S1E7: Radical Transparency: How Winning The Information Lottery Shifts Focus To The Value We Create

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This is a podcast episode titled, S1E7: Radical Transparency: How Winning The Information Lottery Shifts Focus To The Value We Create. The summary for this episode is: This week's guest is Marcus Reed, Moser's Operations Design leader. He's going to help us better understand Radical Transparency and how it helps improve performance from a company and individual perspective by increasing autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

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Angel Leon: Hello everyone, and welcome to another edition of ASCII Anything presented by Moser Consulting. I'm your host Angel Leon, Moser's HR Advisor, and in this week's episode we will be talking about radical transparency, increasing autonomy, mastery, and purpose. We're going to be looking at performance from a company and individual perspective. And we have one of our resident experts to talk to us about it. This week, we have Marcus Reed, Moser's Operations Design Leader. Marcus is a leader of Moser's Operations Design offering providing technology and methodology evolution together as a holistic and internally cohesive solution with clients that range from startups to Fortune 50 and Topix 70 members. Within the program, we offer production ecosystem design, solution architecture, tools administration, workflow automation, Q& A automation, Agile coaching, DevOps coordination, implementation of Atlassian Suite, JIRA, Confluence, and much more. Marcus, it is a pleasure to have you with us this week to talk about this topic. How are you doing?

Marcus Reed: Oh, good. Thanks Angel. It's nice to take a little time out and chat with you.

Angel Leon: Well, I really appreciate it. I'm pretty sure our listeners will as well. So radical transparency, shared knowledge leads to focusing on how best to help each other, which leads to greater autonomy and mastery as individuals and teams. So I was reading about that yesterday, and I want to start off by asking you what is radical transparency? Is it an Agile thing?

Marcus Reed: Radical transparency is the idea that anybody can know anything that they want to know to help them do their job better, to help contextualize their work, to facilitate other people's success. And it is not strictly an Agile thing, but trying to do Agile without it can be challenging and introducing it without introducing at least some other Agile concepts can be pretty disruptive.

Angel Leon: Interesting. So how is it possible to create a platform that supports that from a technical perspective?

Marcus Reed: That is the easy part. So one of the tenants, again, this isn't specifically an Agile thing, but one of the tenants of Agile that one of the foundational concepts is that we value people and individual interactions over processes and tools that's important. And that's a valuable thought, but it was also written 20, 30 years ago when processes and tools were things like mimeograph machines and adding machines on desks, right? And things like that. So as we've learned in particularly and very acquaintedly this year, tools are the way that we communicate are the way we have individual interactions. So from a technical perspective, it's very easy to create an ecosystem that supports radical transparency, communication, et cetera. We don't have a file cabinet anymore, right?

Angel Leon: Right.

Marcus Reed: We have virtual folders, right? Probably on the web someplace and products like SharePoint or Confluence and things like that. And those integrate really, really nicely. They're designed from scratch to integrate with task tracking and planning and communications tools that I mentioned. So creating that platform, there's a lot of different options, a lot of modular ways of doing it. So you can create a solution that's perfect for your organization. But it's really important that organizations embrace that tools and information and interactions have all kind of come together into a single point.

Angel Leon: Okay. So basically we're looking at focusing on the individual rather than on those process that we used to focus on 20, 30 years ago.

Marcus Reed: Yeah. You and I are pro... I don't want me to speak for you Angel, but I'm old enough to remember going to the actual library. And that was the only way that I could get a book and learn something. It's just not the case anymore.

Angel Leon: No, no. You're right. You're absolutely right. So what happens when anyone can easily know anything about past present or plan work in their organization?

Marcus Reed: Lots of things. For start, okay so human beings all have one thing in common, one thing that makes us different from other animals. Physically, it's long distance running. Socially, it's like family and tribal groups. And then the other like survival mechanisms that we've evolved into intellectually is pattern recognition, right? So, suddenly patterns emerge when you have access to all this information what's going on. Here, are we doing the same thing over and over again? Are we doing the same thing in different ways, right? What are some other ways of doing it? Other things that come out of that are global optimizations rather than local optimizations. So you might have... I mentioned just now, will you do it one way? We do the same thing a different way? Okay, well, you've been living in a cloistered part of this organization as have we, right? And so we've locally optimized, but that drains resources from the company that maybe we don't need to be draining. Well, you need those tools and we need these tools. We can start to create a global optimization where the whole thing is running seamlessly, right? If you imagine an assembly line for a moment, if you get the assembly line perfect, but the warehouse isn't working right. Or the trucks aren't running, what's the point? Right?

Angel Leon: Right.

Marcus Reed: So if those are each big locally optimized and that we're not thinking about global optimization, then we're doing ourselves a disservice.

Angel Leon: So it kind of comes down to that old Dodge just because we've always it this way doesn't mean it's always right.

Marcus Reed: Yeah. And there's a concept called Chesterton's Fence that says... He was G. K. Chesterton. He said don't ever take a fence down unless you know exactly why it was put up. That makes a lot of sense in a farm or a factory. It does not make a lot of sense in the 21st century American economy.

Angel Leon: Along those same lines, Marcus, if people become valued for what they do and what they know becomes a secondary asset, this is a two tier question. Do individual key performance indicators change? How about at the organizational level?

Marcus Reed: Well, yeah. You've hit on something really important there. When there's radical transparency, people do start to become valued for what they do more than because of what they know, right? When we were cloistered, and there was one guy who could do the COBOL for this one application that is crucial for our business, right? We might've wrapped websites all around and put lipstick on it and everything, but there's that one guy and he only codes four hours a week. Right? But we know not to bother him because he's not the only person who knows that stuff. And guess what? He's not going to tell anybody else how to do that. Right? Because the second that he does, he's lost value mantra.

Angel Leon: Yeah.

Marcus Reed: He loses that sense of safety that he has. So one of the big things you've got to consider when you're considering a change towards radical transparency is the way it changes the organizational structure at an individual level. Yeah. Suddenly not just all that other information is in the sunlight for everybody to see. What you do and don't do is out there for everybody to see. So your key performance indicators, let's be honest in an older organizational model, key performance indicators at an individual level. Are they super valuable? When I've worked at companies where once a year I talk to my supervisor. Right? Literally.

Angel Leon: Yeah.

Marcus Reed: And because we're doing my performance review and we're going to sit down and that person's going to tell me whether I've done doing a good job or not. They have no idea.

Angel Leon: Right.

Marcus Reed: Right?

Angel Leon: Yeah. One shot at that. It's definitely not a good... I would say from an HR standpoint, that would not be a good performance review period.

Marcus Reed: Yeah, yeah. So that's an extreme case. But even when you do have a really high engagement and that engagement is meaningful between management and individual contributors, the individual contributor suddenly kind of starts to shift. Well, it's not just what you know, it's what you do. How do we measure what you do? If this radical transparency includes our planning and our task tracking, then we can see what your throughput's like. Right? We can see what your participation level is like," Oh, you helped on this. You helped on that." Right? And it's not because it's in some spreadsheet somewhere.

Angel Leon: Right.

Marcus Reed: It's because," Oh, I can see this was assigned to you for awhile." Right?" Or that you were part of the team that was commenting back and forth on this or that, Oh, you're a developer. And you started off not doing pull requests and now you're approving or commenting on pull requests." Right? So your key performance indicators basically shift into participation and facilitation.

Angel Leon: Interesting. So how do those changes immediately benefit the company and the individual as a whole?

Marcus Reed: They benefit the company in a lot of ways. We've mentioned global optimization already. Another one, and this is not going to be the last buzzword I dropped so I apologize, but it's innovation. Right? And everybody talks about innovation. Everybody wants more innovation. It's kind of hard to say exactly what we mean when we say that though, right?

Angel Leon: Yeah.

Marcus Reed: It's an overused term. Some companies I've been lucky enough to work with, if you have innovation days or if you follow the 80-20 rule and give everybody 20% of their time for stuff that they want to work on, but you don't have radical transparency, the innovations are going to be pretty goofy a lot of the time, right? You're not going to be particularly valuable. With radical transparency, and we can, as an individual and working together with the team, talking about this stuff, we start to see patterns. We start to see opportunities for global optimization. We start to see something really interesting and cool that somebody else is doing and build off that. And so, the things that we start asking for start creating for ourselves to make our work better, to make our work lives better, have meaning, have specific purpose. That's when innovation becomes valuable. Another thing that happens is, I mentioned the individuals looking across and teams looking across. So, as you start to be more focused on what you do, instead of what you know, you naturally start collaborating more. And so teams form, right? It may be formal. It may be informal, right? It might be a community of practice. It might be scrum teams that might just be that certain people really like the insights that certain other people help them to. Right? And so the benefit to the company of that is that you've got self- motivated individuals and teams who are engaged, genuinely engaged and not just doing robotic tasks all the time. They're doing the work that they need to do, but they're doing it in smarter and smarter ways.

Angel Leon: Right. And I think that looks at, especially on the informal way of forming a team, when you have different individuals that actually enjoy their company, but beyond that, then speaking of innovation, then that drives that innovation and just makes it much more positive. I don't know if that's the right word. But makes it so that they're grouping and what they're working on. That benefits not only them as individuals, but obviously the organization as well in the long run.

Marcus Reed: Yeah, yep. In our free time, we don't say, well, I'd like to learn to knit. So I'm going to find a bunch of other people who don't know how to knit, right? And then, well, you can try that. And maybe it will turn out to be fun, but it's not probably going to be super productive.

Angel Leon: Right.

Marcus Reed: You go, well, I'm going to find some people who know how to knit, right. And you're going to go sit with them on Saturday afternoon or whatever, right. So it's the same thing goes for work. I mean, instead of forcing people into these teams and forcing people into these tasks, we allow some self- direction, right?

Angel Leon: Yes, absolutely. So looking at the other side of the coin from that, what would you say are the risks associated with those changes?

Marcus Reed: Definitely culture change always presents risk. You've got certain people who are I'm sure lovely people. In fact, I know personally, some really lovely people who I love working with who do great work, who really, really, really would prefer to sit down at their computer, turn off the lights and code all day. That's it. And they're really good at it. When suddenly you're saying," Well, you got to tell us what, what you did yesterday." Right? You got to use the system to track your work. We need the context of what you're doing to make our work better. Instead of it just getting thrown over the wall to them, we need sunlight on all this stuff where we're operating with radical transparency. It can be really disruptive for those people, right? It can be tough. And it can be really tough for managers to managers on up. There has to be some kind of agreement, right? And this is where top leadership is vital. Not just their sponsorship of this, but their participation in this. Because if people feel like I'm okay with Jane seeing my work, but not Betty, because Betty has been after me for a while, right? I've been doing my local optimizations in my department. She's been doing hers in her department with a fighting for resources and budget so that we can continue to increase our local optimizations. And if she suddenly allowed to see all the stuff my team's doing, I'm a nice guy. I'm not going to say anything about her team stuff, but I know she's going to snipe me. Right? So that's where leadership has to come in and get all the management together and go," Hey, when we open all this up, here's the reasons, here's the benefits. And if you're going to abuse this to put somebody else down or politicize it, then you're not doing the thing... You're working counter to our goals of increased collaboration and global optimizations."

Angel Leon: Right. And I definitely see your point about differing or different employees, not wanting each other to see the other's work because of what they do of... Maybe there's some jealousy there something that has to deal with on a personal level, rather than a collaboration environment for the organization. So this actually segues nicely into the next question. For some organizations, this might not work. Even if you accept the risk reward ratio, how can you tell if this is a good idea for your organization?

Marcus Reed: Yeah. It's absolutely not for everybody. I mean, first of all you have to decide how entrenched is the culture, right? And how much disruption am I willing to risk. And when you start thinking about that in terms of a risk reward ratio, you have to think about the complexity, not of the organization, but of the work itself that your company does, right? If the vast majority of your employees do fairly simple tasks, things that are repetitive, there's a thing called a inaudible board or square or graph where just imagine two lines crossing and it creates four squares, right? And in the lower right, you've got what we'll call simple work, right? It's repetitive, it's straightforward. It doesn't change a lot. And any given person pretty much knows everything they need to know, right? We know what all the questions are. And we know all the answers to those questions. In a situation like that, telling everybody that, everybody suddenly has to start sharing all their information isn't going to help drive innovation, employee satisfaction, collaboration a whole lot, right? We move up counterclockwise up to the next quadrant of that imaginary picture. We get into complex work where it's pretty straightforward and we might not have all the answers to all the questions, but we know all the questions, right? Sometimes the answers change. There's more expertise required to do this kind of work. Now we're entering the territory where radical transparency can help. Then we continue counterclockwise to the top left and we get into really nuanced, subtle work where we don't even necessarily always know the questions, much less the answers. And this is where innovation comes in, right? This is where collaboration becomes really important. And so I think looking at the kind of work your organization does, or maybe there's a certain parts of your organization. This is probably true of everywhere. Parts of the order in one quadrant and parts of the order or in another quadrant, right?

Angel Leon: Right, it would depend on the tasks.

Marcus Reed: Yeah. So that, but that's where we start seeing a real big benefit from radical transparency and related concepts. If we go one step further, we go into complete chaos. There's no way for us to know what questions to ask. There's no way for us to answer them. And I would argue that even there, and that's not a great spot to be in, but it happens. That's another place where radical transparency could just kind of become the baseline that we can start creating some structure out of for ourselves.

Angel Leon: Yeah, I was going to mention that because even if you have that chaos, because you're bringing in that radical transparency where then everybody's kind of sharing and showing what they have that could still lead to a larger collaboration in the end, because then you're getting all these, all this chaos, you have to make sense of it. And you have to pretty much just put it all together in order to function at some point.

Marcus Reed: Yeah. If we take that chaos and we just try to keep it in the bottle and we keep stuffing it down, our silo, in the meantime, there's another group in our organization doing the same thing. It's not going to get any better, right?

Angel Leon: Yeah, well so as radical transparency becomes the norm and people get used to new organizational structures, what are the knock on effects?

Marcus Reed: Well, we've already mentioned the culture change that takes place. People start collaborating more. Things like communities and practice develop. Even if we started a pretty informal way of collaborating, there are certain... I mentioned knitting earlier, right? Here's a group of people and maybe some of them are weavers and some of them are cobblers and some of them are fishermen, but they all have this interest in knitting, right. And they might be coming at it from for different reasons. So to give them a real life example, I don't know why I'm sticking with the medieval stuff. You might have a community of practice around quality engineering, right? Oh, there are some people in there who are black box manual testers who want to learn automation. There are some people in there who are experts. There's some people in there who used to be in QA, but now they're in management, but they're still really interested in advancing their own expertise in that. And in helping other people do the same thing. So some of these collateral ways of collaborating start to develop. We mentioned also KPIs change. When you get to where you're starting to have a genuinely collaborative and innovative workspace, the key performance indicator... there's one very large international organization that I've worked with. And the only key performance indicator for individuals in that organization is net approval. The people that you've worked with for the past year are asked to give a thumbs up or a thumbs down.

Angel Leon: Wow.

Marcus Reed: Yeah, that's it. Right? And it works really, really well for them. There was pain at the beginning because everybody said," Oh, Jim just doesn't like me." Right? He is going to thumbs down me. Okay. But what about the other 50 people that you've worked with this year, right? And as time goes on, if Jim might have been tempted to give me a thumbs down last year, how many thumbs down do you think Jim got? I bet he got a lot. Right? So in this coming year, he's going to go," Oh, I'm valued for how much I help other people succeed at work. And so I need to start doing that instead of just shooting people down." He becomes a better employee just through just communally, right? In this really organic way, helps the company. More people stick around longer because Jim's not so tough to work with. He is not driving people away and he's doing more work, right? Maybe he started off just knowing stuff and put people down who didn't know stuff. Now he's a teacher, right? Instead of a hoarder of information. So radical transparency is absolutely key in that. That's one thing that changes for the organization. And then of course the structures themselves, people will start asking to be more collaborative when everybody's won the information lottery. We're all information millionaires, nobody's fighting over information or hoarding information. What becomes valuable is the output itself, the value we create. And that lends itself naturally in an environment with radical transparency to teamwork.

Angel Leon: Yeah. And I think that goes back to the earlier point, you were making about the individual that works at a factory and he only codes four hours a day. And he doesn't share where he codes. He's very good at it. But what happens when that domino, if you will falls because he's the only one that knows that information. So instead of sharing that knowledge, being transparent with all of his coworkers, he just hoards that information. And then there's no community effect that comes from that.

Marcus Reed: That's a really good point that I did not have in my notes for today. But organizational endurance, right? And continuity works way, way, way, way up because people naturally start cross training. They might not call it that, but when somebody wins the actual lottery and doesn't come to work anymore or whatever moves on to something else, it's a lot less painful when you've got radical transparency.

Angel Leon: Yes, absolutely. I agree. When I used to work at a place where we would always preach, what happens if tonight, while you're on your way home, something happens to you. You don't know. You've got to prepare for those scenarios. A little bit of disaster recovery, if you will. Like we were talking last week, but it is key I think to have that shared knowledge, to have that purpose with everybody else, even if it's not within your group, but somebody else must know or should have an idea of what you as an individual do. So that actually segues into a shared purpose because I know we mentioned, or I mentioned earlier autonomy mastery and shared purpose. So why are those so important?

Marcus Reed: Well, they're important for a number of reasons. First of all, let me explain the concept itself where it comes from? It's actual science. And it basically is... So this huge group of social scientists got together and put together a bunch of huge surveys and created some new ones. What they discovered over time was that assuming that everybody in your organization, has Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs met, right? They've got shelter, they've got warrants, they've got water. Somebody loves them. They love somebody, right? Some of those things work can help with some not. But assuming the things that work can give you, if it's giving you enough money, then adding more money is less and less of an incentive to provide more value and can actually at a certain point reverse and become a disincentive fee to provide more value, right? You become very protective of what you've got and insular, right? What actually motivates people at that point is increasing autonomy. So agency, right? Fewer strictures, more independence, more trust provided by the organization and that person increasing mastery. They get to actually get better and better at their job, right? Let's say for a moment, we're going to oversimplify this, but say there's two different kinds of folks in any organization. There's the kind who show up every day. And they would, they are naturally motivated and want to do the most best work they can. Those people want more autonomy and they want to keep getting better at their job. They want to keep getting better. There's another kind of a employee who wants to forget, wants to not think about work until their hand hits the door knob in the morning. And when their hand hits the door knob on the way out, they want to stop thinking about work. They don't care about getting better, right? That's not what they're here for. But guess what? That person through all the things we've already discussed becomes motivated to kind of shift their thinking about work. Not just motivated to shift their thinking about work, but able, right? Empowered and facilitated through modernized tools and these concepts around transparency to do so. There will be some people who just would say," You know what? I am going to go find a place where they let me sit in a closet all day." Okay, I think overall that cost is very much outweighed by the benefit of the org that we have left behind, right.

Angel Leon: I would agree.

Marcus Reed: And shared purpose, we talked about pattern recognition being, brain- wise one of the most important things in human evolution but culturally it's family, tribe, right? We literally evolve it's in our genes to be a collective species, right? When Darwin talked about survival of the fittest, he was not talking about individuals. He was talking about species, right? He was talking about groups. It's the fittest group that survives. It is in our DNA to want freedom, want to continue growing our expertise and to do it together, to have a shared purpose, whether that's at the team level where ideally at the team level and the organizational level. So radical transparency reinforces obviously mastery. Indirectly it reinforces the ability to give people more autonomy and for people to do good things with that autonomy. And then the shared purpose comes along with increasing mastery, increasing autonomy, and naturally shifting towards a collaborative mindset about your work. All that's facilitated by radical transparency.

Angel Leon: Interesting. So basically, radical transparency would reinforce that autonomy, mastery and shared purpose.

Marcus Reed: Yep, and then an organizational benefit of that. So obviously the individual benefits are clear, but from an HR perspective, guess what? You have a lot less turnover, a lot less paperwork for Angel.

Angel Leon: Yes, and more engagement. I think in the end, you're fostering engagement. You're fostering that group mentality that you were mentioning. So I think that in the end, any company would benefit from just having better engagement with their employees, that their employees are engaged with each other, not just with their managers, but that they're engaged with each other, that they're engaged with their projects, with their tasks. And so that in the end provides you with a positive impact.

Marcus Reed: Absolutely. Yeah, and in a way that no manager can create or enforce right. There is no structure or person within a traditional structure that can give those things to those people without radical transparency.

Angel Leon: Right. So one final question here Marcus. How do radical transparency and AMP again, autonomy, mastery and share purpose fit in with Agile, if at all?

Marcus Reed: Yeah. Well, people who are listening to this who know Agile or have studied Agile will have heard a lot of familiar concepts already. Like I said at the top, you can't really do Agile without radical transparency and doing radical transparency without other Agile concepts can lead to a much lower return on the investment if you will, right? When we look at the basic tenants of Agile, it's customer collaboration over contract negotiation. Wow, radical transparency fits right into that. What if we started having more transparency with our customers too, not just internally, we still value contract negotiation, but radical transparency allows for some real collaboration. Radical transparency allows us to respond to change a lot better and to generate meaningful positive change. If we have a plan and we're just following the plan and we've got our blinders on, we're missing all that other radical transparency set of benefits. And then we've already mentioned, the individuals and interactions are more important than the process or the tools. Again, interactions and tools have kind of glommed together over the past few years. But the purpose is not the tools. The purpose is the interaction. So we can interact actively I'll say like we are right now. Let's hop on a Zoom, right? But we also interact passively by simply having information available to us, made available to us right?

Angel Leon: Right.

Marcus Reed: When I put something up in SharePoint or JIRA or whatever, I'm passively communicating that to anybody who wants to receive it. And so that reinforces that Agile concept as well.

Angel Leon: Interesting. Yeah. You don't think about that passive interaction that when we play something or even on something that's more active, like an email, like a Slack message where we share information, but at the same time, it's still passive because you're just passing that information along the receiver who can decide to do whatever they want with it or not. So that's interesting. And that is coming from on from our Agile evangelist, Marcus Reed everybody.

Marcus Reed: Oh no, no, I'm not an Agile evangelist. I know a lot about Agile and I heard there's a lot to respect there. But there's a purity that's implied, a purity of belief that's implied by that term that I do not have.

Angel Leon: Well, let's call you then an Agile champion. How about that?

Marcus Reed: Sure, sure.

Angel Leon: Marcus, it was a pleasure to have you with us today. I think this topic is amazing. I could talk this for days, cause I love talking about transparency and just tasks in general and just how to get people to work together better. So I really appreciated our time today and I hope our listeners did as well.

Marcus Reed: Thanks Angel. I enjoyed it too. All right.

Angel Leon: All right. Thank you very much, everybody. That was Marcus Reed, our resident expert. Thanks for listening to this week's episode of asking anything presented by Moser Consulting. We hope that you enjoy this conversation about radical transparency and Agile. And we'd love if you would join us next week when we continue to dive deeper with our resident experts and what they're currently working on. So long everybody.


Moser resident expert Marcus Reed discusses Radical Transparency.

Today's Host

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Angel Leon

|Director of Personnel

Today's Guests

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Marcus Reed

|Moser Consulting Operations Design Leader