Agile Coaching: A World Without C Students
Recently, I wrote about the impact to honest capacity of overachievers or underperformers. While I am an ardent supporter of the team approach, de-emphasizing natural talent, or worse, forcing a person who is not skilled in a particular area to spend time and energy improving on the “failing” skill, only serves to create less driven, productive and motivated individuals.
Strengths Finder asks the question:
Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day? I believe more critical to both personal and professional success is the the follow-up statement: “Chances are, you don’t. All too often, our natural talents go untapped. From the cradle to the cubicle, we devote more time to fixing our shortcomings than to developing our strengths.”
I’ve experienced, read and witnessed many Purist Agile folks suggest and employ things like:
No titles on an Agile team
Believing more in the rotation of scrum master being vital to the team dynamic, than the natural talent an individual or two might have for keeping scrum valuable
Everyone must be able to design or test or “manage” the team
Remove all titles while still ranking individuals at performance reviews on a 1 to 5 scale, tallying up the low-end scoring skills as areas of “opportunity”
Bonuses being driven and arrived at by a year-over-year metric of the role vs. measuring delivery of a particular valued contribution to the team
Allowing areas of “opportunity” to cause longevity of team members to be in question, causing fear-based management and trust issues
Opportunities are mediocrity in disguise
Here’s what happens in that model. You’ve made Bob now spend time on his “opportunities”, while Sally who is awesome at the things Bob is not good at, is also not spending time and energy on the things that she has natural talent for. This type of role- based demand, squashes passion. Worse, it can be the biggest driver of lost individual value-add and team productivity.
Let art be
Let’s examine this from an education perspective. Your child is amazing at art. From an early age, she loves to draw or paint or create every chance she gets. She has a keen eye for depth and perception of color. She hits first grade and suddenly it becomes quite obvious that math is not going to be an easy gig for this kid. What do we normally do? Instead of honoring your child’s natural talent, we get tutors. We bribe and punish and cajole them into improving on the not-so-good grades. They are tested and not “left behind” as a paradigm shift toward tested talent measurements through an average of students. An average. Guess what else happens? Now the art suffers too because the child is spending so much time and energy on math. They become a squished down C student. I have a son who spends his free time coding computer games. Should I make him finger paint because art is also a required class? Nope. Let him do the minimum required for art and spend his time on his passion.
Mastering the basics still matters
This does not mean that we skip over education fundamentals. It doesn’t even mean that sometimes a tutor isn’t needed. But a tutor engaged only to the degree the child grasps and can perform basic functions of those fundamental skills, can prevent creating a C student.
The egg really does come before the chicken
Teams work the same way. What if Bob is amazing at training and mentoring and Sally is unreal at documenting and communicating executive level metrics? If you create “opportunities” driven performance measurements which force Sally to improve on training, you are essentially taking her from skills and value-add that she is naturally good at and diluting her to a 'C' contributor.
Here’s the thing: passion can be derived from natural talent. It isn’t often anyone is passionate about things they are really no good at. Sure, there’s that whole American Idol these-folks-were-never-getting-on-the-show bit, but that’s just evidence they don’t have anyone telling them, "dude singing is not your thing". Chemistry is your thing. Innovation is your thing. You can appreciate music, but singing...leave that to the singers.
What happens when your organization insists that basic requirements for a role must be measured annually?
As a leader of people for many years, my goal was to assess and allow team members to do as much of what they were really good at without skipping over the needed fundamentals. What’s amazing is, I never once had a team where there were no quality folks, no amazing presenters, no off-the-charts designers. If I did run into an unbalanced team, it was my job to recognize and fill the gap with someone whose passion aligned with what was missing.
Nunchuck skills…bowhunting skills…
And then there's what Effective Altruism dubs as "Career capital". Career Capital skills are certificates and degrees you bring to the table that are typical to your line of work. In some cases, they can be minimally mandatory to be considered for a role. They can also be things like ensuring you have the most recent software skills. Maybe it’s that you’ve acquired over the course of your professional life experience that is often transferable to other industries.
What we are talking about here is natural, gifted, don’t-have-to-work-too-hard-for-it, doesn’t-feel-like-work passion. That is the stuff that cannot be taught. Certificates or degrees or training can further support the thing you love to do, but the desire to do the work is inherent, not required.
This is not that either
We all have parts of our daily jobs that we don’t relish. Focusing on natural talent and passionate pursuits is not intended to say that we won’t have to meet minimum requirements to fulfill the responsibilities to our team and to our specific job. It's simply saying, as a leader of a team, or a participant of one, if individuals contribute to the team in ways that they are naturally talented, it’s more likely the team will be productive.
Let’ stop aiming for average.
”Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What’s a sundial in the shade?”
— Benjamin Franklin