Agile Leadership Takes On Policies & Procedures

Let's look at two situations and see how Agile values might color the way we as leaders react to them. Adam, an employee on your team, is routinely late. Every day, he shows up tardy and when he's at the office, he's distracted and not putting in 100%. The rest of the team has begun to comment to each other. You've heard the scuttlebutt; no one has approached you directly. Yet.

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What's your first thought?

Barbara has been on your team for only three months but has been a star performer since arriving. She doesn't come early or stay late, but during the time she's there she does the work of two. Her work quality is off the charts. She has taken the initiative to being mentoring some of her co-workers on some of the tools and techniques she's using to be so efficient and productive. You'd like to reward her, but your company doesn't have a process for out-of-cycle salary increases and she won't be due for a salary increase for over a year since she joined just before the annual review bonanza this year.

What do you do?

It seems most companies these days have policies and procedures to cover most everything. The larger the enterprise, the more comprehensive these policies become. The idea seems to be that by having a policy, fairness is ensured.

What is fairness?

Is it fair that Barbara's performance can't be rewarded for more than 12 months? Is it fair that those she was mentoring could apply her teachings, possibly even early enough to receive some monetary reward for the gains shown while she gets nothing?

You could argue that the following year she might get a larger raise to compensate, but in most companies increases come from a shared pool, so by giving her a larger raise, that stands a good chance of decreasing everyone else's raise that year. Is that fair?

One of the core values of Agile software development, as expressed in the Agile Manifesto, is:

[We have come to value] individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Processes aren't unimportant, they're not without value. They provide valuable guidance, but policies should be secondary to individuals or the interaction of individuals within the team. That's the value being expressed here. Many companies say their greatest resource is their people but few walk that out. This value is a direction to software development teams to do exactly that.

Can this be applied to leadership as well? Absolutely.

Let's take Barbara's case. Are there other ways to reward her? Sure! Other perks are available. Give her an Amazon gift card or a night on the town courtesy of the company (a prepaid Visa card works well). Could you upgrade her office? Promote her? Increase the height of her cubicle walls? Give her a new title? Formalize the mentorship work she's doing and put her in charge of it? Options for recognition are plenty.

And then there's Adam. What do we do with a persistently tardy teammate?

The Agile Leader would probably sit down with him over a cup of coffee and talk about why he's late and learn that his wife has been sick and he's had to get the kids on the bus every day before school, which has meant his commute has landed him in the thick of traffic. He's been looking for faster routes but hasn't been able to find any. It turns out, the tardiness has been a huge stressor for him as well. Just talking about it has taken some of the weight off his shoulders, and when you give him permission to come in a full hour late each day, and leave in time to get his kids off the bus as long as he checks in from home in the evening to finish his work after they're in bed, you can feel the relief pour off him. That afternoon at your daily team meeting, you both share this all with the team and everyone gives Adam a big hug.

They just needed to know and understand.

It might not be that nice and touchy-feely, but you'll never know unless you take the time to find out.

Unless you value the individual more than the policy.

Your turn: How might you apply this Agile Leadership value in your daily life? Leave a comment and tell us about it!