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Talent-Leadership-Culture (TLC) Ep 12: 2020: What a year!?!

ATC is proud to partner with Cendea to present the series, “Talent-Leadership-Culture (TLC)”. This blog series addresses the questions and gives insight to the art of finding the RIGHT tech leader to hire at the director level and above. Thank you to our experts for sharing their knowledge with the tech community.

We’re not even halfway through 2020 and yet it has packed so much in just six months.  I’ve seen humorous memes suggesting “can I turn in my 2020 for a beta version of 2021?”.  Newsworthy and world-changing events threaten to exceed volatile years such as 1963, 1968, 1975, 2001, and 2008.  You don’t have to be a history major to recognize the significance and combustibility around what happened during those calendar pages.  While it seemed that we enthusiastically rolled into the New Year with great expectations (healthy economy, election year, etc.), the joy ride came to an abrupt stop/detour with the arrival of the coronavirus.  While we were adjusting to WFH (work from home) and other means of protection, we were compelled to look in the mirror and address the social unrest following the insidious death of George Floyd.

We have become yet again, highly polarized – politically, internationally, spiritually, ethnically, and socio-economically.  As leaders, what can we say that will help diffuse situations or better yet, prevent situations before they become “fused”?  I’ve written before that with the discord we’re experiencing, it would be wise to pull out your old graduation cards and reflect.  You probably received at least one from a family friend or relative that had Rudyard Kipling’s “If” on its cover.  I’m reminded of the section that challenges us, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…”.  Of course there are a number of tenets Kipling mentions but when you think about it, isn’t that what we’re called to do as leaders?  Maintain a safe course for those in our charge?  Opinions are inevitable, as is emotion.  Passion is admirable, as long as it’s directed at the greater good.  But what if “the greater good” becomes restrictive and exclusionary?  A confident and principled leader must leave room for discourse and must be willing to listen to the voice of the disenfranchised.   We were never promised Shangra La or a rose garden (or your metaphor of choice).  We live in an imperfect world and we are all flawed.

We have the opportunity to bring about some much-needed collaboration and harmony.  The last couple of years has seen a renewed focus on diversity and inclusion, perhaps more than when those efforts were born in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  I’m proud to have been one of the D&I pioneers at FedEx.  However, chasms still exist.  Wade Allen posted a well-done blog about D&I back in February.  Amber Gunst wrote a thoughtful post a few weeks ago announcing an upcoming panel discussion.  However, these events are not enough if not acted on and advanced.  Progress will involve reaching outside your company/industry boundaries.  We have the opportunity (and privilege/duty) to step up, step out to make the world better.  The biggest requirement is to L-I-S-T-E-N!!!  It doesn’t matter whether everyone in your firm can recite the corporate mission or pledge…your firm is made up of brains and experiences.  That recognition should inform you that not everyone is going to see things the same way you do!  The key is to recognize that and build it into your environment.  Unity and alignment are great but not easily achieved.  Just as I’m suggesting that the world is not perfect, I’m also saying that you can’t make everyone happy.  I am saying that as leaders, we bear the responsibility to listen and seek understanding.  Policies (public or corporate) emerge from this.  We live in a complicated, nuanced world.  Be a leader; speak clearly and intentionally.  Establish trust as the only viable currency.  Above all, listen and seek first to understand!!!


Cendea has over 25 years of securing great talent for great opportunities.  Please feel free to call us at 512.219.6000. Wade Allen, President & CEO, x101, or Jim Bledsoe, Senior Partner, x121.

How to practice self-care through self-compassion

Compassion. Such a powerful word. In my opinion, it’s one of the most important traits a person can have. It can be as simple as smiling at someone you don’t know or as multi-layered as taking action for a cause you are passionate about.

Here’s the problem: Many of us spend so much energy directing that compassion toward other people that we often forget to also direct it inward to ourselves.

What is self-compassion?

Compassion is defined as a basic kindness with a deep awareness of the suffering of oneself and other living things, coupled with the wish and effort to relieve it. Self-compassion as defined by one of the pioneering researchers in this field, Kristin Neff, as compassion directed inward, relating to oneself as the object of care and concern when faced with the experience of suffering.

I personally like to define self-compassion as simply being kinder to ourselves. After all, we each deserve our own kindness.

It’s not hard to imagine that increasing your own self-compassion can have many benefits. One study showed that compassion cultivation training may be helpful at improving:

  • Self-reported mindfulness
  • Self-compassion
  • Compassion toward others
  • Interpersonal conflict
  • Mental health resilience
  • Burnout prevention

Further, Kristin Neff explains that having self-compassion builds resiliency against depression and anxiety, while increasing life satisfaction, optimism, social connectedness and happiness.

Related: Too busy for self-care? Not so fast

How to cultivate more self-compassion

Like most things in life, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to self-care. There are many resources on the internet that provide guided meditations and other exercises to focus your attention on self-compassion.

To get you started, I have come up with a few ideas for practicing self-compassion. While the following recommendations are not based on research, they are personal practices I implemented into my own life that have worked well for me. I would encourage you to explore and experiment with what works for you!

Talk to yourself like you would talk to your best friend.

I’m sure you’ve heard this one before and it’s definitely easier said than done, but there is power in showing yourself the same kindness you would show your friend.
Think about a recent time a friend came to you in distress for advice. How did you talk to them? What language did you use? If you got frustrated with them, how did you act? I assume you didn’t beat them down with criticizing words — like we often do to ourselves. You may have been brutally honest with them, but you likely did it with compassion. Can you do the same for yourself?

Start a gratitude journal.

Gratitude is a powerful practice for me. Sometimes I get caught up in the things I don’t have, and often that can lead to me blaming myself for not having those things. But… I am blessed! We all are. There are so many little things to be grateful for every day.

When you take time to focus on what you do have, it can be a great reminder of all the good we are doing.

Write yourself a love letter.

Have you ever written a sweet letter to a loved one? How did they react to it? I know I’ve received inspiring letters from people who mean the most to me and those letters have left me in happy tears.

Why not show yourself the same love? Sit down, grab a piece of pretty paper and write yourself a letter of love. This makes for a great resource to reference when you are having a rough day.

Give yourself a hug.

No, seriously – right now. I want you to put down anything you might have in your hands. Reach your arms way out to the side and then wrap them tightly around yourself.

How do you feel? The simple act of giving ourselves a hug can help remind us to treat ourselves gently, especially during difficult times. How can you remind yourself to be there for you when you need it the most?

Let it go.

I once had a boss who said, “When all goes well, turn off your phone and go home!” I was working in a job that required my attention (and phone) to be on-call at all hours. When we had a successful event, we would turn off our phones and go home. This has really stuck with me.

Even if something didn’t go well, it’s important to symbolically turn-off your phone and “go home.” Turning off and going home doesn’t have to be taken literally. Wherever you are, you have the opportunity to unplug and release, even if only for a minute. Can you take a few minutes to do something you enjoy doing? Do you have 2 minutes to do a meditation? Would it be helpful for you to take a break and listen to a song? (Might I suggested “Let it Go” from Frozen?)

Ask for help.

On those days that you have trouble remembering how amazing you are, it can be helpful to ask for a reminder. I often have clients or friends who forget. When I reflect back their success, they respond with, “Oh, yeah! I am good at that.” Or, “Yes, actually, I am proud of myself for accomplishing that!”

It’s easy for us to forget because we are so focused on putting out fires or regretting the mistakes we’ve made. So, phone a friend and let them be your cheerleader.

I don’t know who needs to hear this today, but I want you know that I “see” you. I see that you care about taking care of yourself. You are reading this blog post, after all. I am inspired by you and everything you are accomplishing every day. I am grateful for the work you put in every day taking care of yourself and those around you.

Does Your Software Team Deliver as Well as Amazon?

Where is my Amazon Package?

As we all learn to adjust to the new normal, many of us are becoming even more dependent on software. Software is responsible for bringing us our news, our entertainment, our meetings, our social interactions, our groceries, and much more. Earlier this year, my mother-in-law ordered groceries online for the first time. In her first experience, she quickly realized online ordering was much easier than going to the store and very reliable. She started with a small order to see how it worked – something like:

1 dozen eggs
1 half gallon of milk
1 box of granola cereal
2 boxes of Angel Hair pasta
1 small bag of baby peeled carrots
1 loaf of French bread
1 package of fresh mushrooms
2 pounds of boneless chicken

She was quoted $43.98 for the order. This price included free same day delivery. As part of the process, she was notified that “Some items may be out of stock due to increased demand. By allowing substitutions, you help us fulfill more of your items.” For each item ordered, she was able to provide some guidance for how to proceed if that item was not available. Over the next few hours, she received three text messages:

Message 1: Confirming her order was received,
Message 2: Providing her with the expected delivery time for later in the day, and
Message 3: Notifying her that the order was delivered successfully.

Her groceries were delivered to her house later that evening with everything she ordered for the price she was quoted. With the three text messages, she knew what to expect and when. There could have been substitutions for some of the products, but in this case there weren’t. Now she orders online on a regular basis and each time the groceries she orders are delivered on schedule at the price she was quoted.

Does Your Software Development Team Deliver as Well as Amazon?

In the example above, my mother-in-law requested some grocery items to be delivered by an agreed upon time and at an agreed upon price. She continues to use the service because it met her expectations. If Amazon (or other delivery service) entirely failed to deliver your order over 20% of the time and delivered only part of your order and/or was late on your order over 45% of the time, would you keep ordering? Most people would not – yet we continue to run software projects with success rates even worse than this. The first Standish Group Chaos Report (published in 1994) and every Standish report published since has shown software development projects are delivered on time and on budget less than 40% of the time each year. Obviously, there is a lot of room for improvement here!

Without going too deep into Agile software development best practices, there are a few comparisons between an online delivery process and a software delivery process that would lead to more successful software delivery projects. The online delivery process above

1. Created a clearly defined and documented list of requirements upfront: Admittedly, selecting products to order on Amazon is a very simplified requirements definition process and some may argue this is an unfair comparison to software development projects. At the same time, many teams cite unclear requirements as a key reason for their project failure. No requirements mean failure since there is no finish line. You would not place an order at Amazon without identifying what you want by when. At the same time, you would not detail your list to say “Whole Grain Rolled Oats, Whole Grain Rolled Wheat, Brown Sugar, Canola Oil, Dried Cranberries, Almonds, Dehydrated Apples, Inulin, Whey, Sugar, Nonfat Dry Milk, Glycerine, Whey Protein Concentrate, Natural Flavor, Honey, Sunflower Oil, Natural Mixed Tocopherols Added to Preserve Freshness” to say you wanted a box of Quaker Simply Granola cereal. Define your project objectives (or OKRs) and high-level requirements to start. Then include a plan to iterate with the product stakeholders to further refine requirements during the project. This is similar to substitution options from Amazon and leads into the next point.

2. Outlined guidelines for what to do if any requirements could not be met: When I shop with Amazon/Whole Foods, I can define three options for substitutions: Best available (based on Amazon’s logic), Don’t substitute, and identify the item you want as an alternate. There are many ways great teams handle “substitution” – too much to cover here. At a very high-level, there are three guidelines to start this step: 1) Define OKRs for the project so that everyone understands and agrees to the “Why.” 2) Categorized your requirements so that everyone knows which requirements can be dropped if time runs short and which cannot. Decide this at the start of the project. 3) Build iteratively with regular reviews with product stakeholders for feedback and make necessary adjustments along the way.

3. Provided regular and accurate communication on progress: This is one of my favorites. When you order from Amazon, they send you multiple messages to let you know your order is progressing through each step correctly. Not only does this build trust between you and Amazon, it also allows you to alter plans (when needed) to align with the delivery schedule. The same is true between a development team delivering projects – it builds trust and allows for adjustments when needed.

As a society, we are becoming more and more dependent on software for our personal lives and our businesses. Whether they realize it or not, most companies rely on software for their very survival. If your software development teams are failing to deliver, how can your company succeed? These three simple steps: clearly defining requirements upfront, outlining guidelines for how to handle unmet requirements before they happen, and ensuring you have regular and accurate communications throughout the process can ensure you deliver software more like Amazon delivers packages.

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