corps, and open, trusting, straight-talk relationships are your criteria, it’s hard to find a single positive that comes out of performance reviews….”

“…In the end you will see what many of you already know in your heart: that mainstream management is embedded in, and relies on, a culture of domination— and that the performance review is the biggest hammer management has. You will see how the review destroys our spirit, as well as our corporate performance. You will see how the same people who created this sorry mess have the power to undo it. And you will see that there is a way to fix it, if only we have the courage….”

“…I put the blame squarely on two culprits. First, a management theory that has pretty much passed, but whose legacy— the performance review— has had much greater staying power. And second, power-grabbing HR executives, who opportunistically use the performance review to elevate their department’s stature. Take away the annual performance review and the HR department is back where it should be: supporting management rather than supplanting it and terrifying it….”

“…Recognizing such flaws, corporate executives tried to fix things by coming up with measures that would better reflect broader corporate goals. But it was more empty “modernizing.” It was lipstick on the pig, adding criteria like “shows leadership,” “takes initiative,” “communicates effectively,” and “works well in a team” to motivate employees to do what was right for the company. But these criteria— besides sounding like a kindergartner’s report card— were difficult to require and quantify, and more importantly, they did nothing to inspire workers to think outside the box, to step outside the metrics that had been designed for them….”

“…we’re in this mess: the HR department’s insistence on performance reviews to ensure themselves a secret-police-like power base they can use to secure themselves with managers. Because the truth is this: The performance review may not be good for employees. It may not be good for companies. But it sure as hell is good for the HR people.

“…Notice that it’s HR that insists on keeping performance reviews with negative comments in the files for an individual’s total tenure with the company. Why would they do such a thing? More than any other company department, they should appreciate how a performance review is a single-point-in-time perception of an employee, from an evaluator who probably knows very little about this employee and whose opinion is based on his own biases and self-interest. The lame excuse that HR gives is that these reviews are necessary “legal backup” documentation for the faults of poor performers. Oh, please. Contending that the company needs negative performance reviews to defend against a fired employee who wants to sue is sheer pretense. If the guy isn’t doing a good job, you document it. You don’t have to give everybody a performance review. In fact, the people who sue are the ones with the positive comments in their file. It’s common sense. Get rid of needless documentation and a lot of lawyers will go away….”

“…For HR departments, the mission is power retention They will do what it takes to maintain the status quo, including turning a blind eye to anybody who has the temerity to tell them the performance review has no clothes….”

“…It isn’t that HR isn’t constantly innovating when it comes to performance reviews. They are. But the innovations typically enhance the HR department’s power base— and hurt employees. They typically make a bad system even worse….”

“…The performance review, with its hidden agendas and lack of straight talk and active questioning, makes that open career conversation nearly impossible….”

“…With performance reviews, there was an incentive for people to limit themselves to only taking care of their goals, the ratings….”

But remember, this same pathetic scenario is played out every day, in HR departments at companies large and small, where deception and power plays masquerade as progress and straight talk. In so many companies, HR departments, desperate to keep their status intact, impose the performance reviews upon managers, who in turn are desperate to keep their power intact. This is why the performance review lives on, even though it’s hated and does so much damage. The powers have a vested interest in making sure it stays just as it is.

Why would a single date on a calendar be relevant to determining when someone’s performance needs reviewing? For that matter, why would two or three preset dates on a calendar correspond to when someone’s performance needs reviewing? No serious person, especially one responsible for getting the company the greatest degree of excellence possible, would want to wait a year, or even a week, to discuss a problem or a performance-enhancing opportunity that could have an immediate payoff. If there’s a problem, put a stop to it now. If there’s a performance-enhancing opportunity, milk it for all you can get. Give the company every advantage possible. Don’t put improvement off for up to a year….”

“…Instead, I believe discussing performance should be an option available at all times, dictated by circumstance, opportunity, need, and (most important) relationship. And notice that I said “discussing” performance, not issuing pronouncements and rendering categorical judgments. Discussion entails a two-party, give-and-take exchange of viewpoints, with the expectation that both parties are going to see things differently and may or may not converge on a jointly held point of view….”

“…Honest give-and-take is impossible for a basic reason: Each participant is coming into the exchange with a unique mind-set— but only one of the mind-sets “counts.” The problem is that simple, and that profound….”

“…You can see then why bullshit, not straight talk, becomes the etiquette of choice in any corporate relationship where the only opinion that is listened to is the boss’s….”

“……when people switch bosses, they often receive sharply different evaluations from the new bosses. Has the subordinate suddenly gotten dramatically better or worse? Or is objectivity in the eye of the beholder? According to a study by PDI Ninth House, a consulting firm, a majority of employees who report to multiple bosses get inconsistent marks.

“…Put bluntly, I find it illogical to assume that any person’s assessment of another person is independent of that evaluator’s motives in the moment.

“…Maintaining credibility requires that you conceal your personal motives and insist that your actions were taken purely for the benefit of the company….”

“…Performance reviews are wrapped in self-serving, circular logic that people who think they can get away with dominating subordinates find conclusive….”

“…How can reviews be objective when they are constrained by a bell-shaped curve, as many companies require? (“ You can’t give everybody top marks,” the HR department tells managers. “That isn’t objective.”) If you have to satisfy the bell curve, and some people have to do better or worse than others, you’re starting at a point that demands you throw objectivity out the window. It also requires the boss to spend a year searching for negatives to use next year, to prove that he or she isn’t positively biased….”

“…My company adopted the forced ranking system, which, when added to the usual performance review, turned the process into pure terror. The process involved closed-door meetings in which several managers (some of whom hardly knew the people being ranked) would force rank a group of employees into three categories: (1) 20 percent most effective, (2) 70 percent effective, and (3) 10 percent least effective. The meeting could not conclude until the group was placed into these three rankings. Then the performance review was rationalized to make the ranking appear as if warranted. The damage done to the workers by forced ranking is incomprehensible….”

“…In an organization, personal and subjective factors influence and determine one’s view of what is objective. They influence and determine how each event and problem gets portrayed, and they influence and determine the actions that people push for….”

“…The company I worked for required a manager to rate 10 percent of employees as a 3 category (unsatisfactory). Then all managers within a department would negotiate to rank the workers from best to worst. In many cases the people who ended up on top worked for managers whose communication skills and forcefulness were the determining factor in where people ended up in the ranking. Those on the bottom who had a 3 ranking were given no salary increase and were first on the list for the axe. The company also allocated a pool of money that was divided up between those with satisfactory and above ratings. As a manager I could not justify the mandatory 10 percent requirement, but that’s the way it had to be. After I retired, I could finally sleep at night. IHOPE IT’S CLEAR by now that the “objective” performance review is an exercise in self-delusion, a fantasy created by bosses who are convinced that they can somehow rise above the biases that make us all human. But that self-delusion isn’t the only reason that performance reviews aren’t the straight-talking, tell-it-like-it-is tell-it-like-it-is interactions that the HR department would like you to believe….”

“…Companies like to maintain the myth that pay and the performance review are linked; it’s why they call it the “annual pay and performance review.” But the idea that pay might be linked to your performance rests on the assumption that the world of work is a meritocracy, which it isn’t, and that department budgets aren’t constrained, which they are. No, the sad fact is that pay and performance don’t really have much to do with each other, and pretending to lump them together is a needlessly stupid, alienating ritual that produces phony posturing, inhibits straight talk, and makes it hard for bosses to be genuinely appreciative of what subordinates contribute. With praise linked to pay, bosses have to hold back their kind words, for fear they’ll be expected to back up that appreciation with money the company doesn’t have. And for employees, authentic appreciation ends up feeling like so many empty words, because the boss doesn’t put the company’s wallet where his or her mouth is….”

“…Once the pay is set, I believe the driving force for any subsequent raise is a combination of three factors: whether the boss wants to retain the employee; the amount of raise that the boss thinks is necessary for doing so; and the department’s budget….”

“…If you still need proof that pay raises are primarily based on the amount needed to get an employee to stay, think about what happens when a valued employee decides to leave. The boss’s immediate reaction: “What will it take to get you to stay?” No game-playing there. No pretense. There’s only time for the raw truth….”

“…My point is that there is too much stuff going on to suggest that pay is simply about merit and performance. It’s about interpersonal politics and loyalty, about what’s important at any particular moment to any particular boss, about the department’s budget. It’s about ninety different variables— none of which any two bosses will see exactly the same way. So to say that pay is somehow based solely on an evaluation of performance is laughable. And to lump them together in one discussion is confusing, misleading, and potentially ego-crushing….”

“……a performance review that says pay is a function of performance is also suggesting that performance is a function of pay— that is, the more you pay somebody, the better somebody will perform. That’s not only not true, it’s also insulting. As long as someone’s pay is marketplace-competitive, most people will knock themselves out trying to perform their best. No one can do better than they are able, even if you pay them more….”

“…For straight talk about pay, the corporate world requires a shift in which compensation is recognized as the marketplace-dependent variable it is. Don’t mix apples and oranges by bringing up pay during a performance review. Don’t send mixed messages to subordinates, telling them one minute their performance is top-notch and then in the next minute that their pay isn’t going up….”

“…Once the compensation package is determined, it should be communicated impersonally— perhaps written down and handed to the subordinate in a sealed envelope. At this point it’s up to the subordinate either to agree or to negotiate. If the choice is to negotiate, the ensuing “conversation” should be exclusively about pay. It shouldn’t be about performance quality or perceived “faults.” If the boss doesn’t like the quality of the subordinate’s performance and can get someone more to his or her liking, the boss should do so. But it serves no constructive purpose for the boss to attack a subordinate’s self-concept or to argue that the subordinate lacks the skills required for better performance. Those discussions should be reserved for another day….”

“…So why is this more the exception than the rule? Why do most companies insist on linking performance reviews to pay? Frankly, I believe it’s a red herring tactic used mostly to intimidate and control. If subordinates believe that their pay is determined by performance, and that performance is determined solely by the bosses, it’s obvious that the only words that count in the annual pay and performance review are those spoken by the bosses. There’s not a prayer of give-and-take here, no conversation, no straight talk….”

“…(Warning: When you hear the words “modern management,” take cover. It’s only modern in the eighteenth-century sense of the word.)…”

“…So how do managers cope with all these lies, all this bullshit, all this doublespeak? With one more big lie— the lie of hard numbers. Managers hold up the metrics they use to measure employees to “prove” they are working off hard data that doesn’t allow them much flexibility. Look, this is what the numbers show, they say. That’s why pay is what it is. That’s why I’m saying what I’m saying. It’s all there in black and white. This is the framework, and we have to work within this framework….”

“…Metrics provide managers, who don’t know beans about how to guide and improve an individual’s performance, an angle for scoring an individual’s efforts and contributions, in a manner that casts the illusion of credibility….”

“…Even worse, companies typically apply the same rating scale to people with different functions. They don’t redo the checklist for every different activity. As a result, bosses have to reduce their global sentiments to a set of metrics that captures the unique qualities of neither the person nor the job….”

“…The lesson here is simple. Using metrics implies that the words on a scale communicate the same meaning to anyone reading it. They don’t. Realistic assessment of someone’s positive qualities requires replacing scores on standardized metrics with inquiry. You need to ask the performer how he or she saw some critical situation and why he or she took action the way they did. I often tell managers that if you want to know what you just said, you better ask the guy what he heard.

“…Now here’s a shocker: The performance review does exactly the opposite of this intended purpose. Help people grow? Hardly. It actually prevents workers from improving. It is a dehumanizing process that leaves workers demoralized, unwilling and unable to address weaknesses. It makes them hate coming to work, let alone inspire them to turn themselves into better employees….”

“…“The basic issue with the performance review,” one worker wrote me, “is that the outcome is predetermined. The review is either a blunt weapon to move the employee to the door, or to reward ‘star’ employees. The worst part is the self-evaluation, where you are required to read the manager’s mind and ‘sign up’ to their issues.

“…Most managers use the performance reviews as the time to give employees “the answer”— that is, their answer….”

“…Performance reviews lead managers on a path of self-defeating domination when it comes to getting a subordinate to change and grow….”

“…When you’re trying to get employees to change their ways, it’s critical to recognize that people are not comparable. While you can compare people when they are runners in a 100-yard dash, you can’t compare them when it’s the 4-by-100-meter relay. In the latter, people with different performance attributes have different roles to play, and this determines the order in which they should run for optimal team results….”

“…I’M READY to put the final nail in the performance review coffin. The nail: teamwork. Go into pretty much any company these days, whatever the business, whatever the size, and it won’t be long before somebody mentions the importance of teamwork in today’s hypercompetitive global economy. Without teamwork, you’ll be told, a company can never be fast or agile enough to get things done in a world where employees, suppliers, facilities, and customers are spread across the globe, where new situations demand innovative solutions. Companies need employees to walk together, talk together, act together. They need leaders to foster collaboration and an all-for-one, one-for-all attitude. A company divided against itself cannot stand. Give ’em an A for worthy goals. Give ’em an A for lofty rhetoric. But give ’em an F for not having the vaguest idea how to get where they want to go. Because if these same corporate leaders looked at what they were doing, they could see that one of the primary ways they think they promote teamwork— by using performance reviews— is one of the primary ways they undermine it. The performance review pits colleague versus colleague. It pits department versus department. And, most important, it pits boss versus subordinate….”

“…I consulted once for a company that, in an effort to create teamwork, divided a fixed bonus pool among departments based on certain performance review metrics. Guess what happened? It set each department against the others, as everybody had an incentive to reduce the number of departments that drank from the overall pool….”

“…The core mistake, as I see it, is that people tend to misapply the notion of hierarchy. Most see no difference between a hierarchical approach to organizational structure and a hierarchical approach to relationships. But there’s a big difference. Hierarchical structure, in the form of an organization chart, serves many constructive purposes. By showing the chain of command, it allows everyone to see who is responsible for what, how organization units are being deployed, and, most importantly, who should be accountable for bottom-line results. In contrast, I can’t think of a single constructive purpose served by hierarchical relationships— that is, those in which the boss gets to dominate all conversations….”

“…Let’s be straight about this: There’s no question that there should be consequences when an employee fails to produce what’s expected. It’s the only way to create accountability. But here’s where most managers typically go astray. To them, consequences mean one thing: punishment. This is particularly regrettable, because fear of punishment is the chief obstacle to people owning up to the problems they cause. Who admits error in the face of out-of-proportion punishment for owning up? When stopped for speeding, how many people tell the officer the truth if they can invent an excuse that might spare them a citation? And when stopped, how many go on to explain with integrity, “Officer, perhaps I was speeding, but it was because I was in a hurry to get home from an office celebration where the drinking got a little out of hand.”…”

“…Valid evaluation requires that companies not only do away with the performance review, but also demolish the whole thinking that allows it to exist, the flawed foundation upon which it rests. Change means fighting practiced and entrenched incompetency. But without a fundamental shift in the way we think, nothing will ever change. We’ll never get to the place where everybody— bosses, subordinates, shareholders, everybody— claims they want to go…..Instead, the goal should be to create an environment in which all parties feel safe enough to be honest with one another and do everything they can to accomplish the primary goal of improving company results and providing a supportive environment for people to self-reflect and grow….”

“…We have to replace the one-side-accountable, boss-administered/ subordinate-received performance review with a two-sided, reciprocally accountable performance preview. We need a dialogue, not a monologue….”

-First, get rid of the performance review! No longer is the boss on a fault-finding mission. No longer is the boss scoring employees on a checklist of predetermined attributes. It simply doesn’t happen anymore. (You have no idea how good it feels just to write those words.)
-Second, create performance measures that are linked to desired corporate results, and against which both the boss and subordinate will now be evaluated as a unit.
-Third, get the big boss involved. The big boss will now be more actively monitoring the boss/ subordinate team, making sure it’s achieving the results it has pledged to achieve. If it isn’t, the big boss has to step in and actively inquire as to why.
-Fourth, replace the reviews with the previews— an ongoing dialogue between boss and subordinate, where each of them is responsible for asking the other: What can I do to make us work together better and get the results we’re both on the hook for? The focus isn’t on the past and how one person screwed up, but on making the system work better in the future.

“…Performance previews are about two individuals combining forces. With performance reviews, it’s individual against individual, department against department. With performance previews, departments are on the same team, and everyone has more to gain and less to fear by abandoning their silos and doing what’s best for the whole enterprise.





“…Substituting performance previews for performance reviews welds fates together because the discussion will no longer be about the boss finding fault in the subordinate….”


“…With performance previews, the boss and subordinates instead have conversations, and in those conversations there are always four key variables: you including your imperfections; me including mine; our ability to complement and support one another (better known as chemistry); and the context, challenges, and situation being faced….”




This is our system today, the performance review system. It is not geared toward getting the desired results. It’s geared toward not rocking the boat. It’s not a place where anybody has an incentive to change the system. It’s not about teamwork. It’s every subordinate and boss for him- or herself.
Solitaire is the perfect metaphor. …”


“…Climbing into the spacecraft, the HR guy finds himself paired with a chimpanzee. The spacecraft shoots off with the chimp at the wheel. Easing into orbit, the phone rings and the HR guy picks it up. The mission control flight director says, “Let me speak to the chimp.” Dutifully the HR guy passes the phone to the chimp, who listens attentively, hangs up the phone, and starts twisting dials and making orbital adjustments. After a couple of hours the phone rings again. Once again the HR guy grabs it up quickly, and once again it’s the mission control flight director asking to have the phone passed to the chimp. Again the chimp listens attentively, hangs up the phone, and starts turning more dials and making adjustments. Three more hours and the phone rings again. This time the disgruntled HR guy passes the phone over to the chimp to answer for himself. The chimp answers, dutifully nods, and gestures to the HR guy that the call is for him. Anxious to play a role, the HR guy picks up the phone, saying, “Yes, what would you like me to do?” Mission control: “Feed the chimp.”…”


“…Replacing performance reviews with previews eliminates this self-defeating element in management’s approach to ensuring control, accountability, and on-the-job development. It removes major sources of intimidation, coercion, and fear, and it sets the stage for more trusting relationships and straight talk. It allows a level playing field where bosses and subordinates can openly and honestly admit to what they need and jointly combine their talents to create instant gains for the company….”


“…I believe the structure and logic of performance previews can be summarized in three profoundly simple questions that a boss and each of his or her subordinates might ask and answer for one another:
1- What are you getting from me that you like and find helpful? If relevant, comment on the bigger picture: how we are organized and how people and units interact.
2-What are you getting from me (and/ or the system) that impedes your effectiveness and would like to have stopped?
3-What are you not getting from me (and/ or the system) that you think would enhance your effectiveness, and tell me, specific to you, why do you need it at this time?

“…You affirm the positive, you own your annoyance, and you tell the person what you lack that you believe would be useful….”

“…Again, performance reviews typically come up with a measure against which employees are evaluated. In contrast, previews come up with a measure against which results, not employees, are measured. Reviews measure after production. Previews do the measuring before and during production when practical adjustments can be made. Reviews bring the cops. Previews bring the cavalry riding….”

“…But decades of researching managerial effectiveness have convinced me that personal respect, and perhaps the possibility of friendship, is an essential ingredient of having the kind of straight-talking, trusting relationships that previews demand. With straight talk, mistakes can be acknowledged, learned from, and rectified. Straight talk enables imperfect managers and subordinates to combine resources to accomplish what needs to be achieved….”

“…But it isn’t. As I’ve made clear, no matter how you slice it, no matter what you call it, the performance review is inherently a flawed beast. It can’t be patched up and sent on its way. It can only be scrapped….”

“…There’s plenty of research to support the idea that doing away with performance reviews has a profoundly positive impact on an organization. Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins wrote Abolishing Performance Appraisals in 2000, describing twenty-six organizations that got rid of reviews, chronicling the positive results they experienced in terms of morale, effectiveness, and profitability….”

“…The question of pay and previews is complicated, but the easiest way to understand it is to reiterate what I said in chapter 4: It’s ridiculous to think that pay is primarily— or even largely— a function of performance. That’s true with the previews as well as reviews. I believe it’s a combination of market factors, transaction costs avoided by having to replace the person, and share-the-wealth values….”

“…A further note about bonuses: Paying different people a different level of bonus only makes sense if you have people doing identical, strictly definable jobs operating in similar situations. That’s rarely the case, especially as people move into higher-level jobs where what they do daily is more sophisticated and nuanced. Bonuses pit peers in competition and create unfair comparisons. Give everybody the same bonus and you encourage employees to share their competencies, rather than cover them over for tactical gain….”

Quotes from: ““Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes” by Alfie Kohn


Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and parenting. He is the author of twelve books and hundreds of articles. Kohn has been described by Time Magazine as “perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades and test scores.” He has appeared twice on “Oprah,” as well as on “The Today Show,” NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” and on many other TV and radio programs. He spends much of his time speaking at education conferences, as well as to parent groups, school faculties, and researchers. Kohn lives (actually) in the Boston area – and (virtually) at

More at about the author 

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This summary (selected book quotes) has been prepared for:

  • Employers
  • Professors and Teachers
  • Parents

that are too busy giving out bonuses, grades and gold stars, to understand the real harm that incentives, rewards and extrinsic manipulation techniques cause to their Employees, Students and Children (respectively).

“Frederick W. Taylor published his famous book, The Principles of Scientific Management, which described how tasks at a factory should be broken into parts, each assigned to a worker according to a precise plan, with financial rewards meted out to encourage maximum efficiency in production. “

“Survivors of introductory psychology courses will recall that there are two major varieties of learning theory: classical conditioning (identified with Pavlov’s dogs) and operant, or instrumental, conditioning (identified with Skinner’s rats). “

“More important, we can depart from Skinner at this point and begin to address ourselves to contemporary pay-for-performance plans in the workplace or the technique of pasting a gold star on a chart each time a child complies with her parents’ demands. “

“Ironically, rewards and punishments not only lie at the core of faith but are central to our idea of rationality as well, particularly as it makes its presence felt in economic choices. “

“Frederick Herzberg observed that managers who emphasize rewards and punishments “offer their own motivational characteristics as the pattern to be instilled in their subordinates. They become the template from which the new recruit to industry learns his motivational pattern.”

“Exactly the same is true in the office. Good management, like good teaching, is a matter of solving problems and helping people do their best. This too takes time and effort and thought and patience and talent. Dangling a bonus in front of employees does not. In many workplaces, incentive plans are used as a substitute for management: pay is made contingent on performance and everything else is left to take care of itself. “

“Rewards don’t bring about the changes we are hoping for, but the point here is also that something else is going on: the more rewards are used, the more they seem to be needed. …………Pretty soon, the provision of rewards becomes habitual because there seems to be no way to do without them. “

The interest of the behaviorist in man’s doings is more than the interest of the spectator— he wants to control man’s reactions as physical scientists want to control and manipulate other natural phenomena.

—  John B. Watson, Behaviorism

“The belief that rewards will be distributed fairly, even if it takes until the next lifetime to settle accounts, is one component of what is sometimes referred to as the “just world” view. “

“For many people, the moralistic corollary to this assumption is that bad things should be bestowed on, or good things withheld from, those who are undeserving. “

“Excellence is often the product of cooperation, and even individual achievement typically is built on the work of other people’s earlier efforts. So who “deserves” the reward when lots of people had a hand in the performance? “

“However, the assumption that people should be rewarded on the basis of what they have done is “not as much a psychological law about human nature as it is a psychological outcome of a culture’s socialization practices.”

“My claim is that pop behaviorism is by its very nature dehumanizing. But I do not mean by that word merely that we are treated or understood as being on a par with other species; this is just a symptom. In the case of Skinnerian theory, the human self has been yanked up by its roots and the person reduced to a repertoire of behaviors. It is hard to imagine what could be more dehumanizing than the removal of what defines us as human. “

“Some observers think that to manipulate workers with incentives is to treat them like children. “

“Management also seems to assume that machines and workers are alike in that they are both normally passive agents who must be stimulated by management in order to go into action. In the case of the machines, management turns on the electricity. In the case of workers, money takes the place of electricity. “

“When we repeatedly promise rewards to children for acting responsibly, or to students for making an effort to learn something new, or to employees for doing quality work, we are assuming that they could not or would not choose to act this way on their own. If the capacity for responsible action, the natural love of learning, and the desire to do good work are already part of who we are, then the tacit assumption to the contrary can fairly be described as dehumanizing.* “

“Clearly, punishments are harsher and more overt; there is no getting around the intent to control in “Do this or else here’s what will happen to you.” But rewards simply “control through seduction rather than force.” “

“In the workplace, there is no getting around the fact that “the basic purpose of merit pay is manipulative. “

“If a child is sneaky enough to save up tokens rather than feeling driven to keep earning new ones, we are warned that “the child and not the teacher is in control” of her behavior (a prospect evidently regarded as appalling on its face). “

“The point to be emphasized is that all rewards, by virtue of being rewards, are not attempts to influence or persuade or solve problems together, but simply to control. “

“This feature of rewards is much easier to understand when we are being controlled than when we are doing the controlling. This is why it is so important to imagine ourselves in the other position, to take the perspective of the person whose behavior we are manipulating. “

“By definition, it would seem, if one person controls another, the two individuals have unequal status. “

…“made us feel like a McDonald’s Employee of the Month.” 31 Perhaps we should ask why anyone, even an employee at McDonald’s, should be made to feel that way. “

“If rewards bolster the traditional order of things, then the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is right to warn (or promise) that “to de-emphasize conventional rewards threatens the existing power structure. “

“More realistically, we must acknowledge that because pop behaviorism is fundamentally a means of controlling people, it is by its nature inimical to democracy, 37 critical questioning, and the free exchange of ideas among equal participants. “

“The first step is to examine our own motivation: are we ultimately trying to teach a skill, promote a value, boost self-esteem, or are we mostly interested in making someone do what we want? Next, we might try to put ourselves in the reward recipient’s shoes and imagine whether she might feel manipulated, irrespective of our intentions. (An expression of positive feedback might be construed as useful information by one person and as a clever attempt to control what she does tomorrow by another.) Finally, we ought to look at various objective features of the reward experience— how much emphasis the incentive has been given, how large or attractive it is, how closely it is tied to the quality of performance, and so on— with an eye to minimizing the extent to which the recipient will see the reward as driving his actions. “

“…more sweeping objection, one that has been made not only by Skinner and Skinnerians but also by social theorists with whom they have little in common: control is an unavoidable feature of human relationships; all that actually varies is the subtlety of the system of reinforcement. A brief smile and nod are just as controlling as a dollar bill— “

“A far more defensible position, it seems to me, is that some forms of human interaction are controlling and some are not. The line might not be easy to draw in practice, but the distinction is still meaningful and important. “

“But to say that children need structure or guidance is very different from saying they have to be controlled. “

“The thrust of this chapter, then, has been that giving people rewards is not an obviously fair or appropriate practice across all situations; to the contrary, it is an inherently objectionable way of reaching our goals by virtue of its status as a means of controlling others. Some readers will respond to this by saying that regardless of whether rewards are good, bad, or neutral from a moral point of view, the most important reason we use them is that they work. Let us now see whether this is true. “

 [Rewards] have effects that interfere with performance in ways that we are only beginning to understand.

—Janet Spence, 1971 “

“Many of the early (and highly successful) applications of the principles of behavior modification have involved animals (such as pigeons), children, or institutionalized adults such as prisoners or mental patients. Individuals in each of these groups are necessarily dependent on powerful others for many of the things they most want and need, and their behavior usually can be shaped with relative ease. “

“For how long are rewards effective? The short answer is that they work best in the short term. For behavior changes to last, it is usually necessary to keep the rewards coming. “

“In the real world, even if not in the laboratory, rewards must be judged on whether they lead to lasting change— change that persists when there are no longer any goodies to be gained. “

“Translation: when the goodies stop, people go right back to acting the way they did before the program began. “

“Three areas where there is enough evidence to permit at least provisional judgments about their success are losing weight, quitting smoking, and using seatbelts. Here’s what the data show:

Losing weight In one dieting study, some subjects were promised a twice-a-week reward of five dollars each time the scale showed good news, while others got nothing. Those who were paid did make more progress at the beginning, but then gained back the weight— and then some— over the next five months. By contrast, those who had not been rewarded kept getting slimmer. This study was quite small, and a lot of the subjects were unavailable for measurement at the end, so we probably shouldn’t give it too much weight. But a similar study published ten years later offered little solace for behaviorists: after a year, no difference was found between the payment and nonpayment groups. (Actually, there was one difference: many of those who had been promised money for shedding pounds failed to show up for the final weigh-in.)

Quitting smoking Losing weight and keeping it off are inordinately difficult, so it may be unfair to reject pop behaviorism just because it hasn’t worked miracles here. The trouble is that it hasn’t done much better elsewhere, assuming we are looking for long-term gains. Take smoking cessation. A very large study, published in 1991, recruited subjects for a self-help program designed to help people kick the habit. Some were offered a prize for turning in weekly progress reports; some got feedback designed to enhance their motivation to quit; everybody else (the control group) got nothing. What happened? Prize recipients were twice as likely as the others to return the first week’s report. But three months later, they were lighting up again more often than those who received the other treatment— and even more than those in the control group! Saliva samples revealed that subjects who had been promised prizes were twice as likely to lie about having quit. In fact, for those who received both treatments, “the financial incentive somehow diminished the positive impact of the personalized feedback.” Not only were rewards unhelpful; they actually did harm. ..

Using seat belts Even more research has been done on applying behaviorism to the promotion of seat belt use. In fact, an enthusiastic partisan of behaviorism and his colleagues reviewed the effects of twenty-eight programs used by nine different companies to get their employees to buckle up; nearly half a million vehicle observations were made over six years in this research. The result: programs that rewarded people for wearing seat belts were the least effective over the long haul. In follow-up measures ranging from a month to more than a year later, programs that offered prizes or cash for buckling up found changes in seat belt use ranging from a 62 percent increase to a 4 percent decrease. Programs without rewards averaged a 152 percent increase. The authors, who clearly did not expect this result, had to confess that “the greater impact of the no-reward strategies from both an immediate and long-term perspective . .  .[ was] not predicted and [is] inconsistent with basic reinforcement theory.”

“At what, exactly, are rewards effective? To ask how long rewards last, and to learn that they rarely produce effects that survive the rewards themselves, is to invite curiosity about just what it is that rewards are doing. Why don’t people keep acting the way they were initially reinforced for acting? The answer is that reinforcements do not generally alter the attitudes and emotional commitments that underlie our behaviors. They do not make deep, lasting changes because they are aimed at affecting only what we do. If, like Skinner, you think there is nothing to human beings other than what we do— that we are only repertoires of behavior— then this criticism will not trouble you; it may even seem meaningless. “

“What rewards and punishments do is induce compliance, and this they do very well indeed. If your objective is to get people to obey an order, to show up on time and do what they’re told, then bribing or threatening them may be sensible strategies. But if your objective is to get long-term quality in the workplace, to help students become careful thinkers and self-directed learners, or to support children in developing good values, then rewards, like punishments, are absolutely useless. In fact, as we are beginning to see, they are worse than useless— they are actually counterproductive. “

“Morton Deutsch concluded that “there is no evidence to indicate that people work more productively when they are expecting to be rewarded in proportion to their performance than when they are expecting to be rewarded equally or on the basis of need. “

“Incentives will have a detrimental effect on performance when two conditions are met: first, when the task is interesting enough for subjects that the offer of incentives is a superfluous source of motivation; second, when the solution to the task is open-ended enough that the steps leading to a solution are not immediately obvious. “

“A growing number of parents, teachers, and managers have come to believe that punishment, defined as any attempt to change someone’s behavior by forcing him or her to undergo something unpleasant, is bad news. Later in this book, I will defend the position that punishing people should indeed be avoided whenever possible, both for practical and moral reasons. For now, I want to address readers who already share this view, and who therefore try to use rewards instead. “

“The troubling truth is that rewards and punishments are not opposites at all; they are two sides of the same coin. And it is a coin that does not buy very much. “

“…the same psychological model, one that conceives of motivation as nothing more than the manipulation of behavior. “

That rewards punish is not due only to the fact that they are controlling. They also have that effect for a second, even more straightforward, reason: some people do not get the rewards they were hoping to get, and the effect of this is, in practice, indistinguishable from punishment. “

“A survey of several hundred mothers of kindergarten-age children revealed a significant positive relationship between the frequent use of rewards and the frequent use of physical punishment. “

“As it happens, most studies have found that unexpected rewards are much less destructive than the rewards people are told about beforehand and are deliberately trying to obtain. “

“Most businesspeople can remember an instance when they, or their colleagues, were expecting a bonus, only to become demoralized when they ended up, for whatever reason, not getting it. Parents readily tell stories of exactly the same thing happening when their children failed to get some reward at school that they were counting on. Most of us are familiar with this phenomenon, but few of us have considered that it is not merely widespread but endemic to the use of rewards. “

“Rewards also disrupt relationships in very particular ways that are demonstrably linked to learning, productivity, and the development of responsibility. They have these effects both with respect to horizontal relationships (those among peers) and vertical relationships (those among people whose status is different, such as teacher and student, parent and child, supervisor and employee). “

“As a rule, rewards are not conducive to developing and maintaining the positive relationships that promote optimal learning or performance. But two common arrangements for rewarding people take a bad thing and make it much worse by explicitly setting people against each other. The first of these is a condition of artificial scarcity. Imagine that you are one of twenty or thirty students in a classroom. The teacher announces at the beginning of the year that whoever makes the highest score on each Friday’s quiz will be eligible to wear a GENIUS OF THE WEEK badge and enjoy a set of privileges that go with it. How is this likely to affect the way you view your fellow students? How inclined will you be to help someone else with an assignment? How easy will it be for a sense of community to take root in that room? “

“Some writers have acknowledged many of these problems and suggested that the solution is to stop rewarding individuals and use small group incentives instead, either in the workplace or the classroom. Unfortunately, offering goodies to teams simply shifts the rivalry to another level, maximizing the competition and thereby minimizing the coordination among groups. Moreover, the four other major problems discussed in this chapter and the next are not alleviated by changing how many people receive a reward. There is research to show that “shared incentives do not ameliorate the negative effects of performance-contingent rewards. “

“First, most competition creates anxiety of a type and level that typically interferes with performance. 16 Second, those who believe they don’t have a chance of winning are discouraged from making an effort; having been given no reason to apply themselves except to defeat their peers, and convinced that they cannot do so, these people are almost by definition demotivated. 17 Third, according to a series of studies by psychologist Carole Ames, people tend to attribute “

“The presence or absence of rewards is, of course, only one factor among many that affect the quality of our relationships. But it is a factor too often overlooked in its tendency to cause flattery to be emphasized in place of trust and to create a feeling of being evaluated rather than supported. “

“A mother in Virginia wrote to me not long ago to challenge my criticism of behavioral manipulation. “If I cannot either punish (or allow consequences) or reward (bribe) my children . .  . what do I do when my almost three year old . .  . wanders out of her room again and again at bedtime?” she asked. Fair enough: let us consider three possible ways of dealing with a child who will not stay in bed. Behaviorist A favors “consequences”: “If you’re not back in that bed by the time I count to three, young lady, you won’t be watching television for a week!” Behaviorist B favors rewards: “If you stay in bed until morning for the next three nights, honey, I’ll buy you that teddy bear you wanted. “

“…when we are working for a reward, we do exactly what is necessary to get it and no more. “

“If we want children to read more, to read carefully, and to care about reading, then offering them bribes— edible or otherwise— is exactly the wrong way to go about it. “

“Psychologists sometimes refer to rewards and punishments as “extrinsic” motivators, because they are inducements outside of the task itself. People who have been led to think in terms of what they will get for doing something can be described as extrinsically motivated. The opposite of this is intrinsic motivation, which basically means enjoying what one does for its own sake.* “

“…intrinsic motivation remains a powerful predictor of how good a job someone will do in the workplace or how successfully he or she will learn in school. “

“For example, we should be especially concerned about presenting food as a prize on a regular basis if there is any chance that doing so could contribute to eating disorders. “

Age. Clearly, as we have seen, “the effects of rewards on intrinsic motivation have been found to be similar across the ages,” from very young children to adults. 17 One is never too young or too old to have one’s interest in a task reduced when that task is presented as a way of getting a reward. “

Sex. Men and women, boys and girls, respond to rewards in pretty much the same way; most researchers have had no reason to expect different results on the basis of gender and have found none. 18 (The one exception to this trend concerns responses to praise, which tends to affect females more negatively than males, for reasons to be discussed in chapter “

Race and social class. As far as I can determine, no researcher has ever set out to investigate whether rewards affect one’s interest in a task differently depending on race or social status. There are some data, however, on how rewards affect task performance. Studies in the 1950s and 1960s found that “lower-class” children, unlike their middle-class counterparts, tended to perform better on certain isolated tasks when given tangible incentives such as candy. “

“…rewards are usually experienced as controlling, and we tend to recoil from situations where our autonomy has been diminished. “

“Intrinsic motivation is the prototypical form of self-determination,” 35 while “rewards in general appear to have a controlling significance to some extent and thus in general run the risk of undermining intrinsic motivation. “

“Two kinds of motivation are better than one.” Outside of psychology departments, very few people explicitly distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. But some who do make use of these concepts apparently assume the two can simply be added together for best effect. 52 Motivation comes in two flavors, these people seem to be saying, and both together must be better than either one by itself. What research (and, if we are attentive to long-term consequences, experience) makes quite clear is that things don’t always work this way in the real world. You can combine different forms of control to make people less motivated, but it’s not so easy to combine intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to make them more motivated. Finding a task interesting, which is both critical to excellence and highly desirable in itself, is usually eroded by the addition of a reward. “

“More specifically, the belief that we can offer rewards to jump-start a behavior and then simply fade them out presumes, according to Barry Schwartz, that “the effects of rewards do not carry over beyond acquisition into later occurrences of the activity in question and do not transfer to related, but different activities. “

“In fact, the more you want what has been dangled in front of you, the more you may come to dislike whatever you have to do to get it. “

“As rewards continue to co-opt intrinsic motivation and preclude intrinsic satisfaction, the extrinsic needs . .  . become stronger in themselves. Thus, people develop stronger extrinsic needs as substitutes for more basic, unsatisfied needs.  .  .  . They end up behaving as if they were addicted to extrinsic rewards. “

“The only problem is that we are offering incentives for the wrong behaviors. If we made rewards contingent on people’s doing exactly what needs to be done, the problem would disappear “

“If we’re worried about reducing intrinsic motivation, then what’s the problem with giving people rewards for doing things they don’t find interesting?” It is true that rewards are most likely to kill interest where there is the most interest “

“If we are concerned about performance as well as interest, remember that a number of studies have shown that while extrinsic motivators nearly always reduce creativity, they sometimes cause people to do a poorer job at fairly routine (and presumably uninteresting) tasks “

“Even if people who are bored by a task seem to respond to a reward, it seems unwise to use artificial inducements to try to interest someone in an activity that other people already enjoy on its merits.* It would be far more productive to ask why he or she is bored. (Perhaps the task is simply too easy or too hard for her, in which case adjusting the level of challenge would seem to make more sense than offering a bribe.) “

“…teachers who use controlling techniques such as extrinsic motivators tend to produce students who are more extrinsic, while those who emphasize students’ autonomy produce students who are more intrinsic. “

–Get rewards out of people’s faces. If they must be given, at least reduce the salience of the rewards— that is, how conspicuous and relevant they are. Research suggests that the more prominent an extrinsic motivator is, the more intrinsic motivation is undermined. 90 Our challenge is to offer fewer of them, make each one smaller, give them out privately, and avoid making a big fuss over the whole process.

–Offer rewards after the fact, as a surprise. People who protest that their intent is not to control people but only to “recognize excel lence” (an idea taken up in the next chapter) or to show appreciation can demonstrate they mean what they say by taking care not to tell people in advance what they will get for doing something.

Never turn the quest for rewards into a contest. Extrinsic motivators, as I have noted, become more destructive when the number of them is artificially limited— that is, when performance is measured in relative rather than absolute terms. 93 If bonuses are to be handed out at work, they should be available to anyone who meets a given standard instead of making each person an obstacle to the others’ success. Likewise, the tendency of some classroom teachers to grade on a curve is nothing short of immoral: it gratuitously limits the number of good grades just so the result will conform to an arbitrary, fixed distribution (few grades that are very bad, an equally small number that are very good, and a lot that are mediocre).

–Make rewards as similar as possible to the task. So-called endogenous rewards reduce the gap between what people are doing and what they are getting for it. 95 If you feel compelled to give a child something for having read a book, give her another book.

–Give people as much choice as possible about how rewards are used. Although rewards are basically mechanisms for controlling people, you can minimize the destructive consequences by including the potential recipients in the process of deciding what will be given out and how and to whom.

–Try to immunize individuals against the motivation-killing effects of rewards. It is possible that in some circumstances people’s intrinsic motivation can be shored up so that they are more resistant to the harmful effects of rewards. Some laboratory experiments have countered these effects by convincing people that they find the task interesting’’“

Children have an intrinsic desire to learn. Praise and manipulation can only serve to stifle that natural motivation and replace it with blind conformity, a mechanical work style, or open defiance toward authority.

 —Randy Hitz and Amy Driscoll, 1988

“praise is less likely to be promised in advance. Rewards are most damaging when they are expected— that is, when “Do this and you’ll get that” is heard before we do something— whereas praise generally comes as a surprise, after the fact. “

“Here, then, we have four accounts of how praise may impede performance: it signals low ability, makes people feel pressured, invites a low-risk strategy to avoid failure, and reduces interest in the task itself. Regardless of which of these seems to be operating, the evidence suggests that praise “interacts with other variables in a manner analogous to tangible rewards.” 23 That means it is a poor bet for enhancing the quality of what people do. “

“Two studies with college students found that women (but not men) who were praised for their work became less interested in it than those who weren’t praised. 35 Deci speculated that this effect was due to the fact that women are more likely than men to view positive feedback as controlling, rather than just providing information about how they did. “

“Private comments, offered so as to promote self-determination and intrinsic motivation, are enough to let people know their work is appreciated. There is no reason to offer these comments from a stage or to weight them down with trophies or certificates.”

“By contrast, in the typical ceremony for “recognizing excellence,” the people in charge have unilaterally selected, at their own discretion and based on their own criteria, some people to recognize over, and in front of, others. “

“The real problem is not that children expect to be praised for everything they do; it is that adults are tempted to take shortcuts, to manipulate their behavior with the use of rewards instead of explaining, helping them to develop needed skills, fostering a commitment to good values, and bringing them in on the process of deciding how to learn and behave. “

“selective reinforcement and indiscriminate reinforcement are two versions of the same thing, two manifestations of the same theory of motivation. The trouble with rewards is not that we hand them out too easily; it is that they are controlling, ultimately ineffective, and likely to undermine intrinsic interest.

 [The fault does not lie] with the use of poor techniques in administering incentive systems.  .  .  . [Rather,] there is something wrong with the theory of worker motivation upon which the policies and procedures are based.

 —William Foote Whyte, 1955

Not only are incentive systems and pay-for-performance plans pervasive in U.S. companies, but there exists a deep and rarely questioned commitment to the belief that offering people rewards will cause them to do a better job. The evidence, however, suggests that extrinsic motivators in the workplace are not only ineffective but often positively counterproductive. The most familiar reasons proposed to explain this failure deal with relatively minor issues that apply only to specific incentive programs. But several other reasons strike at the heart of the assumptions about motivation that underlie all such programs. The bottom line is that any approach that offers a reward for better performance is destined to be ineffective. “

“Get the incentives right and productivity will follow. If we give people big, straightforward monetary incentives . .  . the productivity problem will go away.” 13 In point of fact, if we have seen anything “go away” as a consequence of relying on incentives, it has not been the productivity problem but productivity. “

“If you want teamwork, you have got to recognize the team,” says the influential management theorist Edward Lawler. 15 His main point is that we should shift rewards from individuals to groups, but the idea of moving beyond a reliance on rewards altogether— promoting cooperation without, in effect, bribing people to work together— is evidently unimaginable. “

American workplace: a large dog holding out a biscuit to a smaller dog that holds one out to a still smaller dog, and so on until the dogs and biscuits vanish into insignificance. “

Consider the countries typically cited as competitors of the United States. Japan and Germany, to take two of the most successful, rarely use incentives or other behaviorist tactics to induce people to do a better job. “

Finally, consider the use of merit pay in the public sector. The most comprehensive attempt to implement such a program in the federal government, resulting from the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, was judged a disaster even by the man who directed it. 33 In what was billed as the first direct test of the effects of performance-contingent pay for managers, a team of researchers at the University of California at Irvine looked at the performance of twenty offices of the Social Security Administration over more than four years. Using the very performance measures on which the managers’ salary increases had been based, they found that “the implementation of merit pay had no significant effects on organizational performance.” “

“*We might ask, while we are at it, who has the greatest incentive to defend the idea of incentives. Who would naturally prefer to fiddle with the formulas used for compensation rather than question the very premise of paying for performance? Arguably, the answer is the thousands of consultants whose livelihoods would be jeopardized if that premise were challenged. “

“To try a different bonus plan, another reward, a new proposal from the same Skinnerian perspective, is about as sensible as treating cirrhosis of the liver by switching from vodka to gin. “

“Pay is not a motivator.” 56 If an employee isn’t especially interested in an in-kind incentive, this is not a serious problem; a stereo system can be substituted for a trip to Hawaii. But what if it turns out that the default reward, money, also lacks the motivational power most of us attribute to it? That making money shouldn’t be the driving force in our lives is a message that has echoed through all cultures and in all ages. That money isn’t the driving force in our lives is another matter. Even when a man of Deming’s stature makes the flat declaration that money isn’t a motivator, we are skeptical— or at least puzzled. Of course, all of us want to be paid. Money buys the things we need and the things we want. Moreover, the less someone is paid— or at least, the less control he has over his own work— the more concerned he is likely to be about financial matters. 57 In this respect, money is like sex, as James Baldwin remarked somewhere: we are preoccupied with it mostly when it is missing from our lives. It can be readily conceded. “

“When samples of industrial employees in 1946 and 1986 were asked what they looked for in a job, they ranked “good wages” fifth out of ten possible factors. In the more recent survey, “interesting work” was number one. Supervisors, however, assumed that workers cared most about money59— and presumably made managerial decisions on the basis of that erroneous belief. “

“As the sociologist Philip Slater once remarked, “The idea that everybody wants money is propaganda circulated by wealth addicts to make themselves feel better about their addiction.”

“Consider, by way of analogy, the claim that carrots are good for your eyes. This is true only in the very limited sense that they provide carotene, which your body turns into vitamin A; a complete deprivation of vitamin A would cause night blindness. But almost everyone has immense reserves of carotene stored in the liver, and eating more carrots, or otherwise ingesting vitamin A above the amount you need, doesn’t improve your vision at all. So it is for a “carrot” like money: less of it may hurt, but that doesn’t mean more of it will help. “

“Rewards punish. In some circles, it is no longer necessary to make the case that punishment destroys motivation: this fact is already understood, and one can proceed directly to the seldom-noticed point that rewards have the same effect. But the people who run many large American corporations are still convinced that coercive and punitive tactics are useful. Sadly, a few words on this topic (before addressing the question of rewards) may not be superfluous. Even today it is not very difficult to find business leaders who believe that fear motivates people to do good work. “I hope everybody here comes to work scared to death” about the fate of the company, said a top executive at AT& T. 78 “Making the bottom 10 percent uncomfortable is good business,” declared a senior vice president of personnel at IBM, which recently adopted an evaluation system mandating that one of every ten employees must receive a poor rating every year and be given three months to improve or be fired. 79 Pay-for-performance systems, in order to “send the proper signals for good performance,” must “withhold sufficient pay” when people’s work is disappointing, according to a standard text on compensation. “

“The most charitable thing we can say about the use of punishment and fear is that it is psychologically naive. Threatening people can make them anxious about the consequences of doing poorly, but the fear of failure is completely different from the desire to succeed. “

Rewards rupture relationships. Horizontal relationships, such as those among employees of comparable status, are casualties of the scramble for rewards. As Deming and others have emphasized, incentive programs reduce the possibility that people will cooperate. And when cooperation is absent, so is quality. “We talk about teamwork at training sessions,” one bank executive remarked, “and then we destroy it in the compensation system. “

“Furthermore, contests, rankings, and competition for a limited number of incentives cause each employee to see every colleague as an obstacle to her own success, which in turn discourages collaboration and erodes the social support and sense of belongingness that make for secure employees and an effective’ organization. “

“…there is evidence that pay-for-performance plans tend to displace careful management: where reward systems are employed, it is less likely that productive strategies will be used. “

“A compensation system is no substitute for careful management, just as a behaviorist approach is no substitute for getting to the root of problems, but it is often used that way. “

Rewards discourage risk-taking. “People will do precisely what they are asked to do if the reward is significant,” enthuses one proponent of pay-for-performance programs. 95 And here we have identified exactly what is wrong with such programs. “

“When employees participate in setting performance standards, such as in organizations using the “management by objectives” technique popularized by Peter Drucker, “they have an incentive to set goals at safe levels . .  . to assure high ratings and rewards.”

Rewards undermine interest. Possibly the most compelling reason that incentive systems fail is the phenomenon described in chapter 5: extrinsic motivators not only are less effective than intrinsic motivation but actually reduce intrinsic motivation. “

“the risk of any incentive or pay-for-performance system is that it will make people less interested in their work and therefore less likely to approach it with enthusiasm and a commitment to excellence. Furthermore, the more closely we tie compensation (or other rewards) to performance, the more damage we do. “

“The management system of choice is therefore Skinnerian, with pay made contingent on performance. Since extrinsic factors eat away at intrinsic motivation, people become less interested in their work as a result and increasingly likely to require extrinsic incentives before putting out an effort. Then the supervisors point to that orientation, shake their heads, and say, “You see? If you don’t offer them a reward, they won’t do anything.” It is a classic self-fulfilling prophecy, and it did not escape the attention of critics like McGregor, Herzberg, and Levinson. “

“On the underlying philosophy, they speak the same language. “No system really works unless it operates with incentives,” declares American Federation of Teachers president Albert Shanker. 5 And The New Republic chimes in: “People respond to incentives.”

“Externally imposed evaluations, goals, rewards, and pressures seem to create a style of teaching and learning that is antithetical to quality learning outcomes in school, that is, learning characterized by durability, depth, and integration. “

“Controlling techniques in general, and rewards in particular, are most pervasively applied to children with special needs and challenges— and to those who simply carry a label that sets them apart. These children are subjected to a relentless regimen of Skinnerian manipulation, complete with elaborate charts, point systems, and reinforcement schedules. Even teachers and clinicians who would hesitate to use such methods with other children assume it is justified for those who are classified by a distinguishing set of initials. “

“Children with greater needs and handicaps are controlled even more tightly. Classes for them “tend to be heavily dominated by externally controlling teaching practices and extrinsic motivational incentives.”

“The attempt to protect that image usually comes at the expense of a desire to try one’s best, which can seem risky. If you don’t try, you can’t fail. Second, the more the student is focused on how well he’s doing, the less he is absorbed in the task itself. That absorption facilitates learning, so anything that undermines it is educationally disruptive. “

“Getting students to think about how they are performing also increases their fear of failure. Trying not to fail is, of course, very different from trying to succeed. “

If we want children to become able to act with personal conviction about what is right . .  . we must reduce our adult power and avoid the use of rewards and punishments as much as possible.

—Constance Kamii, 1984  “

BRIBES AND THREATS WORK. If I held up a pile of hundred-dollar bills and promised to hand them over if you learned every word on this page by heart, you would probably start committing them to memory. If I held a loaded gun to your head and told you I was going to pull the trigger unless you immediately ripped this page out of the book and ate it, you would very likely find these ideas a lot easier to swallow. If the punishment is aversive enough, or the reward appealing enough, there is no telling what you (or I) would agree to do. “

“No behavioral manipulation ever helped a child develop a commitment to becoming a caring and responsible person. No reward for doing something we approve of ever gave a child a reason for continuing to act that way when there was no longer any reward to be gained for doing so. “

“The research literature leaves no doubt that punishment is counterproductive. Studies over more than half a century show that when adults use disciplinary approaches variously described as “highly controlling,” “power-assertive,” or just plain punitive, children become more disruptive, aggressive, and hostile. “

“Mothers who punished toilet accidents severely ended up with bed-wetting children. Mother who punished dependency to get rid of it had more dependent children than mothers who did not punish. “

“…punishment leads to three possible outcomes: “calculation of risks” (which means children spend their time figuring out whether they can get away with something), “blind conformity” (which fails to teach responsible decision-making), or “revolt.”

“A number of psychologists and educators influenced by the work of Rudolf Dreikurs33 denounce punishment as harsh and ineffective and suggest instead that children be made to suffer “consequences”— especially those described as “logical” or “natural”— for their actions. “

“Countless parents, including some who deliberately try to avoid using punishment, have gotten into the habit of buying their children’s good behavior with money and treats. 44 Teachers too use privileges and good grades, parties and movies to get individual students or whole classes to act “appropriately.” Both at home and at school, praise is frequently used to manipulate children’s behavior. Typically the goal of rewarders is no different from what punishers have in mind: “Do what you’re told.”

First, rewards punish. It is no less controlling to offer goodies for a desired behavior than to threaten sanctions for its absence (or for the presence of an undesired behavior). “

Second, rewards rupture relationships. They open up an enormous chasm between the parent and child, now defined as the rewarder and the rewarded. “

Third, rewards ignore reasons. Why are children acting selfishly or disrespectfully or aggressively? “

“The question would seem to be perfectly reasonable, and yet I have found it frustrating and difficult to answer for several reasons. First of all, the alternative to rewards depends on whether we are talking about raising children, teaching students, or managing employees. “

“If what you want is to get a child, a student, or a worker to do what you say, then the answer to the question “What’s the alternative to rewards?” is that there probably is no alternative (with the possible exception of punishment). To induce short-term compliance, behavioral manipulation is the best we’ve got. If, however, your goal is to tap your employees’ intrinsic interest in doing quality work, or to encourage your students to become lifelong, self-directed learners, or to help your child grow into a caring, responsible, decent person, then it makes no sense to ask “What’s the alternative to rewards?” because rewards never moved us one millimeter toward those objectives. In fact, rewards actively interfere with our attempts to reach them. “

Here are the basic principles I would propose to those responsible for setting policy: Pay people generously and equitably. Do your best to make sure they don’t feel exploited. Then do everything in your power to help them put money out of their minds. “

“When someone contacts me about giving a lecture or writing an article, I ask how much money is involved and often negotiate for the maximum amount that seems to be fair and that the organization can afford to pay. Then, assuming we have come to an agreement, I do my best not to think about the money again. I do this because I fear the consequences of construing what I am doing in terms of what I am being paid: eventually I might find myself thinking, “A is paying me twice as much as B, so I’d better do twice as good a job for A.” If I ever reach that point, my integrity will be gone, and my intrinsic motivation will have fled along with it. What I attempt to do, in other words, is decouple the task from the compensation. “

“If the company has had a profitable year, I see no reason those gains should not be distributed to the employees; after all, their work is what produced the profit. 4 These recommendations accord, more or less, with those of Deming5 and, as I understand it, with the practice of most companies in Japan and elsewhere. 6 Some major U.S. corporations— a minority, to be sure— are beginning to move in this direction because of Deming’s influence or because of a gradual realization that pay-for-performance is an inherently flawed concept. “

“After abolishing merit pay, we need to take a hard look at its first cousin, the performance appraisal. This is typically a stressful annual ritual in which employees are ranked, rated, or otherwise judged— a tradition that should have been retired long ago in light of how misleading its results are and how predictably it generates resentment and impedes cooperation. “

“…some critics have suggested that the performance evaluation persists because it is “a very effective tool for controlling employees . .  .[ that] should not be confused . .  . with motivation of employees.” 8 Others argue that its appeal consists in allowing superiors to shift the responsibility for solving problems to their subordinates. 9 Whatever the accuracy of these charges, performance evaluations are most commonly defended on the grounds that they are needed “

  • determine how much each employee is paid or who will receive various awards and incentives;
  • make employees perform better for fear of receiving a negative evaluation or in the hope of getting a positive one;
  • sort employees on the basis of how good a job they are doing so we know whom to promote; or
  • provide feedback, discuss problems, and identify needs in order to help each employee do a better job. “

“Even within the standard hierarchical arrangement, the use of performance appraisals to decide on promotions is based on three dubious assumptions: first, that someone’s achievement in his current job is a reliable predictor of how successful he will be in another, very different, position;* second, that how much someone has achieved is a more important consideration in deciding whether and how his responsibilities will change than what sort of work he prefers and finds intrinsically motivating; and third, to the extent that performance does matter, that it is best judged by the evaluation of a superior rather than by one’s peers or oneself. “

By linking compensation to performance appraisal . .  . the exchange between superior and subordinate is then not about performance but rather about pay, and it is only likely to produce de-motivators.  .  .  . [A discussion about] progress and performance without the prospect that such a review must result in a penalty or an award to the employee [means that] the communication is more likely to stay open and honest. “

This recommendation does not amount merely to saying that supervisors should refrain from talking about money during an evaluation; it means that the entire process of providing feedback, assessing progress, and making plans ought to be completely separate from salary determinations. If such sessions are to be productive, there must be no reward or punishment hanging in the balance. The fact is that no matter how sensitively conducted and constructive an evaluation may be, it becomes a counterproductive force if how much people are paid depends on what is said there. “

“Changing the way workers are treated may boost productivity more than changing the way they are paid.”

“Most so-called managerial teams are not teams at all, but collections of individual relationships with the boss in which each individual is vying with every other for power, prestige, recognition, and personal autonomy. Under such conditions unity of purpose is a myth “

“Pay should not be an active ingredient in promoting teamwork and motivating performance.  .  .  . Telling people you are going to change the compensation system rallies them around compensation when what you want them to do is rally around making teams work.”

“Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who has spent much of his career describing the pure pleasure of “flow” experiences, points out that beyond such enjoyment “one must still ask, ‘What are the consequences of this particular activity?’” 23 The question is not just “Are we having fun yet?” but “Are we making a difference?”

“Managers do not motivate employees by giving them higher wages, more benefits, or new status symbols. Rather, employees are motivated by their own inherent need to succeed at a challenging task. The manager’s job, then, is not to motivate people to get them to achieve; instead, the manager should provide opportunities for people to achieve so they will become motivated. “

“When people are well matched with their jobs, it rarely is necessary to force, coerce, bribe, or trick them into working hard and trying to perform the job well. Instead, they try to do well because it is rewarding and satisfying to do so.”

“The loss of autonomy entailed by the use of rewards or punishments helps explain why they sap our motivation. But managers must do more than avoid these tactics; they need to take affirmative steps to make sure employees have real choices about how they do their jobs. “

“Even managers who are sincere about providing genuine choice to employees may handicap such programs by hanging on to the premises and practices of behaviorism. “

Show me an employee who has to do what she is told, who has learned to distrust smiling assurances that the boss’s door is always open for someone with a suggestion or complaint, whose intrinsic motivation has evaporated in the face of a regimen of rewards and punishments, and I will show you an employee who may well shrug off an invitation to participate in a brand-new, memo-driven Worker Involvement Program. “

One specific similarity between work and school is that the same misconceived question is regularly posed in both places. Douglas McGregor reminded us that “How do you motivate people?” is not what managers should be asking. Nor should educators: children do not need to be motivated. From the beginning they are hungry to make sense of their world. Given an environment in which they don’t feel controlled and in which they are encouraged to think about what they are doing (rather than how well they are doing it), students of any age will generally exhibit an abundance of motivation and a healthy appetite for challenge. “

“For teachers and parents who are convinced by the evidence that rewards for learning are counterproductive, it is difficult enough to discard the stickers and stars, edible treats, and other incentives that have been dangled in front of students for so long. Getting rid of grades, however, presents a challenge of a different order of magnitude. Even if they had the power to do so, many people are likely to be more reluctant about giving up something so integral to our educational system that it is hard to imagine life without it. “

“Grades dilute the pleasure that a student experiences on successfully completing a task. 16 They encourage cheating17 and strain the relationship between teacher and student. 18 They reduce a student’s sense of control over his own fate and can induce a blind conformity to others’ wishes— sometimes to the point that students are alienated from their own preferences and don’t even know who they are. 19 Again, notice that it is not only those punished by F’s but also those rewarded by A’s who bear the cost of grades. “

“The fact is that faculty members have it within their power to reduce this pernicious and distorting aspect of educational practice that often seems to work against learning. If faculty would relax their emphasis on grades, this might serve not to lower standards but to encourage an orientation toward learning. “

“If there is no reason to grade students, students should not be graded. But until we can make the grades disappear (at least from our own schools), we can take small and, yes, realistic steps in the right direction. Here is the way to do that, reduced to its essence: teachers and parents who care about learning need to do everything in their power to help students forget that grades exist. “

“After reading the evidence and weighing the arguments, it makes sense for parents to consider putting aside grades and scores as indicators of success and to look instead at the child’s interest in learning. “

Given that the most selective colleges have been known to accept home-schooled children who have never set foot in a classroom, it is difficult to believe that qualified applicants would be rejected if, instead of the usual transcript, their schools sent along several thoughtful qualitative assessments from some of the students’ teachers, together with a form letter explaining how the school prefers to stress learning rather than sorting “

“American schools offer two basic modes of instruction. In the first, children are set against each other, competing for artificially scarce grades and prizes, struggling to be the first with the right answer. The subliminal lesson is that everyone else should be regarded as potential obstacles to one’s own success. In the second, children are seated at separate desks, taught to ignore everyone else, reminded not to talk, told that the teacher wants to see “what you can do, not what your neighbor can do,” given solitary seatwork assignments followed by solitary homework assignments followed by solitary tests. The subliminal lesson is “how to be alone in a crowd.” 41 This is the extent of most teachers’ repertoires: pit students against each other or pry them apart from each other. The only problem with these arrangements is that neither is particularly conducive to learning. “

“Right now, a good deal of what students are required to do in school is, to be blunt, not worth doing. The tasks they are assigned involve very little creative thought and very much rote learning. “

“*One of my epiphanies as a teacher came with the realization that students’ disruptive acts were less a sign of malice than of a simple desire to make the time pass faster. No strategy for classroom management can hope to be effective in the long term if it ignores the fact that misbehavior often reflects students’ lack of interest in much of what we are teaching. They can’t get out, so they act out. “

“Intrinsic motivation also flourishes when students are not always doing the same thing. Moreover, a variety of kinds of tasks, each requiring different skills, has an additional advantage: it helps to reduce the glaring disparities in status in the classroom. “

“At least one study has found that children given more “opportunity to participate in decisions about schoolwork” score higher on standardized tests. “

“case, the teacher will need to help students learn the skills with which they can make the best use of their freedom. “Opportunities to develop self-management and self-regulatory strategies must accompany the assignment of responsibility,” says Carole Ames. “

“As for teachers’ beliefs about learning, there is obviously a wide range of assumptions and practices to be found. It is impossible to wish away the pervasiveness of Skinnerian techniques in American schools. But a recent national survey of elementary school teachers found fairly widespread understanding that rewards are not particularly effective at getting or keeping students motivated. “

“Does punishment work in the real world? Experience and research teach us that troublesome behavior increases when children are punished, that underlying problems aren’t solved, that dubious values are modeled. “

“Punishing a child for a truly destructive act is no more sensible than punishing her for a trifle; one could argue it makes even less sense because the stakes are higher. “

“Good parenting is not defined by which decision one makes in each instance so much as by the willingness to think about these decisions— as opposed to the tendency to say no habitually and to demand mindless obedience to mindless restrictions. “

“Beyond compliance is the desire to induce children to keep following our rules even when there is no immediate reward to be obtained or punishment to be avoided— that is, to get them to “internalize” these rules. “

“Consider another example: some people insist that two parents must always present a united front by taking the same position in front of a child. True, two wildly different approaches to parenting in the same family will lead to problems, but there is something rigid and inauthentic about trying to deny that Mom and Dad don’t always see things the same way. More to the point, if the child is deprived of any opportunity to decide what happens to her, the parents’ unity amounts to an alliance of them against her. 54 Again, choice is the decisive issue. “

“The moral of this story, I think, is that if we want children to act in a caring fashion— or for that matter, to become part of a community, to learn to take responsibility and make choices— we are obliged to set up the structures that will facilitate movement in this direction and also to remove the barriers. Rewards and punishments actively interfere with what we are trying to do at home and at school. “

Agile Coaching – Lessons from the Trenches

black_green_black_thin_2Authors: Gene Gendel and Erin Perry

High performing organizations, high performing teams, and high performing people do not often happen organically. They are a return on investment.

We’ve spent time in the trenches, both giving and receiving coaching, at organisations of all sizes: from small startups to large enterprises. In this article, we will use our hard fought experience to shed light onto Agile Coaching. First, we will take a step back, helping define what being an Agile Coach means and what skills are necessary to be successful in an organization. Then, we’ll examine patterns and anti-patterns for both in-house coaches and coach-consultants. We will shine light on how to enable coaches to be successful in your organization…

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