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Back to First Principles (GeeCON 2022 Keynote)

Back to First Principles (GeeCON 2022 Keynote)

Culture this, culture that; much has been said about organizational culture, its effects on people and productivity, and very little on how to deliberately and concsiously craft your own. While I don't pretend to have the answers, I have found tremendous value in asking and iterating on the questions themselves.

In this talk we will - instead of hashing out corporate values and mission statements - figure out how to ask (and evaluate) hard questions. By doing that we arrive at something far more fundamental and powerful: an ethos.

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Tomer Gabel

May 11, 2022
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Transcript

  1. Back to First Principles Tomer Gabel Don’t forget sli.do! #geecon2022

  2. Warning: Philosophy ahead Photo: Friedrich Nietzsche by Gustaf-Adolf Schultze, 1882

    (public domain)
  3. Software Conferences circa 2021 (% culture-related talks) 27% 27% 54%

  4. Clearly, culture is important. How do we build it?

  5. Contradiction in Terms — Culture is what is, not what

    we aspire to — An effect, not a cause — But an effect of what? Reed Hastings, “Freedom & Responsibility Culture”, 2009 (SlideShare)
  6. What determines culture? 1. Judgement. - Decisions - Reasoning 2.

    Reliability. - Consistency - Transparency Results Process
  7. A healthy culture is purposeful as well as consistent.

  8. How not to build culture (don’t try this at home!)

  9. Counterexample: Company Values 1. Integrity 2. Mutual respect 3. Teamwork

    4. Communication 5. Innovation 6. Customer satisfaction 7. Quality 8. Fairness 9. Compliance 10. Ethics
  10. Counterexample 1. Integrity 2. Mutual respect 3. Teamwork 4. Communication

    5. Innovation 6. Customer satisfaction 7. Quality 8. Fairness 9. Compliance 10. Ethics 1. Subjective 2. Aspirational rather than actionable “We share knowledge effectively with one another.”
  11. Counterexample 1. Integrity 2. Mutual respect 3. Teamwork 4. Communication

    5. Innovation 6. Customer satisfaction 7. Quality 8. Fairness 9. Compliance 10. Ethics Can easily conflict.
  12. Ambiguity leaves room for inconsistency. Vague is the opposite of

    purposeful.
  13. Counterexample 1. Integrity 2. Mutual respect 3. Teamwork 4. Communication

    5. Innovation 6. Customer satisfaction 7. Quality 8. Fairness 9. Compliance 10. Ethics By the way… … credit is due. Source: Oracle core values on Oracle’s corporate site
  14. The Culture-Building Arsenal 1. Mission Statements 2. Corporate Values 3.

    HR 4. Middle Management
  15. The Culture-Building Arsenal 1. Mission Statements A statement of what

    (hopefully) or why (likely), not how
  16. The Culture-Building Arsenal 1. Mission Statements Often ridiculous: “At <redacted>,

    our purpose is simple: to live and deliver WOW. “
  17. The Culture-Building Arsenal 2. Corporate Values Aspirational, not actionable

  18. The Culture-Building Arsenal 2. Corporate Values Aspirational Wishful thinking, not

    actionable … and ambiguous to boot
  19. The Culture-Building Arsenal 3. HR The cynical take: Not their

    job HR represents organizational interests, including in conflict situations
  20. The Culture-Building Arsenal 3. HR The cynical take: Not their

    job HR represents organizational interests, including especially in conflict situations
  21. The Culture-Building Arsenal 3. HR The practical take: It can’t

    be their job Limited or no intersection with day-to-day employee life (i.e. “culture“)
  22. The Culture-Building Arsenal 4. Middle Management The cynical take: Not

    their job Incentivized to facilitate process, not improve culture.
  23. The Culture-Building Arsenal 4. Middle Management The practical take: They

    wish they could Limited autonomy (”company line”), limited authority (“above my pay grade”)
  24. The Culture-Building Arsenal 1. Mission Statements 2. Corporate Values 3.

    HR 4. Middle Management Woefully inadequate.
  25. Back to First Principles

  26. An employee makes a decision. We want that decision to

    be “for the good of the company.” How do we accomplish that?
  27. What’s at Stake? 1. Effectiveness - Sound decision making 2.

    Efficiency - Quick turnaround 3. Security - Employee happiness - Legal/compliance
  28. What’s required? 1. Effectiveness 2. Efficiency 3. Security • Understanding

    company’s stated (and unstated) goals
  29. • Understanding company’s stated (and unstated) goals • Autonomy What’s

    required? 1. Effectiveness 2. Efficiency 3. Security
  30. • Understanding company’s stated (and unstated) goals • Autonomy •

    Trust in the organization • Trust in the employee What’s required? 1. Effectiveness 2. Efficiency 3. Security
  31. Making Progress Axiom I: People want to make good decisions.

    Axiom II: When personally disenfranchised, they are no longer content with “the company line.” Goal I: Empower employees to discern what ”good” means Goal II: Minimize the risk of conflict between the employee’s interests and the company’s
  32. Asking the Hard Questions

  33. Customer Satisfaction vs Fairness Meet Magda. 1. A brilliant engineer

    2. Wants customers to be happy 3. Hates waking up on call 4. … has woken up 3 times tonight 5. … by an issue she’s been raising flags about for months Photo: Portret Anieli Zamoyskiej by Leon Biedroński (public domain)
  34. Magda’s Dilemma 1. Magda can’t affect change - She doesn’t

    own the backlog - She must implicitly respect someone else’s judgment 2. But it’s her problem - She’s the one waking up! - … and her justified complaints are ignored
  35. Customer Satisfaction vs Fairness 1. Why is Magda so uneasy?

    — Magda is personally disenfranchised — But isn’t “fairness” a company value? — Then why is the situation so unfair? 2. What can Magda do? — Accept the situation willingly — Accept the situation unwillingly — Escalate – what would the VP do? Conflict Ideal outcome Seething resentment Same problem!
  36. What if… 1. … we reprioritize the backlog? - Fewer

    wake up calls - Magda feels vindicated - Promises to clients may slip 2. If acceptable, why didn’t we do it in the first place?
  37. What if... 1. … we reprioritize the backlog? - Fewer

    wake up calls - Magda feels vindicated - Promises to clients may slip 2. If acceptable, why didn’t we do it in the first place? 1. … we stay on course? - Clients are (maybe) happy - On-call continues to wake up - Magda may be on her way out 2. If acceptable, why did Magda feel disenfranchised?
  38. When values collide, which wins? Customer Satisfaction > Fairness or

    Fairness > Customer Satisfaction Ideally, both. Realistically, you must decide.
  39. Quality vs Teamwork Then there’s Paweł. 1. Also a brilliant

    engineer 2. Passionate to a fault 3. When technical arguments ensue, Paweł is there - … argumentative - … but has a good point (i.e. right) Photo: Portret Konstantego Zamoyskiego by Leon Biedroński (public domain)
  40. Quality vs Teamwork Paweł is the dilemma 1. Sincerely wants

    a better outcome 2. … but ends up perceived as a brilliant jerk† 3. … and quality still suffers. † See: Brilliant Jerks in Engineering, Brendan Gregg
  41. What if… 1. … we let Paweł have his way?

    - Quality will improve - Negative impact on team - Productivity loss, churn 2. If acceptable, why was an argument needed?
  42. What if… 1. … we let Paweł have his way?

    - Quality will improve - Negative impact on team - Productivity loss, churn 2. If acceptable, why was an argument needed? 1. … we get rid of Paweł? - Team cohesion will improve - Quality will degrade further - Dissenting opinions unheard 2. If acceptable, why did we put “quality” front and center?
  43. When concluding a meeting, is it more important: … that

    we arrive at the best outcome or … that participants feel good about the meeting? Ideally, both. Realistically, you must decide.
  44. There are no right answers, only opinions.

  45. Find out what you really believe in.

  46. That is your ethos.

  47. Key Takeaways 1. Culture tells you what you already did.

    Ethos tells you what you should do next. 2. Ask hard questions, refine, iterate. 3. Ethos begets culture. Figure yours out and wield it with pride.
  48. tomer@substrate.co.il @tomerg https://github.com/holograph Thank you for listening Now, what do

    you believe in?