Why I might not want to work with you

I pride myself on being able to find common ground with most people. To find the shared value and work with them to achieve it.

The joy of working with people who truly value you and are open to ideas is unsurpassed. Exploring the challenges whilst still respecting each other, disagreeing whilst still collaborating deeply – these are all hallmarks of passionate working relationships. This is what I now unreservedly seek.

I’ve spent years gaining and honing skills and techniques to build rapport, to understand people and their needs and to build bridges between my world view and theirs. It has been enormously insightful and satisfying.

But all that experience has also taught me a ton of stuff and helped me come to the conclusion that there are certain behaviours that I do not want to work with it. Ever again.

8 Behaviours I Don’t Want to Work With

 It isn’t about people as much as it is about behaviours that people, in certain situations, exhibit. Here are the top showstoppers for me:

  1. Having and operating an agenda that is about controlling others.
  2. Withholding material information from me about what and, more importantly, why  we are doing what we are doing.
  3. Demonstrating a lack of openness to ideas.
  4. Reluctance, even when supported, to express how you feel and what you need.
  5. Being dismissive of attempts to create more openness between you, me and others.
  6. Applying the ‘power’ you have in an organisation in a coercive and authoritarian way.
  7. Treating people like resources and using that word easily and happily.
  8. Undervaluing human connectedness and ‘soft’ skills like empathy, trust and respect

Life is too short

There are a few simple reasons I have reached this place, but the most important for me – I think – is that life is too short.

Life is too short to waste it with people who take joyfully but give reluctantly.  It is too short to struggle on an on  against mindsets that are in constant conflict on the most fundamental of values.

Life is too short to spend even a moment on work that is entirely unfulfilling – where you are neither contributing nor benefiting.  It is too short to spend it playing the political games that burn time with little real value.

Yet life is too short not to work with behaviours that joyfully embrace diversity of approach, thought and experience. It is not long enough to really explore the unexplored awesomeness of passionate people. Life is too short not to seek value in joy or to separate ‘life’ from ‘work’. And that is what I want to work with now – for the rest of my life. 

What behaviours would prevent you from working deeply and unreservedly with someone else? I’d love to hear from you via comments or @mhsutton on Twitter.

#MH370 – Are we believing our own hype?

As the painstaking search for MH370 continues and as families wait desperately for news – any news – of the fate of their loved ones, I can’t help but think we are in a dangerous mindset as a global community – that we are believing the hype of what we can and cannot do as a global civilisation.

Fact has merged with fiction – science fiction especially – and we now think that we have capabilities that will fix any and every thing.

What we believe we have is not what we have

Ongoing revelations of the capabilities of Intelligence agencies to spy on and store everything from everyone all the time add to the illusion that all information about everything is known or even knowable. It serves Big Brother well for us to think this – it curtails what we say and to whom. Fighting this is the core of the privacy movement.

From Hollywood we get the continual onslaught of militaristic salvation – any threat from anywhere will be defeated by our armies and our brave warriors – even if those are super heroes from comic books. We can carpet bomb, annihilate with nuclear devastation. We can even explore distant planets and keep in constant touch with our robotic vehicles on them.

Advances in medicine are offering promising defences against our micro-predators – we may soon even defeat aging. Technology is giving us exponentially faster, more ‘intelligence’ gadgets that give us more control on our architected environments and our man-made infrastructure.

All this unavoidably seeds the thought that, as a civilisation, are invincible – even if those capabilities are not actually universally available or applied. But nevertheless, there is a sense that when something truly tragic happens, we can harness our global capabilities to save lives and triumph in the adversity. But sadly, we can’t. The best we can do is pick up the pieces of disaster.

In reality – whilst we are not in the Dark Ages, we are still a small player in this big world. We are as nothing to the whims of weather. In the battle for planet Earth, she will always win, even if that means we become extinct. When we raise alarm about climate change, global warming and rising sea levels, it is not because we fear for the planet. We fear for ourselves and life as we know it.

Once upon a time, we knew our place in the system

Hundreds of years ago, when science was still in its infancy and knowledge was in the hands of relatively few people and the distribution network was basic at best, humans accepted – more easily- that tragedy happens and there is nothing we could do about it.

Ships would go out into the treacherous open oceans and may never return – the ocean bed is littered with unheard cries for rescue and salvation. As desperate as it sounds, humans had a more realistic understand of what they were capable of.

We knew our place within the system. Our place has not really changed – we have no more real responsibility than we ever had, we instead have increased our ability to meet the responsibility we have always had. Neither has the consequence of disrupting the balance of the our natural systems changed. Earth will whip our collective asses in the same ways – only the effects on us will be more devastating.

Be kind to the people who are doing their best

Against the backdrop of this misplaced belief that we can find anything are the people who are actually looking. They are discovering first hand that what they thought they had doesn’t really cut it. Hundreds of people using truely sophisticated technology – some so secret, we can only guess – are discovering that all this tech isn’t yielding any more than speculation.

The Malaysian government – as politically dysfunctional as any – are trying to do the best they can. But they are clueless – not because of a lack of competence – but because there really aren’t that many clues and even fewer promising ones. If everyone is grasping at straws, perhaps it is because there are only straws.

So let’s  be kinder to them and everyone involved in both addressing the tragedy and breaking the news to us that we are believing our own delusions of invincibility. Perhaps we would be better engaged in trying to understand what we think we can do versus what we actually can do.

Will we ever find MH370 – I don’t know, I sincerely hope we do.  Finding this plane – in whatever state it is in will ease the pain of not knowing for the desperate families of the passengers and crew.

Hope is what fuels us through adversity. We must be hopeful that we can be better and do better, but it mustn’t blind us to the false hope in capabilities we do not yet possess, because life and nature will call our bluff over and over again.

My day: The best app ever, meetings that work and The "Us and Them" messages in companies

Today was awesome. Here  are just a few things that I experienced.

The Best App Ever

I wrote the best app ever. Well, I tried to. My friend Violeta and I are working on something together and we prematurely decided to code something. As I started getting the decks clean for this new thing, I was really irked by the need to do it. Not only would it take time  – relatively little, to be fair – it would have led us to software things versus people problems and learning. So we had a quick tete-a-tete and decided to call it off.

Just like that, I got 4 hours of my day back and I wrote the best app ever  – the ‘No App’ App. It took  almost no time and  is entirely bug free. Yay!

Meetings that Work

I have lots of conversations, people call them ‘meetings’, I really don’t care what they are called as long as they are purposeful, engaging and everyone leaves feeling better than when they came. It helps if they are feeling happy too. Happiness goes a long way.

Today I met with some folks I am collaborating with in Norway on my remote coaching experiment. I joined the call and noticed just how chilled and happy they were. Everyone was smiling and the vibe was awesome.

We started with one agenda but a discovery early on into the conversation meant the agenda totally changed. We called it and regrouped on what we should do instead and once we agreed – the conversation continued with purpose. It was a wonderful experience to talk and explore with these 3 people and it brings it home to me that meetings are not inherently bad, they are like any conversation. We ended the conversation with what happens next and when we would meet again to see what progress we made on the things we agreed to do.

I think all conversations need happy collaborators, a clear purpose and closure. It helps focus if the conversation is time constrained and the best ones I’ve attended has participants who feel they can help move it on and are equally concerned that we get value from it. This session today had great closure – we knew what was happening next and it felt like the things we were exploring – although not resolved – were satisfactorily tied off, at least for now.

Us and Them Messages in Companies

As I was driving back up the mountain to our village, I mused on the ‘About Us’ of a company I’m working with and thought how curious it was that it was very much like a lot of many other ‘About Us’ pages in one remarkable way.

The management team is presented first. Often exclusively. The pictures of executives and their bios take pride of place and the top of the content as they do at the top of the organisation structure. I don’t know what message – if any – was designed, but I know what message I was getting.  I was definitely getting:

we are the bosses of everyone, the most important people at this party. There are others but you don’t really need to know anything about them.

As I considered this curiosity, I wondered what would have been a more effective way of presenting the structure that both showed responsibilities but without the hierarchical structure? I’ll share that in a blog post. I also wondered how else the ‘Us and Them’ mentality manifests in companies.

That was my day – a totally mixed bag, but all great. I’d love to hear about your day. Comment or tweet. I’ m all ears.

Why You Might Need To Hire Differently To Fix Your Broken Company

Recently I’ve been working on an experiment to learn how to help companies improve by working with them remotely. This experience inspired me to write about broken companies, where you can get a better idea of what I mean by ‘broken’.

The difficulty I find most often in working with companies trying to improve themselves is that a new conversation needs to be started and it is often a difficult conversation to have. It is difficult for three major reasons:

  1. An organisation and its management have to acknowledge that there are problems that they cannot fix on their own. Acknowledging this can be a big deal – especially in companies that have a rich history of blame for things perceived as failure.
  2. Few –  if any –  of the people who need to be in the conversation have ever experienced being open-heartedly asked to join and take part fully in the conversation – at least not in a way that makes it OK to say ‘No’.
  3. Few –  if any – of the people in the organisation, know or have experience of facilitating this particular type of conversation.

Most employees were not hired to help improve companies.

Almost every company I have known in over 20 years of my working life has hired almost exclusively for function and competence at function – they hire people to do the job they want doing. In this regard people serve a functional purpose, just as a telephone serves a functional purpose, or a stapler serves a function. Yet human beings are so much more than simply functional resources.

So people join companies primarily to do what they were hired to do – not explicitly invited to take part in the continuous improvement of the company, themselves and each other. As people move from job to job, the invitation is never made. Until one day they get to a company that does make the explicit invitation and they have no idea how to do contribute to help make things better.

Continuous improvement of the sort that I believe in – where we are individually and collectively focused on improving both our product (and services) and each other in the process takes people who care. It is not the kind of continuous improvement that is mandated from above. The input about what needs fixing comes from the same people who will play a key part in fixing it – everyone. I’ve often heard this referred to as ‘bottom up’. I do not agree with this – because it implies that in this approach there is still a ‘top’. In fact there is no hierarchy when we have this conversation – we are all equal partners, albeit with different responsibilities.

I once invited a group of developers in a company to a brown bag session to explore what things they thought needed improvement and what capabilities they thought might enhance their effectiveness. As the invitation went out, I got responses from a number people who said they weren’t interested. One in particular elaborated on why he wasn’t interested. This email created such an impression on me that I saved the most relevant quote. Which I share with you now.

We are here to code this software and we have too much to do – I’m not fucking interested in helping anyone else to get things better – that is what we have managers for , isn’t it?

I often wonder how many of the people I have met in the companies I have worked with who feel this way but never say it, but act on it nevertheless. How many work in your company?

Now I also wonder how many of those same people would have applied for the jobs if they had been explicitly invited to help the company continuously improve – not through some bullshit HR feedback system – but through full participation and ownership of both the problems and the solutions. How many would be willing to take the empowerment that was offered and seek sustainable improvements through collaboration? How many would in your company?

Invitation? But joining in improvements is implied, isn’t it?

Often when I talk to groups about why an explicit invitation is essential, I often get people who roll their eyes and say “but it’s kind of implied, isn’t it?”. Of course, it is reasonable to assume it is implied if we are ourselves readily do it. Expecting of others what we do naturally is common human behaviour. It is also one of the commonest ways we inflict violence on ourselves and others. By expecting that others will behave in the way we think is implied often results in disappointment which often leads to judgements – ‘they are incompetent, they are selfish, they are <insert your moral judgement here>’.

I feel pretty strongly about this and see a strong analogy with  date rape.

A guy invites a girl out for dinner, a movie and some drinks – maybe even coffee. After the date, she drops him at his place and he invites her up for ‘coffee’. Is sex implied with coffee? What happens if the girl doesn’t recognise that implication and actually has no intention to have sex with the guy? For her, the invitation to coffee was exactly for a beverage. What happen if she says ‘No’? Whilst this situation may not always end in rape, one has to wonder what moral judgements emerge as a result, what coercion was applied, what suffering caused?

All this because an explicit invitation wasn’t made.

I deeply believe that whatever is risked by making an explicit invitation to join a mutually beneficial activity is returned several times over by the explicit buy-in and commitment that those who say ‘Yes’ give back.

Hire differently

I believe that it is a form of violence to demand people to do something they had no explicit knowledge they would be asked to do and then, if they do it ineffectively, to chastise them. Yet I see this happen often. The chastisement is not often overt, but it is present nonetheless.

This is why I think all organisations that are committed to developing the habits and behaviours of continuous improvement need to fundamentally redesign how they hire, to explicitly include the invitation – not demand – to prospective employees to participate fully in  continuous improvement.

Redesigning how hiring is done is actually the tail end of a longer chain of redesigning activities and attitudinal shifts.

To make the invite, the company has to figure out what continuous improvement means for them – this is the start of the internal invitation. The makers of the invitation – usually management – need to discover what a ‘openhearted invitation’ means and be comfortable enough to make one.

Then the invitation itself needs to be figured out.
If it is too vague, it risks being irrelevant.
If it is too rigid it risks being perceived as a demand and as coercive.
If it is just right, it is easier to have the conversation and demonstrates to the prospective employee that your company is worth taking a risk on.

Are you involved in continuous organisational improvement in your company, I’d love to hear your experiences. Please comment or tweet me: @mhsutton

Why I Wrote This

I wrote this because my mission is for the world  – including and especially the world of work – to be full of JOY.

I wrote this because I wish for the people who work in broken companies to see value and a potential for JOY in joining with others to improve their companies and I want them to realise this potential.

I wrote this because most of the time, I see that a huge amount of misery, frustration and anger could have been avoided by a few open-hearted invitations and conversations and I want to help companies start to have those conversations.

You can help spread JOY in the world by sharing this. Thank you

Is Your Company Broken?


Many companies are broken – some deeply.

Yet, many remain profitable – thanks to the evil of ‘maximising shareholder value’ – profits roll in, souls and joy roll out. Others busy themselves with the structural preoccupations of ‘a real business’ – plush offices, sophisticated internal systems and fancy titles. All these add to the illusion that they are not broken.

What is a broken company?

By ‘broken’ I mean there is an abundance of stuff that needs fixing – from communication to the coffee machine and no one is fixing them because they are too busy or they don’t care or both.

Whilst many types of things might be broken, the most critical are the key foundations of human relationships – openness and trust. In broken companies there may be many  people who are disengaged from the wider organisation and feeling disempowered  – though they might excel at the function they were hired for. Broken companies often have processes and procedures that choke deep, meaningful human communication and become increasingly human-unfriendly places to be.

Getting things done in a broken company is like having teeth pulled – painful. People devise workarounds for getting stuff purchased, create defense mechanisms around power-hungry, psychopathic managers, play silly political games to get ahead because that is how the systems seems to work. Others might get by simply by keeping their heads down and hoping for the best.  For others still, there is so much BS that they simply give up and go some place else.

Another aspect of a broken company is the absence of a clear plan for how things get better. Some broken companies attempt to fix themselves by creating a role to be responsible for fixing things for everyone and surround themselves with even more process. This creates an illusion of doing something which is often as problematic as being broken in the first place.

Things will break – sales will sell something we don’t yet have and we will be late at delivering it, servers will fail, suppliers will let us down and colleague we work with will – at some point – not live up to the expectations we have of them. A broken company is not simply a place with things that don’t work. A broken company is a place that is incapable of openly acknowledging and fixing them.

How does a company get broken in the first place

I don’t believe anything starts off broken.

I’ve been involved with companies of all shapes and sizes and I love asking how they got started. If you go back far enough, almost every company was started by people who wanted to make things better – for themselves and others. They saw an opportunity and they provided something – a product or a service – to exploit it. Then they scaled by hiring more people and creating more layers without real thought of how it might evolve.

From my observations I think that as people join a group, they bring with them a culture – ideas, behaviours, experiences, and attitudes – that gets mixed in with the cultures of the people in the existing group and something new emerges. Similar biases are likely to get stronger and groupthink becomes more likely. Ultimately, depending on what the dominant biases are – being closed vs openness , choosing to blame and punish vs collaboratively learning from mistakes and seeking solutions together – certain behaviours will become dominant that that lead companies to or prevent them from being broken.

Incidentally, I don’t believe there is such a thing as a corporate culture. I think each person operates on their own culture – their own set of internal beliefs, ideas and behaviours – which may  all be hugely influenced by the widely held ideas and behaviours. But fundamentally people choose how they behave.

As things don’t work as expected – the dominant behaviours tend to be blame and finger-pointing that sets off a chain of events that results in everyone learning that failure is unacceptable and will be punished. Trust between people is usually the first casualty – at which point it really doesn’t matter what breaks, resolving it becomes very difficult to do. What most companies then do is get policies and grievance procedures in place – as though those will somehow magically restore trust and openness.

From this point on, things still break  – as they always do – but no one cares enough to fix them and the company becomes broken.

So, is your company broken?

Look around where you work and consider these questions to help you figure out if your company is broken.

  • What are the relationships based on? Contract or collaboration?
  • How healthy is the communication? Is it free, open and honest or narrow and defensive
  • To what extent do  you trust the people you work with and how much do they trust you – ask colleagues if you can (and if not, consider the previous point)
  • What is the general level of trust in the company – think of examples.
  • What are the dominant behaviours when stuff  – really important stuff – breaks?

I would love to hear from you – anonymously if necessary – about your experiences of working in companies that you consider broken. Please consider commenting on this post or we can chat about it over twitter.

Why I wrote this

I care that people find joy in their lives and work plays a huge part in most people’s lives.

I wrote this because without acknowledging that some companies are broken and represent an unhealthy places to work, we cannot get to the conversation about improving them and we cannot begin to open the invitation to the very people who can help improve them.

I wrote this because someone may have been silently suffering and enduring an experience that they have felt unable to share and this post gives them a voice. I know I have met people who have been scarred by working in broken companies and not been able to share their feeling.