Monday, February 03, 2014

La Russa Agile Innovation #12 of 17:
You've Gotta Be Pulling My Legacy  

Some of La Russa's techniques are as valid beyond Agile/Lean environments as they are within strictly advanced environments. For the first time in this series, I'll cover a technique cluster that is as effective for managers who work outside Agile or Lean shops as it is within it. That cluster is around transparent decision-making that has the by-product of effort-free mentoring.

I learn something useful from every manager I worked for or with. But the Gold Standard for managers I've worked for is Rachel K.E. Black, a Boeing honcha. I got a lot of lessons from her, but the one that has earned the most for my clients over the years is the following.

There are not very many good managers, and every large organization will be populated mostly by suboptimal managers, many of whom are that way because no one has trained them properly. Therefore, the most important thing a good manager can do for their organization, more important than manage well, is to teach lesser managers and non-managers who might become managers how to manage better.

She called this process "replicating your DNA". She did not learn it from Tony La Russa, but it's identical to a cluster that's broadly applied in Baseball.

The challenge is, of course, you need to manage well at the same time. Ergo, that training would turn out to be a lot of effort you probably couldn't easily afford. So the Black technique to make this efficient was to be very transparent about decisions, invite push-back. And then use the engagement with the push-back as an excuse to explain one's decision factors and the logic tree.

This process produces many, non-ivory-tower, case studies, roughly in real time. That makes context clear, too. It takes very little courage for a good manager to do it, and the swell thing about the Black technique is that it takes more courage than bad-managers-who-know- they-are-just-pretending-to-know-what-they-are-doing generally have. (Yes, it's true the cruddy managers who don't know they are cruddy sometimes don't hesitate to share their crud-encrusted thinking, but more often than not, those cruddy ones don't believe in transparency, so they are generally out of the meme pool as trainers).

A good question I know you're asking is, "How exactly do I execute this?". Let's go to his recent book, One Last Strike (p. 233-234) for a clear, textbook example.

The thing about baseball is that it's the most open and obvious of professional sports, which means virtually everybody who's watching, whether they have a little or a lot of Baseball know-how, is going to have an opinion on what the strategy should be. It doesn't work to the same degree in basketball, football and hockey because many of the things that happen in the game aren't quite as obvious to the casual fan. With all that scrutiny, if you don't make the "right" decision (JA NOTE: that is, one that has a good outcome for the team), you get nailed. And if you do, you get hailed. There is a lot of pressure to put the blame for a loss on somebody or some bodies.

Some managers get very defensive when they're asked about their strategy. Right away, they assume they're being criticized and they take it personally. The better attitude to take is that people are paying attention and you should be ready to explain the thinking behind your choices. As a decision-maker, I always viewed the questioning as an opportunity to explain what my process was. Then, if those asking the questions were being fair-minded, they could at least say, "Yeah, I can see where he was coming from," even if they didn't agree.

Note here that the "fans" or "press" types La Russa refers to here are, in your own case, the team members you're managing and fellow managers. You may have to get them slowly into the habit of asking. The incurious won't necessarily ask questions, but they may pick up some decisions of yours they can later apply without asking (you're revealing the solution formulæ). And the incurious are also telling you they are not ready to be tracked as management material themselves. The questioners, OTOH, are definitely showing one mandatory attribute of management potential -- process curiosity. A little more from the book:

I picked this up when I was a young manager in Chicago and our general manager Roland Hemond told me that if the questioning came from someone in the media, take it as an opportunity to explain what you were thinking and not as a challenge. Your response might or might not impress the questioner , but if you didn't know the answer, or if you acted like the questions bothered you, or if you gave an answer that was pure B.S., then you didn't belong on the bench managing the team. The only times I balked at this have been when I thought somebody had an agenda, wasn't intending to be fair, or was trying to create controversy.

The juicy part of applying the Black/La Russa technique is you really are replicating your decision-making DNA. Some recipients will take it as "correct", some will take it and tweak it, some will reject it and come up with alternatives. But by making yourself clear and transparent, you are saving yourself time in the long run while boosting the team's potential for effectiveness and nurturing the talent of potential managers.

And that final element...building up many managers for the future, is a much more significant legacy for your own management career than any set of decisions you're making.

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