I did a talk for my team in the BBC about how to champion your ideals. Following is a transcript of the talk with org. details taken out.
An advantage of working at a place in the tech industry is we get to work with lots of different people, from different backgrounds and with different passions. This means we get to learn from and enjoy the fruit of each other’s labours, but it also means we inevitably disagree with each other.
Some areas we disagree with each other include:
- Product / business priorities,
- Concrete things such as shared build processes, and then
- Time sinks such as:
- Subjective things such as “returning early from functions vs. one way in, one way out”.
- Tabs vs spaces. (By the way I retract my “no linters in the pipeline ever” stance)…
So with the various passions and priorities going off, how do you get your passions heard and your ideas delivered within your org? The topic of today’s post is on championing your passions, and leaving your own tangible mark on our working culture.
Enroll people into your way of thinking
It’s not uncommon for people to ask you “I have a glimmer of an idea, will you help me?” - think of the last time somebody asked you to build an app!
The problem with this is it’s too challenging - it’s too open ended. If you were to help somebody else’s “glimmer of an app idea”, you’d have to sign up to an unlimited obligation to something unimportant to possibly a waste of your time.
Consider the alternative—imagine somebody asks for your help who demonstrates an understanding of:
- The problem,
- How their app is the solution,
- The target audience of their app,
- How much the app will cost,
- The potential struggles/bottlenecks the app will come against, and crucially
- They have a working prototype of the app,
They have just asked a much easier question. How much more likely are you to help? Notice I didn’t say anything how much money you’ll get paid. Did pay cross you mind?
It’s not enough to “bang a drum”. Instead, capture imaginations with something tangible, and then sell it’s value.
Learn to speak the language of value.
“Engineers are hired to create value, not to program things”. This headline comes from from an article I read over a year ago called “Don’t Call Yourself a Programmer”, and it’s perhaps some of the best career advice I’ve come across:
“‘Programmer’ sounds like ‘anomalously high cost person who types some mumbo-jumbo into some other mumbo-jumbo’. If you call yourself a programmer, someone is already working on a way to get you fired”.
In fact, Salesforce’s tagline is “No Software” - which roughly translates to “If you use Salesforce, you can lay off the expensive programmers working on expensive internal tools and pocket the difference in your bonus”. And If you think that sounds unfair, remember software is the business of putting people out of jobs.
So, instead of saying “I’m working on the Jenkins pipeline”, say “I’m optimising the value stream so the team can ship business and product ideas faster”. Similarly, instead of saying “I want to upgrade Node v6 to v8”, say “I want to protect our reputation by reducing the potential for our audience’s data to be compromised”.
Attention management over time management.
Hopefully I’m giving the impression championing your ideas doesn’t happen over night—it’s an ongoing, iterative process. As well as tangibly delivering and selling, you’ll additionally need to:
- Balance your passion’s needs with the needs of the business,
- Build your reputation to become an authority in relevant subjects, and
- Recognise and act on small windows of opportunity to push your agenda.
That’s a lot for anybody to take on. Given our daily limit of productive attention, it makes sense to focus on championing one passion at a time, less we experience fatigue eloquently worded by one Bilbo Baggins: “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread”.
“Spreading our butter too thin is a form of hiding, it helps us be busy but makes it unlikely we will make an impact”. Instead, by focusing on one thing at a time, you’ll salvage the active, creative attention needed to tackle tougher challenges mentioned earlier—and you’ll make your mark.
Methodologies that practice attention management include David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD), Personal Kanban, and others. It’s worth researching and practicing various methods to find a style that compliments your style—though be aware the keyword is practice. The more you practice, the more butter you have. The more butter you use, the bigger impact you’ll make.
Learn when to lead, learn when to follow.
Depending on your temperament, championing one passion at a time might be easier said than done. If you’re the sort of person that has multiple projects on the go—the sort that ditches projects in their infancy for something more shiny—don’t worry! You might find new research into leadership works in your favour:
A study in 2012 found in the 1980s, just 20% of the work happened in teams, compared to 80 percent in the 2010s. Therefore, people entering the workforce in the 21st century are sometimes referred to as the “we generation”.
The “we generation” emphasises strong interpersonal skills and agility enable individuals to be effective in a generative partnership—that is, a relationship designed for you and your team mates to go above and beyond what any one individual could achieve on their own. Generative partnerships are founded on traditional leadership and followship, except the roles are considered equal, and dynamic: a team member can be both a leader and a follower, depending on the group needs and context.
The idea was popularised by The Beatles; where each band member contributed their own ideas to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Whoever had the best idea became the leader and the other members would follow.
So, champion one passion and follow all the others you’re interested in. Followership is great for companies because it significantly increases performance metrics, and helps develop leadership. After all… you can’t lead without followers.