Want to improve your organization’s technical capability? You’re looking in the wrong place

Beyond the basics , increasing an organizations technical capability has nothing to do with technology. If you want the biggest return on investment, the thing to fix is your appraisal system. Here’s why.

Peter Brownell
Oct 8, 2019 · 5 min read

There is a famous statistic that pops up in many discussions about software development. In 2002 Jim Johnson of the Standish Group reported their study that only 20% of software features were often used, and 64% were rarely or ever used. In 25 years of building software, I feel that this is true about 80% of the time. This means that, in most organizations, about 80% of the work delivered by technical teams may not have been necessary. In many organizations there is also a good about of work that is never even delivered, let alone used. This means that some of the highest paid people in these organizations are spending most of their time writing code that will go straight into the bin. Even if your company is a bit better than average, the essential take-away from this is simple: stop hiring more tech people and fix how the rest of your organization relates to technology.

And here comes the jump — the best way to start fixing an organization’s relationship with technology is by fixing the way in which it handles performance management. Bear with me for a minute or two, I’ll explain why in a moment.

How to fix your performance management

There is all sorts of evidence as to why the usual “lets go talk in my office” appraisal system fails. And yet, that is what almost all of us get. In all our experience of talking to people on this subject, very few can tell a story of a good appraisal — and yet the main thing that everyone seems to want from their boss is feedback! If you can fix the feedback system, and performance management lies at the heart of this, then lots of things start to shift.

Pay should be managed through a transparent process that does not encourage prejudice, nepotism or aggressive masculine negotiation. Have a look at some of the great progression ladders at https://www.progression.fyi/

The fundamental feedback training that makes performance management work

Teach your people the art of actually listening to each other. It’s a basic that should be taught in primary school, but is amazingly absent from most corporate cultures. You’ll be amazed how big an impact it will make when people learn to actually hear what someone else is saying.

You cannot give feedback without knowing what you feel. If feedback is not linked to a personal feeling, it is very often just a disguised judgement. Non-Violent Communication (NVC) is a practical system that gives people a framework for saying what they feel about something in a way that reduces the amount of trigger responses. NVC can seem awkward to start with, but with practice, it flows very naturally. In our experience, it can take some time before the effects can be seen in the workplace — but people will start to tell stories about how it fixed their relationships long before it reaches the office. The difference however is fundamental.

Now, here is why feedback is the key to organizational technical ability

If you can create an organizational culture where honest, caring feedback is the norm, you unlock every major driver to organizational and technical success.

The number 1 contributor to high performing teams.

The #1 contributor towards employee engagement

The key to diversity in the workplace

The foundation of stress management and well-being

Every major aspect of agile software development is built on feedback. Fix feedback and you amplify agile.

  • Multi-disciplinary teams only work there is a way for everyone to understand different perspectives
  • Retrospectives are so much better if people feel that they can say what they really feel
  • You can do an effective MVP process and get the critical feedback you need
  • The fundamental of “people over process” begins to be real

Innovation is not a technological process, it’s an organizational one

You don’t innovate by hiring more techies. An organization can innovate when it is able to encourage a diverse group of people to work together, harnessing the appropriate technology, to solve complex problems with no known solutions. Technology is only part of the picture, most of the rest is a combination of psychological safety, progress, empathy, social support, agility and feedback.

Do all those things, and you have the high performing teams that can take on anything. And feedback underpins it all.


So, here’s a sales pitch. What you have just read, that is what The-Organization does. We have spent a few years developing an essential feedback training programme. Get in touch.

Peter Brownell

Written by

Human and technical systems. Not all that good at remembering specifics but configured to seek the patterns. Aspires to become a gardener.

More From Medium

Also tagged Leadership

Also tagged Innovation

Top on Medium

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade