Hello and welcome to the knowing self knowing others podcast, the fortnightly podcast that explores self awareness leader effectiveness and leadership at all levels. Join me your host Nia Thomas as we talk to today’s knowing self knowing others guest
today we have with us Gunther Verheyen from Belgium, and Gunther describes himself as using Scrum to humanise the workplace. So there are a couple of things we want to unpack there both Scrum and humanising the workplace. But before we do any of that, please do introduce yourself.
Let me start Nia by. thanking you very much for inviting me on your podcast. It’s, it’s a real honour, and glad to be here. Like you just said, I do live in Belgium indeed. And I do a lot of work with Scrum. And at some point in time we did in Scrum, we have this official role called Scrum Master. And at some point in time, working independently self employed and so on. I started calling myself indeed a scrub cache taker. Because I wanted I wanted my job title to reflect that I care not just for Scrum, but also for people and the people aspect of Scrum. So it’s about caring for people. It’s about caring for Scrum, and combine that and I hope that the worst or the tightest concave take reflects that. And to emphasise that people aspect, even more indeed, I added to that thing. I call myself an independent scrum case taken on a journey of humanising the workplace with Scrum. Because I don’t know how aware you are or how aware your listeners are of the fact that Scrum is this much adopted framework for product development, or for a way to tackle complex work. Now, the focus of Scrum has been since its let’s say, its birth, and that’s already in 19 195. Imagine, the focus has been a lot on exactly that. Delivering work, creating products, delivering products, updating, evolving, maintaining products as well. And that is absolutely really important. But what I missed in our beautiful work of Scrum, which is a part of what we also call sort of the agile movement, what I miss in our world is that focus on the people aspect, because what I see over time, certainly organisations and certainly larger organisations, they start, let’s say, getting the almost what I call the process aspect of Scrum. But they overlooked the people aspect. So I want to emphasise that by saying, hey I want to help people understand also the importance of using Scrum to humanise the workplace, knowing that you and others in the workplace will have an enormous impact, a positive impact on products and the services that we create using Scrum. Because as you know, as well as I do committed, engage people perform better, they do better work, they care about a work. So more humane workplace where people feel more at home, more comfortable, more safe, more respected, and so on, will help us create better products. That is sort of the my idea behind calling myself that Scriptcase did case they could
let’s unpack Scrum. This is something that I’m still struggling with. And I had two guests from NHS Scotland on the podcast a couple of weeks ago when listeners will remember my discussion with Donald Henderson and satisficing talking about Scrum. And since then I’ve been trying to work out what is the single phrase or a single sentence that I can use to describe Scrum. So this is what I’ve come up with so far to tell me how far away I am with this. Scrum is about facilitating complex problem solving and action planning over small time cycles. Am I anywhere close to what Scrum is?
Yeah. So it has a important aspect? Absolutely. So what’s the definition? I like to use a scrum because people often use it not saying it’s gonna be helpful. Maybe not just right now maybe in a couple of minutes. Who knows? So I my little definition of Scrum is the following Scrum is a simple framework to enable people to derive value from complex challenges. And you’ll recognise already it’s about dealing with complexity, complexity, meaning complex challenge or complex problems meaning problems that have high levels of high degrees of uncertainty. A lot of unknowns are A lot of unpredictability in order to tackle that. And that’s where, let’s say in your definition, you’ve replaced what I call a simple framework with something more tangible. In order to tackle complex, highly unpredictable problems, we try to slice the problem, so that we can deal with a part of it in a short, what we call a time box, where the short cycle eternity is gone. By the way, we call that sprints. And by doing work in those short cycles that because sprint, and is currently set at Sprint shouldn’t be more than maybe three or four weeks, certainly not more than four weeks. by tackling work in short sprint, we learn from doing from the actual tackling of the problems. So that’s why we split up time, let’s say in short cycles, so that we build in time to reflect, to stop, look back, learn, inspect, adapt. So that’s where what we call, let’s say, the empirical way of working in scrum regularly stop, look back in that sense, inspect what you’ve done, inspect how you’ve worked, inspect your results so far, so that in your next cycle of time, which we call a sprint, so in the next sprint, you can adapt, you can change, you can adjust, you can update, you can change direction, and so on. He was born in, let’s say, the role of software development by that time in the 90s. And even later on, how did we tackle typically software development with large projects in which we analysed or requirements, all the things that we thought we were going to have to build upfront, we got people signing them off agreeing of them, we did we hyper detail them in all sorts of silly silly things going really deep. And then once people had approved all of that upfront work, we started designing solutions. So that technical solutions for that once that has been done that finally made we started doing work that way of working, which by the way, we call the waterfall approach, because we organise specialised work in large phases, we do all of the specialised work in the launch phase, and the one phase full of the other one. So first analysis in a way to make it short, then designing solutions and coding solutions. Often testing became after releasing as well. Now, the problem with obviously with complex and work that is full of uncertainties, is a in that approach. We try to predict the world, let’s say for the next couple of years, but there will be changes every change you discovered in a sort of later phase of such a long term project, disrupted all the things that you have been doing so people thought they could tackle that with what we call large methodologies. That’s a word in our software development world stood for describing exactly who should be doing what what phase should be organised, what meetings what handovers who should be signing what at what point in time, so and then we started devising projects for that often took like one, two, maybe even three years. But in the meantime, obviously, the world didn’t stop changing. So there were new things popping up emerging all the time, that ruins what we even had people sign off earlier. Plus, in that plant approach, you can obviously only plan for what you know, and that we conveniently as human beings, we sort of set aside all the things that we don’t know, but they will pop up at some point in time. So with Scrum, we try to turn that way of working totally around, rather than prescribing large methodologies with all things designed upfront. So we turn around and we say, hey, let’s give people minimalist two books on how to organise a work. So with Scrum, we describe how to organise work in short cycles that we call sprint. With this, we describe the events that should happen in such a short cycle. And all of those events are about inspecting so that you can adapt how you use those short building blocks up to a larger effort. We’ll leave that totally up to people that imagination that context, that business situation as well.
That is really, really helpful. And now I understand perfectly, why you’re talking about humanising the workplace, because that that method of working is potentially relentless. Unless you think about the humans that are continuously reviewing situations looking at different ways of solving problems. There has to be a human element. I can build
quickly on that. Indeed, the essence of Scrum is also to build on the intelligence and the creativity of the people, rather than creating upfront predicted plans full of detailed instructions and so on telling all those people what to do at what point of time that means. Is that the sort of rules out the usage of their brains? Although they are smart, intelligent people? So we’ll build on that?
How do you define self awareness?
That is a fairly easy and at the same time very difficult question. For me, self awareness means it’s a sort of start by understanding who you are what you are, as a person, as a human being. That means that includes the skills that you have the expertise that you might have. But it also includes what you’re not good at technology as accepting, being aware. And as often via very painful events or happenings. Also realising for yourself what you’re not so good at, although you would love to be it maybe, or you think you’re good at it. But really, so self awareness means insights into yourself, for better or for worse. And that is, for me, very important. It’s not about just being self confident, it’s not about self esteem for me, because I’m very bad at problem of self confidence anyhow, low self esteem. But in a way, maybe we go meta on this, I don’t know. Yeah, but the fact that I know that my self esteem is not too brilliant, and that my self confidence is rather low. That is also self awareness. So by becoming self aware of those aspects, it has helped me rather than ignoring it, or trying to replace it forever. In a way, you can’t keep changing yourself, you know, at some point in time, I’ve just come to terms with it. And by coming to terms with that I’ve tried, and I still try to use it in my advantage. That means sometimes I’m a complete perfectionist, just because I have this low self confidence and low self esteem, because that means I put probably more work into what I do, than maybe other people should do. Because I want to be absolutely sure that people like it, have find it good. So in that sense, it’s a way of being self aware of something that is maybe not such a really pleasant finding, and then trying to turn that around in something that is actually at least a little bit better.
Do you think there’s a relationship between self awareness or leader effectiveness?
Absolutely. Because for me self awareness, so when he invited me for this, for your beautiful podcast near, I was reading a book about empathy. And it was a book by a biologist, who’s been studying and researching a lot, let’s say apes, primates that are really close to the human species. And it was about empathy. When reading that book, and and are thinking about this podcast, our users realise that, for me choose empathy, which is really important, comes from self awareness. Because it means being self aware of yourself, meaning I’m human beings, I’ve got flaws, I’ve got problems, I get good things. I’ve got a personal life, I’ve got a sense of humour, by that self awareness, that creates for me a foundation for empathy, because it opens me up to understanding that the people around me the people that I work with, professionally, but also my my family that I that I love so dearly, that they are also human beings. If I avoid self awareness, I’m probably going to, I think, radiate or impose these Trinsic potations on the people around me. And I remember one point of looking back now as of self awareness is a long term goal by the end of the 90s. I was working that was before I discovered Scrum. So this is even before that. But in the 90s, I was working for a, let’s say, local startup in Belgium, that was in a, in a way trying to innovate and pioneer whatever certainly at the Belgium level, into E commerce Company was founded by two people that had like sky high ambitions. And in that sense, by that time becoming the new and even the better, Belgium, Amazon, think back. This was 19 199. Not too long after that there was the Econ bubble, the early 2000s. So the sky high ambitions were like a little bit over the top at that point after that meant, unfortunately, I have grown into what we would call a senior management position and the founders and of the company, which let’s say sort of the CXO level the CEO and is calling they had founded the company they had To accept that things were not going as hoped for as expected. And in their point of view meant also firing a lot of people because they had grown a lot. They had grown quickly. Nobody anticipated decon bubble bursting, they have hired a lot of people, and they were trying to get rid of a lot of them. Again, I was part of the exercise of selecting people that had to be fired. And so I was so unhappy. And at some point of time, I had a conversation with the CEO of a company, who was only a couple of years older than I was, by the way, he had a background from McKinsey, he’d been a really important McKinsey consultant before that, and had a really tough discussion with him. And what I told him, I said, this CEO, what I’m missing you is emotion. We are firing people, I’m trying to understand why, and try to understand that we can’t really give them so I’m trying to go along with you. But I have difficulties with the fact that you’re not showing any emotion at all. And I pushed him so far, because he was trying to be cool and rational and whatever and hide emotions so and it seems afterwards, he admitted that I almost got him over the edge of being emotional himself. And he said his final responses. You know what, Gunther I keep my emotions for every evening for my wife. And when I’m at home at work, that was a point of time for me near that I realised, I do not want to become like that. I want to keep my emotional side. It’s okay to have an emotional site, also in the workplace, essentially inhumane of people to expect that you put all of your emotions, your senses, whatever aside, and that you act completely, let’s say, between codes and are rational in the workplace. That is inhumane when he invited me to talk about self awareness and leadership. That was something and highlight for me that why would you try to hide your emotions as a CEO, going through a phase of reorganising restructuring and put and even firing people? Why not show that it also hurts you. And that’s when I decided, in a way rationally that I will keep this emotional side of me alive, also in the workplace. And that is for me, so.
Do you think effective leaders can be found at all levels of organisations?
Yes, it certainly in the world that I live in a lot. So lots of organisations have a thriving product, and you reach at least software development is really, really important. But still, so we come from this old school world, waterfall development waterfall approaches, very inhumane, actually, people are obliged to turn off their brains when they come at work, which is sort of silly to as a part of that we have sort of people in the workplace and then management. And as this this agile movement grew and grew and grew with with Scrum sort of spearheading, let’s say the movement, we tried to get more into the world, what we call self organisation. So building on the creativity and intelligence of people, not just in performing the work executing the work that is expected from them, but also in how to organise that work, and how to organise in teams and how to deliver so not just what you do, but also how you do it. And that is an important aspect in my world of Agile and Scrum self organisation. So we would love people to self organise. But by doing that, say that we want to drive and want to build and capitalise on the self organising capabilities of people. That meant that a lot of people, let’s say, in a management position, often feel intention, or people sort of sort of people that say, Yo, I’m this promoter of Scrum, we get into a situation where we started radiating a lot of people start to say that management is bad. Now, that was never D ID. It’s part of that sort of industrial thinking works on the workplace and management on top of that. So over time, people started calling up more like, it has to be leadership, we need leaders, not managers. And I think that is that is a false dichotomy. Because I hope and managers to be elitist, too. And if you’re a true leader, you have management capabilities, too. But in that sense, leadership management should be one. And it is not just limited, in my view to the people on the let’s say in the higher ranks or the highest positions or the letters of company. Anybody can be a leader with management capabilities, because leadership means that you’re really good at something that you’re able to get across to other people that you can get people to come along When we do that you can convince them. And so the only thing we rule out in our beautiful world is the old old school style command and control management or command and control leadership. It’s not about command and control. That means it’s about facilitating coaching, inspiring, helping people, mentoring people, helping people assisting them. In a way, it’s about claiming authority without hierarchical authority. But leadership is about showing that you have authority that comes from knowledge from insights from how you deal with people, and that can happen on all levels in an organisation.
Do you think leaders at the most strategic level of organisations have greater self awareness than leaders at other levels of organisations,
I’m going to be very blunt. And I think I’m scared that the opposite is true. But what I’ve noticed in my sort of career with Scrum, but even before that, like working for that, that startup company and other companies, what I’ve noticed, but those things, you only start realising as you grow older yourself, and you regularly reflect and look back on those experiences. What I’ve noticed, seems to be natural and expected of people, as they climb the ladder within an organisation, it seems to have this this implicit expectation that people leave their emotions behind more and more and more, or even the human side, you know, you have to be rational, you have to be, you have to be sure you have to be certain you have to come across us, the leader, the manager, whatever. And I’m like, what is so bad about showing uncertainties and showing emotions, there’s nothing bad about it. On the contrary, even it would be somebody that I would look up to somebody who’s not scared to show his emotions, and scared to show uncertainty, and scared to show that, you know what, I have no idea where we go into, I think it should be this direction. But I’m also not really sure so help me out guys. So but in traditional organisations, certainly the ones that thrive on what I call that old school way of working what I call the industrial paradigm, as you climb the ladder, it seems that you have to come across as the one that always knows we should and so on. And I think the opposite is true. So as people climb the ladder, I’m afraid a lot of them leave their human side behind them. It’s like as if we expect people to in the morning, come into the office and leave all of that stuff behind them. That is not normal. That is not natural. That is not even possible. We break people by doing that, that’s how people end up in long term absences, burnout as well. So I’m afraid is the opposite issue, the hopeful message is that it’s grown. For me, we try to help people also in a management position to sort of reinvent themselves based upon the fact that we’re now going to do Scrum work in short cycles, and thrive on self organising teams. That is, for me a way tools for managers, people in a leadership position to also reinvent themselves, and offload a lot of pressures to get the pressure off their shoulders only. You don’t have to be continuously 24/7 to superhero that knows it all. It’s one of the aspects that I believe you try to work on. And I’ve run a couple of times in the situation of working with seek so people seek saltines or seek so individuals, where I’ve had sometimes the feedback from the people around that person, like secretaries that has been with him or her for a really long time, assists Oh, god, it’s so nice that we’re now working with scrub. I’ve seen my manager, my CXO often even the CEO, I’ve seen him relax, and even find his audits, human centrism, again, because a lot of those people are like really great people, managers. But as they start climbing the ladder, that’s an aspect that they seem to forget, leave behind by their own will or by external expectations. So sometimes I’ve heard that feedback and that sort of, really wolves warms my heart. Do you
think that the organization’s were the more traditional industrial paradigm? Do you think those organisations are changing? Because we’ve talked about organisations that are new and the startups that maybe have a different worldview, but you do you think that the old style organisations themselves are also changing?
Well, I don’t know if they all are changing, but why they’re doing what I do know that if they don’t stop Changing, they will become obsolete in some way, it might take a little bit longer. But in essence talking about complexity, I think the world has always been a complex place. Throughout history. Human societies have always been highly complex. What is so important and is so increasing complexity for me of today’s world is this online things, it’s 24/7, this real time fix. So we are connected all the time, we have to like be online all the time. It’s a globalised planet, at least in in the virtual world. That is, that creates an enormous overload of information, expectations, requirements, and so on. Also, a lot of competition. That means the complexity has is becoming so huge, even even if also the passwords, even industrial worlds were already complex. But it is becoming so complex these days, that agility, flexibility, the ability to respond to the ability to innovate, to the ability to capitalise on unforeseen opportunities, is going to be so huge, the demands for that sort of agility, it’s going to be consortiums, that any organisation that is not willing to change, its way of working towards that sort of agility is doomed. And what we’ve already seen over time, let’s see the past 4050 years at least, is that the companies that are sort of in the top 100 companies around the world, there’s a sort of turnover in in companies that are part of that, that is increasing the means, let’s say 3040 years ago, the company is in the let’s say, the top 50, the top 100 companies in throughout the world, that was pretty stable, that that list is more and more unstable in that sense that companies disappear from the list of companies enter the list, the amount of time that companies still spend on that list, it is becoming shorter and shorter and shorter. So this some sort of turnover. What I see with larger companies is often the tendency that they are sitting often on a large amount of cash, oh, we’ve got plenty of cash. We’ve got plenty of revenues. Yeah, but you know what, it’s from old products. It’s from things that you can’t maintain that you can’t evolve that won’t keep you going into for the next 10 years. But often people like to hide themselves. It’s maybe that’s, that’s, that’s a way of self awareness or lack of self awareness to they hide themselves from the fact that that won’t last them. It looks good now, but you know, things go so fast. Is it changing companies? In a way? Yes, absolutely. What we’ve seen certainly since, you know, scrub 995. And this HR movement taking off is what we call the HR manifesto was in 2001. We’ve seen this way of thinking overtaking the world. But again, like I said, in a way like we started, it’s still too much process oriented. Because a lot of those people technically understand the importance of a process like Scrum. But they fail to really empower or even Set Free Self organisation within their organisations, they still don’t really trust people. So we’re missing an important aspect. But the change is happening. The process aspect first, I hope to be contributing to shift people’s focus on mine towards more that people aspect. That’s why I call it humanising the workplace which grow, because we have a lot of non engaged and even this engaged people on the workflow, and the figures of statistics are dramatic. That means up to 70 80%, typically of the workforce say that they are not engaged or even this engaged almost working yesterday, companies imagined potential of re engaging those people. There is not a single aspect in running a business running a corporation that has more potential of improvement than the engagement or the lack of engagement of people on the world floor. And scrum with this focus on self organisation and self organising teams is the tool in a way to set people free without giving up on the idea that they work within certain expectations, certain goals within a certain vision. It’s not like anarchy where we don’t expect people to live by certain expectations. So scrum has this enormous potential to help organisations change even more.
Do you think effective leaders have more self awareness than ineffective leaders?
Yes, because the Can I cannot do another round, because self awareness leads to higher effectiveness. So that means an effective leader compared to whatever we would call an ineffective leader, I would assume that at least one aspect that might be contributing to one person being more effective as a leader and another person is probably self awareness next to lots of other things, probably, but it’s certainly something that will contribute to either effectiveness. I’m not a fan of the word effectiveness, by the way. So that’s why I struggle a little bit, but………