Dan is a TRUE Agile leader & is getting exceptional results…Do you agree?

In the first of a series on Agile leaders who live and breathe the Agile philosophy, I have interviewed Dan Gordon at Peoplebank…

This is not your typical Agile success story and Dan Gordon isn’t your typical Agile leader…which is one of the reasons I decided to share his story with you. Dan and his team embrace Agile and are achieving enviable outcomes, but they aren’t developing software and they utilise very little of the formal Agile methods (think Scrum, Kanban, Lean Startup, Lean etc.). They are, however, role models for leveraging an Agile mindset and behaviours.

Dan is an IT Recruitment Practice Lead at Peoplebank, guiding a team of 15 IT recruiters — his ‘tribe’. Dan and his team are very successful. They have happy customers. They aim to have a fulfilling and joyful work environment and they are achieving exceptional results.

Okay, let’s define exceptional results…Dan claims his team is five times more productive than the average recruiting team in Sydney of a similar size as measured by recruiting dollars generated per person. I didn’t fact check this, but even if he’s overstating it a bit, it is still impressive. His retention rates are phenomenal too…per Dan, the average tenure for a recruiter in Sydney is 1.8 years, at Peoplebank it is 3.4 years and on Dan’s team it is 7.5 years!!

One key ingredient to Dan’s success seems to be his Agile mindset and behaviours. Keep reading to learn why. I hope you enjoy learning about Dan’s story as much as I did.

Dan’s Agile story….

Dan sees Agile as a process of doing things better. Always striving to be better as a worthy pursuit. Agile provides him and his team with guidelines on how to go about doing that — nothing more, nothing less.

In 2012, Dan found himself recruiting for more and more Agile roles and decided to go to a Scrum Master Training course to better understand Agile. He had his Agile ‘light bulb moment’ at the very beginning of the course when the Agile values were being explained… ‘It instantly made absolute sense. It described something with such clarity that I’d been reflecting on for some time. I want to improve and here is a mindset to help me do it. I felt empowered and elated!’

Dan’s mindset is defined by many as an Agile mindset and he leverages this mindset both inside and outside of work. At a high-level, he describes it as a constant lens of ‘Is this the highest value thing I can be doing in the highest value way?’ What drives Dan to live life in this way? ‘I want to be better than the previous version of myself and am surrounded by people at work and at home that share that drive. I want to lie on my death bed and say I gave that a really good shake and made the most of the time I had. I want to live a meaningful and deliberate life.’

As noted in the article by Susan McIntosh “So what is an Agile mindset?” , it depends on who you ask. I like Susan’s description which defines an Agile mindset as:

· Respect (Trust)

· Collaboration

· Improvement and learning cycles

· Pride in ownership

· Focus on delivering value

· Ability to adapt to change

· Transparency (I took the liberty of adding this one to the list)

This definition aligns well with how Dan describes his and his team’s mindset.

· Respect (Trust): ‘Our team is completely flexible in how we work. There is total trust in the team’s commitment and follow through and ability to continuously communicate as required. As a result, it doesn’t matter where people work or when. We agree on what our desired outcomes are and then work in the most fluid and dynamic way we can to deliver on them. I believe that this perpetuates high engagement and high performance as each of us can be highly successful whilst having jobs that are completely molded to the rest of our lives.’

· Collaboration: ‘We are cross-functional in that there are levels and different roles within the team, but ultimately anyone will step in to help with whatever is needed at the time regardless of the task or the persons ‘rank’ within the team (this includes management putting their hands up for the menial jobs first). Again, there is a common commitment to outstanding results for our clients and doing whatever is necessary to make that happen as a team. We have a shared pursuit of excellence and an understanding that the effort of the whole far exceeds the effort of the parts.’ 
 
Dan had the wooden partition in his team’s work space removed to create a more open physical environment. Although they have fixed desks, they regularly change where people sit. ‘It was uncomfortable at first, but you become better at connecting more quickly and it accelerates the sense of ‘us’. We want people to be forming and reinforcing stronger relationships with people in the team all the time. This facilitates trust and open communication.

· Improvement and learning cycles: Dan and his team have regular training sessions where team members teach each other the things they are each particularly good at. As a result, they continually adapt, reflect and refine what they do and how they work together to deliver to their clients. They are committed to constant improvement in line with Peoplebank’s stated culture. There is a discipline around review and adaptation…HR, org-wide and team specific. Employees decide on what their continuous improvement topics should be and then gather employee, customer and market feedback to guide their improvement and learning.

· Pride in ownership: ‘Good enough’ is not good enough for Dan’s team. ‘One of the key changes in our team that’s allowed us to deliver high performance is having the right people. We try and bring people into the team who are excellence focused for themselves and share our belief in pursuit of excellence as a group. This has allowed us to drive each other to continually perform better. The people I’m surrounded with every day make me want to be better.’

· Focus on delivering value: ‘The chemistry, shared understanding of purpose, constant communication and shared understanding of values and high standards allows us to achieve high performance in relation to one another and for our clients.’ Peoplebank’s vision is to “Enhance peoples’ lives and help them achieve their dreams”. These values were created based on input from everyone in the company. Every person was asked…Why is what we do valuable? What behaviours will we accept and won’t accept? Peoplebank works hard to reinforce its vision and purpose at all layers of the business. Perhaps this has been a key contributor to Peoplebank’s success, which includes being awarded the Aon Hewitt Best Employers Award for 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

· Ability to adapt to change: ‘Our team is interchangeable…people go on holiday or change roles and there is no significant impact to overall team performance. Because we have clear, Agile processes based on common values and goals we can effectively adapt to change. My experience is that this empowers people and drives accountability and autonomy. Through common goals and common behaviours, people get confidence to act without specific direction. We are always moving towards the same point.’

· Transparency: Dan’s team runs on a policy of complete openness. They don’t hold any meetings behind closed doors and they encourage each other to say what needs to be said. ‘We say whatever we need to in front of each other respectfully and without being defensive, all completely secure in the fact that we always act with care and only with outstanding delivery and constant improvement in mind.’

Like many keen Agilists, Dan’s agile practice expands into his personal life as well. ‘If I am going to spend time with my kids, I ask myself…. What’s the most valuable thing I can be doing with them? If we want to play a game, what is the best game? Homework…what’s the best way to concentrate together? I constantly shuffle and reshuffle the product backlog of my life (in my head),…this translates to collaborative meetings with my wife and children. We recently talked with the whole family about what each of us thought was important regarding our upcoming family holiday. My wife and I have a goals (long- and short-term) board at home and we talk about it at least once a month…we don’t want to drift. We want to live and act with purpose.’

So, what do you think…is Dan a true Agile leader?

Agile leadership is all about mindset, values and behaviours. You can sprinkle in some agile practices and methods, but that’s like adding salt and pepper to a meal. It may enhance the meal, but it isn’t the meal. Salt and pepper for dinner anyone? I think not. We don’t need to get overly prescriptive about what we mean by mindset, values and behaviours. Are leaders embracing a mindset, values and behaviours that include the attributes below? If so, game on people!!

· Respect (Trust)

· Collaboration

· Improvement and learning cycles

· Pride in ownership

· Focus on delivering value

· Ability to adapt to change

· Transparency

The leader is the limit when it comes to Agile. High-performing Agile teams need to be supported by a leader who embraces agility and actively displays an agile mindset and agile behaviours. I see this in Dan and applaud him. Hats off to you Dan!

Do you know other Agile leaders like Dan? If so, I’d love to hear their stories. We need to shine the light on these exemplary leaders and learn from them.

(Bonus Feature!!…Or perhaps consider this a virtual party favour for you 😊 This quote was on the wall in Peoplebank’s offices. It’s a great quote and another artifact that I believe helps to describe an Agile mindset.)